Cristina Constandache, chief revenue officer at Rakuten Viber, asks whether the art of customer conversation is dead, and argues that it doesn’t have to be.
Human beings have been communicating for millennia. There are many theories about how – and why – we do it, but what is undisputed is that, just as mankind has evolved over time, so we have developed progressively sophisticated tools and methods for connecting with one another.
It’s less clear when we first started complaining that communication isn’t what it used to be. But with modern technology now taking care of the bulk of our interactions, some have started to ask whether this is a problem or if, in fact, the art of conversation is now, officially, dead. A quick internet search brings up an array of articles, blogs and opinions on the topic.
In many cases, where the conclusion is that yes, conversation is definitely on its last legs, if not already six feet under, the culprit is swiftly identified as technology, with the smartphone, in any number of locations. The thinking seems to be that, as we become ever more dedicated to our phones, we’re losing our communication skills and, by implication, an essential component of our humanity.
It’s certainly true that we’re talking online more than we do in person or over the phone these days. Reports of texts overtaking phone calls have been around for a decade, and consumers are now sending and receiving more than 50bn messages each day. But does this mean we’re communicating less effectively? Or do our changing habits suggest that we need to think differently about how we communicate?
At Viber, we believe it’s the latter. Modern technology has given us access to people, products, resources and information far beyond the physical boundaries we inhabit. And at the same time, it has opened up an opportunity for brands to engage their customers in a new way – by starting a conversation.
Why is this important? Because while we haven’t lost the need to connect with one another, what many people have lost is the luxury of time, and face-to-face is increasingly reserved for only the most important people and activities. We feel busier than ever, and we’re bombarded with messages and alerts, but few of these enable us to answer back, or do something useful, right there in the moment.
To cut through the noise, brands have to communicate in a way that helps consumers get their questions answered and do the things they need to quickly – without having to change the channel. Utility messaging apps, which integrate relevant and useful transactions, are a way of doing this.
Then there’s how we go about getting the things we want or need. If we think back to the very first markets, these were places where buyers and sellers met in person and talked to each other. Recommendation was by word of mouth, as families, friends and neighbours shared their experiences.
Now, in the mobile era, consumers have access to a global marketplace at their fingertips, and a medium to share their thoughts and opinions openly. There’s a lot of babble, but it’s not always easy, or even possible, to have a quick chat with a product or service expert, never mind the original manufacturer. By integrating messaging, companies can make that expertise and help available at any point along the customer journey.
The appetite for conversation in commerce is huge – all you have to do is look at a company’s social media mentions or product reviews to get a sense of it. However, the open forum isn’t necessarily the best place for a direct conversation when you’re trying to book a holiday, check your bank balance or get fast answers from a brand. And it’s definitely not where you want to be sharing personal details like your address or payment information. In this scenario, messaging offers the reassurance of individual attention, privacy and security.
The internet has also made it easier than ever to find out what consumers want and expect. Increasingly, they want relationships based on trust rather than transactions. They value personalisation. They’re mobile-first, they seek convenience, and they expect 24/7 availability. They also want to interact with brands in a different way. According to Twilio, 89 per cent of consumers want to message with businesses. They want to have a conversation.
Yet many brands have missed a trick. They haven’t taken advantage of this wellspring of information. They’re still on transmit, and they’re still sending blanket messages that might connect with some of their audience, some of the time… if they’re lucky. And they’re often late, or on the back foot, when things go wrong. Who needs an email or text saying their flight’s been delayed when they’re already boarding, or up in the air?
Any business that’s serious about customer engagement needs to move from transmission to conversation, and mobile messaging can help make the leap. Here are some tips for doing it well.
1. Say it’s you
There’s no quicker route to the spam folder than sending a vague message from an unidentified number. Make it clear that it’s your business or brand talking. With Viber, brands are clearly identified and verified with our “blue tick”, so customers know they’re hearing from a trusted source.
2. Keep it personal
Start the conversation with a welcome, or a personal message, and carry on from there. We all like to feel special and that we’re getting genuine, individual attention.
3. Make it easy to do business with you
Messages including order forms, invoices and financial status updates have very high open and clickthrough rates. Send these to increase your customers’ engagement with you over time.
4. Get the timing right
This is a no-brainer. Messages must be delivered in real time, especially when a customer is doing business with you – whether they’re asking a question or making a purchase. It’s crucial if you want a relationship based on trust and loyalty.
5. Add the human touch
It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Adding the human touch to your messages is essential. Use a conversational, direct tone – be spontaneous and natural. Avoid jargon, abbreviations and technical gobbledygook.
With 96 per cent of messages being read within three minutes, there’s an obvious incentive for brands to employ mobile messaging. What’s more, they’re becoming the consumer’s channel of choice. Messaging apps have more users than traditional social networks, and they’re considered safer, more private spaces for sharing relevant content and common interests, according to a report from Reuters.
In short, there’s never been a better time to start a conversation. Where will you begin?
Cristina Constandache is chief revenue officer at Rakuten Viber. In this role, she directs, defines and leads all global revenue-generating activities to ensure its success for global partnerships and advertising on Viber for their 1bn+ users. Always at the intersection of advertising and technology, Cristina draws on more than 10 years of experience in global media sales, with a proven track record in advertising, business development and client services on the international stage.
Prior to working at Viber, Cristina was the VP of EMEA and Americas business partnerships at Cheetah Mobile, the 4th largest app developer in the world, where she oversaw all global revenue-generating activities for mobile advertising campaigns. Before joining Cheetah Mobile, Cristina led the commercial team at Mobpartner until its acquisition by Cheetah Mobile. Cristina has also held senior management positions at online media planning and affiliate marketing agencies including Intela, Aedgency, and Commission Junction.