4imprint, LLC

| Updated: May 19, 2021

Messaging comes of age as a support channel

We’ve all been there: Our shiny, new thingamajig just won’t perform. We’ve looked online at the FAQ, but it’s TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read). And, who knows how much elevator music we’ll have to suffer after dialing the 1-800 number for support. We’ve all thought, “There’s got to be a better way.”

For some brands, the better way for customer service has been messaging. Live chat through a messaging app allows fast, one-to-one or one-to-few interactions.[1] Websites don’t speak. But, messaging gives websites a voice to answer customer questions.

Customers open a chat window, shoot off a message and a service representative replies almost instantly—no elevator music, no indecipherable help section. Customers get special treatment, and brands get a gold star for service.

In this Blue Paper®, we’ll take a look at the rise of messaging, what customers get out of messaging, how brands benefit from this customer support channel and ways to ensure customer delight through this service practice.

The explosive growth of social messaging

Messaging apps are extremely popular. Three-quarters of Internet users use messaging apps, and the top four messaging apps—WhatsApp®, Facebook® Messenger, WeChat® and Viber®—have more than 2 billion monthly active users worldwide.[2]

And, messaging is growing. Nielsen research says Facebook’s Messenger was the fastest-growing app of 2015.[3] Messaging apps are outpacing social networks in monthly active users. Figure 1 compares the top four messaging apps to the top four social networks—Facebook, LinkedIn®, Twitter® and Instagram®:[4]


Figure 1: Comparison of active users of messaging apps versus social networks[5]
Some savvy brands have identified messaging as a significant business opportunity. Messaging apps WhatsApp® Web and LINE have even introduced options for brands targeted at business-customer interaction.[6] Messaging has legs as a value creator, specifically in social customer care. Check out these examples:[7],[8],[9]

  • Hyatt® hotels use Facebook’s Messenger. A customer service rep initials answers to questions, so customers know a real person responded.
  • Airbnb® customers can chat with hosts through the mobile app or desktop site.
  • Guests at The LINQ® hotel in Las Vegas can check in and adjust room temps and lighting through WeChat.
  • Lyft® allows drivers to text riders through the ride-share app when they arrive.
  • Apparel retailers Everlane® and Zulily® use Facebook’s Messenger for orders and returns.

WeChat, popular in China, provides a model for messaging’s potential. In China, WeChat is more than a messaging platform for person-to-person communication. Media companies, banks, celebrities and more populate WeChat with millions of apps, called “official accounts.” The official accounts are set up with features such as direct messaging, voice messaging, payments and location. WeChat users enjoy app-within-app functionality to read news, hail a cab, pay bills and more. Some startups even test apps inside WeChat before launching stand-alone versions.[10] For many Chinese, WeChat is “The Everything App.” “It takes a phone full of apps and replicates its entire functionality.”[11] Mobile-first WeChat is a complete ecosystem for users.

Other brands are watching WeChat. For example, Snapchat® has dived into app-with-app functionality with its Discover platform, which lets brands like National Geographic®, Cosmopolitan® and the Food Network® post videos and images.[12] In the future, messaging apps could start to look like a utility, providing infrastructure for all digital activity.[13] Social customer service through messaging may just be the beginning of a new digital paradigm.

Why customers love social messaging for service

People can’t seem to get enough messaging. And, when it comes to using live chat functionality for support, customers like it—a lot. Customers who use live chat for service report satisfaction 92 percent of the time. That’s higher than customers who get service via phone, web forms, email and social media. Check out the following satisfaction rates by channel, as reported by Zendesk®, a cloud-based customer service platform (Figure 2):[14]


Figure 2: Satisfaction rate by channel
In general, customers like social customer care via messaging for three reasons:


With messaging, customers can get questions answered immediately. It’s the most efficient communication method—type inside the box and click “send.”[15] Customers receive real-time service.[16],[17] The closest alternative to messaging is phoning a help line, and customers don’t want to be put on hold.[18] In a survey of why live chat is preferred, 22 percent of respondents admitted they don’t like talking on the phone.[19]

Customer service through chat makes brands instantly available. But, chat allows customers to respond at their convenience. Customers have breathing room to ask questions and give responses on their timetable.[20] Customers prefer live chat in part “because [they’re] in control of the conversation.”[21] A customer’s replies can be instant or asynchronous.[22] Messaging requires low concentration, and customers can even multitask and troubleshoot on their own while chatting with customer service.[23],[24] This support channel lets customers have their cake and eat it, too.

Personal touch

Social messaging is personal communication.[25] Many customers crave two-way conversation vs. Web-based self-service—e.g., “Help” or “FAQ” webpages.[26] Live chat fulfills this desire more conveniently than a 1-800 number. Zendesk postulates that customers may report more satisfaction with live chat because messaging representatives are more engaged. They may ask more troubleshooting questions and build goodwill by asking how a customer’s day is going.[27] Some customers said live chat provided them with better information than support via phone or email, according to a survey by messaging software firm BoldChat®.[28] As customers receive superior support through messaging, this one-to-one communication lets brand interaction be completely personalized.[29] Through messaging, customers get the opportunity to experience your brand not as a monolith, but at the individual level.


Chat is good for customers who are worried about privacy. A customer service phone call could be overheard.[30] Chat, to compare, is secure.[31] Customers also like social customer service messaging because they can chat while at work.[32] Messaging is an option for customers who don’t want their service issues to get lost on social media channels.[33] Live chat blends the personal touch of a phone call with the convenience of virtual communication into an experience that’s private and immediate.

