Expected vs. Experimental Customer Service Channels in 2016: Part II

By daniel foppen Senior Principal Product Manager, Oracle Service Cloud

Recently we provided an overview of the distinctions between expected and experimental service channels as well as a framework for evaluating experimental service channels heading into the new year. Now we dive into specific channels to explore in 2016! 2016 is shaping up to be a year of the platform-messenger-platforms. You may be wondering what I mean by a ‘platform-messenger-platform’? Let me explain…

More than likely, you have heard about messenger platforms by now. WhatsApp is used daily by nearly a billion folks globally to send text messages, videos, pictures, and emojiis to individuals or groups. Facebook Messenger has 700 million active users and WeChat has 650 million active users (largely in China). Just these three messenger platforms have 2.3 billion active users. That sheer scale is mind-blowing, but these three are followed by other messenger applications such as Viber (250M active users), Line (200M active users), and SnapChat (100M active users).

Often customers ask me where we see the market heading and which channels will be important. Yet, we all have to acknowledge that it is difficult to accurately predict the future as we live in a very dynamic world. However, do not despair; I do have a hunch about what will happen this year with messenger platforms… Ready for it? At least two of the three big messenger platforms will become Platform-Messenger-Platforms! Now that we have the big bold prediction off my list, let’s go a bit deeper.

The three channels I am observing with greatest interest now are WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger. I expect that in 2016 we will experience a change from these just being messenger apps to these becoming full-fledged platforms.

WhatsApp is huge! It has over 900 million active users. When there is such a large part of the population using that platform extensively day in, day out — it is only logical to see interest in using WhatsApp as a service channel. Why not? It makes perfect sense to open up a mobile chat thread with a customer service agent around a certain issue and find that conversation still open the next time you have a problem. Great customer experience, great agent experience, right?

The trouble is that I see virtually no businesses offering WhatsApp as a viable engagement channel yet. I believe the reason is simple: the owner of WhatsApp does not want it to become an engagement or service channel. When businesses use WhatsApp to broadcast messages to a group, the account is blocked. There are limits in the max number of incoming messages — anecdotally found to be around a couple of thousand incoming messages per minute. WhatsApp does not have a public API and there is no technical documentation, no API limits, nor SLAs. While Twitter documents its API thoroughly, WhatsApp does not provide any documentation. To me this raised questions about the viability of WhatsApp as a Service Channel. For example, when you post a comment on Pinterest on a company’s board, you do not necessarily expect a reaction from the company. However, when you ask a company a question over WhatsApp (or SMS, or email, or live chat for that matter) you do expect an answer. It is difficult to meet these expectations if you cannot rely on the WhatsApp platform to give answers to your customers.

WeChat is a different story. With currently 650 Million active users, it is slightly smaller than Facebook Messenger is. It is primarily used in China, but expanding into other Asian markets. The reason I am looking at WeChat, is that I believe we can learn a lot from how WeChat is used today and apply that to forecast how Facebook Messenger will expand its scope in 2016.

WeChat is tremendously popular in China. In China’s large cities it has a penetration rate of 90% and is rapidly transforming a very large share of the society’s communication habits. I am a WhatsApp user, but I see it as a messenger platform. I use it to send messages to family, colleagues, friends and a few groups. Sometimes we share pictures and videos, but that is where it ends.

If we look at WeChat, at first glance, it pretty much does the same thing as WhatsApp. However when you look further you see a whole range of other applications that are provided within the WeChat platform. Recently someone working at a large consumer brand showed me on his iPhone how they are offering customer service in China using WeChat. At first sight, just opening a conversation with the brand seemed rather familiar, but when you are also presented with a range of menu options related to that brand conversation, it became clear it was much more than a messenger thread. Customers can open a mini e-commerce section within the WeChat thread where they can buy products and pay for the goods using the WeChat payment service. Users get targeted offers within their conversation. They can play branded games inside WeChat. They can get routed to technical support within WeChat, etc.

When you look at it from that way, it becomes obvious that when a messenger platform starts including marketing capabilities, e-commerce shops, customer service capabilities and PayPal-like services, we can hardly call it just a messenger platform anymore. According to this article, services like ordering (and paying for) taxis, collaboration tools, banking, crowdfunding, dating and job boards are also part of the WeChat platform. When a messenger platform becomes so broad in scope that it becomes a little internet within a messenger app, I believe it becomes a Platform-Messenger-Platform; a whole platform within a messenger platform.

Moving to Facebook Messenger. Now Facebook Messenger is a core component of the wider Facebook platform. Where in the past public messaging on friends’ timelines was the norm, people apparently have started to become more sensitive and privacy aware, and sending private messages through messenger is gaining popularity. The fact that using Facebook Messenger within the Facebook app is not possible anymore (you have to download the separate messenger app) shows that Facebook is driving users to the messenger app. Voice calling has been added to it recently. In the United States, a payment service has been added and businesses are encouraged to start delivering customer service through Messenger. As well, Facebook has made good SDKs and documentation for the Messenger Platform available for developers.

I believe that when looking at how WeChat is increasingly becoming a platform, we can only expect that Facebook Messenger will be broadening its scope similarly in 2016 and become a fully-fledged platform within the messenger app.

What that means for customer service professionals is an interesting question:

  • What does it mean to have zero control over the engagement channel you choose to add to your multi-channel strategy?
  • How do you make sure that these conversations are connected to your broader customer record and interaction history from other channels?
  • How will these changes effect customer service engagements?
  • By when will customers interact with your brand (view and evaluate products, buy them, get support for them, recommend them) solely through platforms like Facebook, WeChat, WhatsApp, etc.?
  • Will you even need a website, email and telephone channel by then?

These are interesting questions to ponder. Let us know your thoughts to continue this conversation in the New Year!


Originally published at blogs.oracle.com.