Social channels are essential to customer engagement and personalised experiences

SAP Digital Interconnect’s Marut Gaonkar, product manager, and Arti Yadav, director marketing, explain the importance of communicating with consumers over social messaging apps

By now, social messaging apps are a fact of life – not just in our personal lives, but for businesses that want to communicate effectively with their customers. The top three messaging apps in the world – WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat – have all exceeded the 1bn MAU mark, and people spend an average of two hours 16 minutes a day, or around a third of their total Internet time, on social media apps and sites.

Simply put, for intelligent enterprises, this is where their customers now devote their digital lives. And increasingly, social messaging channels are a great way of reaching and engaging with those customers.

When these messaging apps first came to market, they were mostly limited to personal communications and interactions between users, but over time these channels have started to expose their APIs to businesses for B2C engagement. There are now 20m businesses using Facebook Messenger, and 20bn messages sent between businesses and customers, each month.

Striking up a conversation

Broadly speaking, there are two ways of utilizing these social channels to reach customers. There are one-way transactional interactions – for example, a bank alerting the customer that their balance is low, or retailers sharing that the product they were interested in is back in stock. And then there are two-way messages, where customers with a question about the product or service can connect to the brand. Their questions can be answered by a live agent or automated using a chatbot, or some combination of both, but it’s a quick and personal way of supporting engagement on a channel that’s growing in popularity with customers.

Either way, it’s vital that this channel is one that the connected customer is expecting, even if they haven’t directly initiated it. Even with one-way communication, this isn’t your traditional marketing broadcast or outreach but part of a personalized, real-time experience between the brand and customer.

That’s a necessity of the channel: the social media and messaging app services and enterprises are invested in making sure users have a good experience in these apps, and not receive unwanted, random, or generic marketing messages. Brands need to follow best digital engagement practices such as understanding customer preferences for channel engagement and local regulations such as opt-in. That might sound like a challenge, but in the long term, it’s beneficial for all parties – especially because customers have chosen to communicate with brands via this channel, and that allows for richer and deeper engagement.

Changing channels

A more significant challenge with social channels is that, of course, they require data connectivity to use. So, what happens if the customer you’re engaging with doesn’t currently have access to mobile networks or wi-fi? In this case you can use failover which allows you to set rules so that if the user device does not receive the message you can automatically switch to SMS, and then return to social channels when they have full connectivity.

Similarly, if it’s an important alert or notification that you need to make sure the user has seen – such as one-time password, or an account breach, in this case too you can utilize failover rules so that, if the customer doesn’t receive or view the message, then you can automatically switch to another channel.

There’s also the question of how many messaging apps there are in the market, with usage varying greatly from country to country. Viber is the number-one choice in 10 markets across the world, Telegram is huge in the Middle East and some parts of Africa, while WeChat rules in China, and Line in Japan.

So, if your business is global, it’s not as simple as covering the apps you’re familiar with. You need to start understanding which messenger app your customers are likely to be using where they are.

Individually integrating with multiple social channels can be a lot of hard work, especially if you’re setting up failover protocols. But there is an alternative: working with a provider who offers a single API that connects social, SMS, push and other channels – turning a task that could potentially take months or longer to implement into something which can be done in a matter of days. Social channels are becoming essential in the experience economy, so why make digital engagement more difficult than necessary?

If you’re ready to learn more about reaching your customers through social channels, read ‘Making Sense Of A Multichannel, Social World’, ‘Using Multichannel Digital Channels to Improve Critical Enterprise Communications’ and ‘Understanding the Complexity Of Messaging Channels and Digital Engagement’ and join the SAP Digital Interconnect Community.