How brands benefit from social customer service through messaging

Businesses have lots to love about social customer care via live chat. Three chief benefits make a case for embracing this style of social customer service:

Messaging makes a brand available.

Service needs spring up after business hours, and global customers need the same treatment as customers in your time zone.[34] With messaging, customers know your brand is always on for them.

With social customer service through chat, issues can be resolved at the first point of contact, tracked and followed up on. Customers with pressing needs—for example, a late delivery or failed order—can access customer service right away without waiting in line.[35] Millennial customers expect things right away; an hour to respond could send them to another service channel.[36] Messaging gives them instant gratification. Providing the right answer at the right time is a competitive advantage.[37] In customer service, patience is not a virtue.

Availability also includes being ready to nurture meaningful connections with customers. Conversations with a representative are unique, private and informal—more like a chat with a friend or family member.[38] Businesses can leverage the casual nature of messaging to build feelings of goodwill.

Messaging creates value.

Social messaging for customer service saves money. Support via a 1-800 number is more expensive than chat, and time on the phone is costly for customers, too.[39] What’s more, brands get fewer support tickets through their website after adding live chat, and customers enjoy reduced wait times.[40],[41] Live-chatting customer service representatives can work with several people at the same time—a huge contrast to one-on-one support offered by a phone customer service operator.[42],[43] In short, messaging for social customer care is all about efficiency for brands and their customers.

Social messaging presents great opportunities for data collection, too. Brands can use data processing—specifically text analytics—on the unstructured data generated by live chat. Through text analytics, you can discover customer insights at an individual level and opportunities to reinforce the best parts of your brand. Ultimately, personalized interaction can become a point of differentiation among competitors.[44],[45] Some enterprise messaging systems record conversations, allowing correspondence to be monitored for quality and sensitive information.[46] Both brands and customers value the privacy of this free-form data.

The most tangible value created by live chat is sales. Almost one-third of U.K. and U.S. shoppers say they would be more likely to buy after messaging.[47] Social customer service via chat could turn browsers into buyers.

Messaging builds a culture of communication.

Messaging can be adopted for internal communication, encouraging rapport among teammates.[48] Team members can actively share knowledge via chat—for example, URLs and files—instead of passively corresponding by email. The things that customers like about messaging can help build brand culture on the inside.

How to master messaging for social customer service

While it’s less formal than call center support, live chat customer service still needs strategy and protocol. Check out these social customer service best practices for messaging:

Prepare for busy times. More than 50 percent of live chats are between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. local time.[49] Boost the number of staff during periods of high social messaging. Make sure your IT systems can handle volume during peak times, too.

Meet customers on the go. Smartphone use is increasingly defining how customers interact with brands. Mobile itself is an omni-channel platform featuring voice, email, Web chat, video chat, SMS and social media.[50] Customers see conversations across channels as continuous, and they expect brands to “remember” context of interactions. This is another reason why having a customer-relationship management system that includes messaging records is critical. All departments should work within the CRM. Collaboration across an organization is more efficient when customer information is stored in one place.[51]

School your people. Masterful customer service representatives ensure low customer effort—that is, the time a customer spends explaining his or her problem. Train representatives on the following topics to make life easier for customers:[52]

  • Where to find accurate answers
  • How to use chat system features
  • How to write for chat
  • When to use canned vs. free-form responses
  • How to uncover customer needs

How can you tell when a messaging rep is meeting customer needs and building your brand? The best chat representatives:[53],[54],[55],[56]

  • Watch the clock. They first respond in less than 30 seconds, and they practice the two-minute rule: When chatting, respond to a customer within two minutes, and check in with a customer if they’re unresponsive for two minutes.
  • Have a good attitude. They’re empathetic, energetic and engaged, and they’re positive about the brand, its products and even competitors.
  • Use the script wisely. They leverage pre-crafted, on-brand copy to answer the most frequently asked questions. But, they know when to move beyond a script and personalize the service experience.
  • Invert the pyramid. They answer questions directly, putting the most important information at the beginning.
  • Don’t sell. They avoid promotional language and stick to offering help.
  • Flex their muscles. They’re empowered to offer incentives—for example, free shipping—to retain customers. Representatives who can act autonomously speed up the service process for your brand and customers
  • Take their time. They don’t rush through chat sessions. They work until the work is done.
  • Give customers a heads up. They ask before sending a URL, and if a customer needs to be put on hold or transferred, they explain why it’s happening and how long it will take. Most important, they tell customers thanks for hanging in there!
  • Act as lifeguards. Using tracking technology, they initiate chat sessions with customers who struggle to find answers in the support section of a website or linger on a page.

Commit to getting better. Work toward improving customer service messaging by conducting post-chat surveys and reviewing chat transcripts.[57] Continuous improvement comes from doing something with all the data collected through social customer service.

Build customer experience with social messaging

Social messaging supports overall customer experience (CX), which can create value for brands. Brands with high-ranking customer experiences enjoyed a cumulative return of 22 percent from 2007 to 2011. Brands with low-ranking customer experience saw a return of negative 46 percent.[58] A commitment to improving customer experience is a commitment to increasing profitability.

It’s not surprising that 70 percent of business leaders say customer experience is critical to success. Yet, when it comes to CX, there’s a gap between perception and reality. Eighty-eight percent of businesses say they offer “excellent” customer experience, but only 8 percent of customers agree.[59] For some brands, social customer service through messaging could help close that gap.

In the end, “messaging has crossed the divide from personal to professional—whether your business has evolved or not.”[60] The good news for brands is that thoughtful social customer service messaging can delight customers and create value—outcomes worth chasing as you adopt social messaging.


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