How Customer Service is Being Transformed by the Growth of Mobile Messaging
The world watched in astonishment a few weeks ago as a video surfaced of a United Airlines passenger being physically dragged from a plane after he refused to give up his seat on an over-booked flight. The airline’s initial response was almost as catastrophic a PR disaster as the actual event, going into detail on the policies and procedures, but showing none of the human compassion that all of us would expect from a brand that purports to care about its customers.
But this was just the latest in a litany of customer service disasters for the beleaguered airline. Just a few weeks prior, United had barred two girls from boarding a flight because they were wearing leggings. Having three daughters of my own and knowing that leggings are pretty much standard issue clothing at that age, I did a bit of research to try to understand how this ridiculous scenario could happen. And once again, the corporate response was all about rules and policies and procedures, which I am sure was little comfort to the girls or their parents. But then, who can forget one the most famous (and ultimately funniest) PR fails of all time—once again, with United in a starring role—as Sons of Maxwell took to YouTube with their new hit based on a true story, ‘United breaks guitars’.
It’s more about broken promises than broken guitars
It might sound like I’m picking on United, and I’m not really, it’s just that they are the current holders of the title “Worst Customer Service” in the court of public opinion. But there have been plenty of brands before them—if you think of the companies that you least like to deal with on a daily basis, it’s likely that you’ll come up with a Top 10 in seconds, and on it will be your cable provider, wireless provider, health insurance provider, gas and electric companies, and likely rounded off with a few retailers that you plan on never shopping at again.
But why are they on the list? Likely you haven’t been dragged off a plane recently, and your guitar is still intact, so what did they do wrong? Well, in most cases, it is simply that they broke a promise rather than a guitar. They promise great service and their corporate-speak oozes comforting words like “customer-centric” and “caring,” but when you actually interact with them, the experience is awful: Long wait times on the phone, slow or no responses to emails, unhelpful staff and, in many cases, simply not getting an issue resolved at all.
The customer experience challenge
As market researchers, we see this all the time in the customer experience research (CX) we carry out for our clients—the biggest CX downfalls occur when consumers are not able to contact a company effectively and get it to pay attention to their issue, and linked to that, not getting that issue resolved properly. By contrast, consumers are remarkably forgiving of almost any problem when they feel that a company has taken the time to listen, understand and try to fix the issue. Not surprisingly, companies that excel at CX and consequently sit highest in industry benchmarks for satisfaction and Net Promoter® Score (NPS) – think Amazon, Disney, Starbucks or Southwest (yes, an airline!) – are the ones that are famous for communicating well, tackling problems head-on, coming up with solutions quickly and leaving customers with the feeling that they were listened and responded to in an appropriate manner.
The big challenge for ‘old school’ companies like United is that they are now faced with customers that expect to interact with their preferred brands through the most expeditious channels, and increasingly that channel is mobile. Nearly all US consumers use some form of mobile messaging (normal SMS text or other messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger) in their day-to-day communications, sending an average of 34 messages a day. The growth of mobile messaging has been so massive that apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat each have more than a billion regular users today.
This has led to a profound change in the way humans communicate, and that behavioral change is spilling over into the way consumers interact with their preferred brands. Consumers have become increasingly comfortable with the quick, efficient, responsive nature of mobile messaging and are looking for that same level of communication with the brands they interact with on a daily basis. This has led to the rapid rise of consumer-to-business (C2B) mobile messaging, which was the topic of a body of research that Market Strategies recently completed with one of our technology clients, Quiq.
Take a Quiq look at the data
In February 2017, Quiq commissioned Market Strategies’ technology division to conduct an independent research study into mobile messaging and its growing value as a customer service channel. The survey was fielded with US consumers aged 18+ and provided profound insights into how consumers are re-imagining engagement with their preferred brands in a mobile world.
The first stand-out insight was the existing reach of mobile messaging. Nearly half of respondents (46%) chose messaging as their preferred means of contacting a company or reaching out and interacting with the brands in their lives. And age is a major factor in this preference—more than two-thirds of Millennials (68%) chose mobile messaging as their first choice for C2B communications.
The reasons for this preference are also very clear: 95% of respondents chose mobile messaging for C2B communications because of the convenience, while 94% mentioned that it was preferred because of the fast response times, with two-thirds of those surveyed saying that they expect a response within an hour or less.
Use cases were equally fascinating, as respondents indicated that they use mobile messaging for a wide variety of tasks.
Checking the status of an order or getting billing information are relatively simple examples of using the messaging channel for a one-time pull of information. But with 70% of respondents wanting to use mobile messaging to troubleshoot an issue, and nearly two-thirds of respondents wanting to make a purchase or a booking/reservation, it is clear that consumers are comfortable with more complex use cases that would typically require multiple, bi-directional messages.
But perhaps the most compelling data from the research was the behavioral changes brought about by C2B mobile messaging. Nearly half (45%) of respondents indicated that the availability of a mobile messaging channel is sufficient motivation for them to choose one product or service over another, and more than half (53%) stated that it would raise their brand perceptions. This is not entirely surprising, because we know that effective customer service through streamlined channels is one of the biggest drivers of satisfaction and brand preference. But most critically of all, fully two-thirds (66%) of consumers are willing actually pay more for something if it were supported by a C2B mobile messaging channel, with respondents stating that on average, they would be willing to pay 17% more.
A new customer promise (and a new guitar)
C2B mobile messaging is unlikely to have made much difference to Dr. Dao as he was being dragged from his flight. But for the other passengers on the aircraft, a near-instant communications channel would have given them a voice for their urgent concerns, and more importantly, provided United with an opportunity to immediately respond to the pressing issue and do the right thing.
And that’s the key point of the research: Even in the best businesses, things do occasionally go wrong—a package gets lost, a bill contains an error, a product needs to be returned, or sometimes a guitar even gets broken. But by providing a highly convenient and responsive communications channel to consumers, businesses give themselves a chance to turn those trust-eroding moments into an opportunity to affirm and re-commit to their customer promise.