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Consumer demand for quick resolution presents new use cases for SMS and OTT Chat Apps

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A new study into how consumers interact with businesses finds that there is a growing business case for the use of SMS and OTT messaging as consumers look to using different communications channels depending on what they are doing and where they are.

The study, conducted by analyst firm Ovum for telecom-web convergence company tyntec, finds that customers prefer to interact with customer service agents using different communication channels depending on where they’re at in the transaction process, and they expect service providers to be effective using mobile.

The findings chime with a recent study carried out by Trustpilot, which found that half of Brits feel they can express themselves better online than they can in person. And with their mobile phone ever present, they are increasingly turning to the online moan by phone.

New IP-based communication channels like OTT chat apps are identified as a significant untapped opportunity, with 50% of survey respondents interested in communicating with service providers in this way.

“Brands that focus solely on developing their own mobile app for interacting with their customers may well become victims of app fatigue in that, no matter how rich an experience it provides, most consumers now need to be convinced to download yet another app,” said Pamela Clark-Dickson, lead analyst, digital communications and social networking, Consumer Services, Ovum. “Brands should consider adopting an omni-channel strategy for customer care, which would enable them to use a mixture of communications services during each individual interaction with the consumer, including mobile messaging as well as apps.”

The “need for speed” makes mobile messaging essential for the omni-channel customer journeys, says the study. Nowadays, consumers have a low tolerance for waiting and expect a fluid communication experience, especially when it comes to interacting with customer service agents.

According to survey findings, the most important priorities for consumers are getting through to an agent quickly (80%), and the speed with which their inquiry is resolved (74%). Mobile communication channels can play a crucial role in addressing customer inquiries faster, however, there’s a significant gap between consumers’ expectations and what’s provided by brands across all industries.

Interestingly, the survey found that consumer preferences for communication channel changes depending on where they are in the transaction process. For instance, respondents prefer voice when placing an order, while SMS is preferred for tracking a shipment. SMS messaging and new IP-based communication channels like OTT chat apps are still in early stages of use but are gaining traction for customer service. The findings reinforce the idea that understanding the strengths of different channels and then optimizing for mobile touch-points is critical for improving mobile customer engagement.

While email and voice are still commonly used communication channels, the survey uncovered 56% of respondents would like to send an SMS to their customer service agents using the same number they use to call them. The reasons provided by the respondents reveal consumer expectations of SMS as being less time-consuming (44%) and more convenient (42%) than alternative communications forms. In practice, the most common use cases for SMS in customer service are alerts and notifications, time-dependent special offers, or texts concerning ticketing, payments or donations. The survey revealed consumers are increasingly interested in using two-way SMS for appointment scheduling (53%), order tracking (48%) and providing feedback (43%).

Consumers are also more readily adopting chat apps as a communication channel for customer service. The survey shows 18% of respondents already interact with customer service agents via a chat app, but 50% would be open to being contacted in this way. Problem resolution (57%) and order tracking (54%) are the preferred use cases for chat app engagement. Consumers already using chat apps for personal communications have the higher propensity to use chat apps for customer service. For instance, openness increases from 50% to 65% for those consumers using two or more chat apps regularly. Enterprises should look to take advantage of chat apps as a mobile engagement channel for relevant uses cases and to compliment other channels, especially in markets where chat apps are considered mainstream for communication.

Because this market lacks a physical storefront, it had to place strong emphasis on customer interaction and become an early adopter of an omni-channel approach. Survey findings indicate e-commerce service providers as the most effective vertical market in leveraging mobile communication for customer service, according to 45% of survey respondents. While SMS has long played a central role in their mobile engagement strategies because of its universal reach and high open rates, there are new opportunities emerging with chat apps, not only in terms of the size of the aggregate user base, but also in terms of the variety of features that can be integrated. Fifty four percent of consumers indicated they were interested in using chat apps to engage specifically with e-commerce providers, making it the most important vertical to grow customer service on chat apps.

Today, most brands are able to send SMS messages to consumers directly, however, in most scenarios messaging is one way and consumers aren’t able to respond using the same number. Fifty six percent of respondents said they would like to send an SMS to customer service agents using the same number they would use to call them. The primary reasons include, less time consuming (44%), more convenient (42%), and less frustrating (30%). Based on these findings, Ovum expects enterprises will increase engagement with SMS-enabled customer service and partner with service providers that enable connectivity for two-way text.

“With users expecting near-real-time issue resolution, it’s key that service providers map the customer journey with the communications channels that meet the requirements,” said Marco Lafrentz, product manager at tyntec. “At the same time, the way enterprises implement messaging technologies and the suppliers they deal with should depend on the business. For example, if your business is local, connecting to a mobile operator and a mobile chat app that covers most of your demographic might be an option for you. However, if your business is regional or global, you would need a reliable provider who can connect multiple networks and chat apps, and manage the complexity—so that you can focus on your strategic goal of strengthening your mobile customer engagement.”

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