The past few months were full of exciting announcements around two key topics: artificial intelligence and mobile messaging. Both have made significant leaps in progress, and together will make a very exciting year ahead for businesses.

This year, Google announced Click-to-Message; Amazon released the Lex bot building toolkit; and mobile messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp surpassed 1 billion monthly active users.

To keep up with the massive growth of these messaging channels companies are scrambling to develop both an AI strategy and a messaging strategy. However, 2017 will show that both strategies are extremely intertwined. Companies will open up messaging channels to talk to customers and will leverage artificial intelligence to support the resulting volume growth. Customer service is the first industry already seeing the massive benefits of this combination.

Just consider this:

  • Launch a messaging channel like Facebook Messenger with no AI, and your contact center gets flooded with unexpected volume of messages overnight.
  • Deploy AI without a large enough volume of messages, and you don’t have enough historical data to train the algorithm.
  • Deploy AI and messaging together, and you have the perfect combination to scale your customer service operation, reach more customers, and cut customer service costs.

Along the way, this perfect storm of messaging and AI will find many businesses unprepared, asking the following questions:

  •   What will happen to customer service operations?
  •   How do we prepare for messaging and not screw it up?
  •   How do we capitalize on artificial intelligence trends to grow our business?

What does this mean for businesses?

Customer will switch to messaging as their preferred communication channel because it’s easy and convenient. Why would they go searching for a phone number to call or an email address if they can just send a message directly from a friends list or an ad? This migration of behavior has been validated by the growth in private messages sent via Facebook Messenger, Twitter Direct Messages, and SMS.

Companies like Uber made a concerted investment in providing service on Messenger.  Considering the over 1 billion monthly active users on the messaging app, providing service there was essential in reducing effort for customers to connect with Uber. The company operationalized its support teams for this new digital shift and, as a result, is able to meet its customers wherever they are. Customers are able to resolve their service issues without dialing a phone number or having to search for an email support address in a way that is both familiar and easy.  As a result, Uber has been able to easily handle a massive increase in the number of inbound messages on Twitter, Facebook, and Messenger.

Brands that make it easy for customers to reach out experience a net increase in the number of interactions across all channels because customers are more incentivized to do so.

So don’t pull the plug on phone and email just yet. Over time, a brand’s messaging channel will earn more trust from customers and will become the channel of choice, but while that change takes place, maintaining traditional support channels like phone and email is important to avoid alienating customers not ready to embrace messaging for a few more months.

How can businesses prepare for messaging?

First, brands must understand and accept that message-based customer interactions operate under a different set of expectations from traditional channels. Think about the text messages sent today — they are short and to the point, and there is a high expectation for a quick response. This expectation is just as applicable when engaging with brands, if not more so.

Brands will need to operationalize in order to meet volume and immediacy expectations. This means scaling their staffing and implementing customer care workflows that are built for 1:1 messaging. To meet these new demands, brands will need to add an artificial intelligence component to their messaging platform that empowers human agents.

There is a lot of speculation that AI chatbots will completely replace human agents in contact centers. The reality is that successful companies will use chatbots to help agents take care of tasks that can be easily automated, such as requesting a customer’s order number or helping to make a payment transaction. Artificial intelligence will further enable agents to be successful by routing the right messages to the right people and suggesting responses that become more accurate after each interaction.

For example, after opening up Facebook Messenger as a channel, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines saw a significant spike in volume of new conversations over social channels and messaging apps. The company opted to deploy an AI solution in order to empower its agents and help them conduct accurate and personalized conversations at scale.

Today the airline receives over 100,000 messages per week in 12 different languages, and is recognized as one of the most innovative and effective social customer service operations in the world. It has successfully reinforced its customer service systems with artificial intelligence in a way that maintains the vitally crucial human element customers expect and appreciate.

How are businesses capitalizing on messaging?

AI-reinforced customer service across messaging channels will lead to increased sales and customer engagement opportunities for brands. Customers want to get an answer to their question and continue using your products and services in the most convenient way possible. Today, that often means sending a short message via Facebook Messenger, Twitter, or SMS, maybe even Whatsapp. Combining messaging with AI allows brands to talk to customers directly, building personal relationships while meeting increased demands for speed of response and accuracy. Over time this enables contact centers to shift from being cost centers to value centers.

Customer service on mobile messaging channels is cheaper and more efficient than legacy channels like phone and email. Agents can also help more customers in a set period of time. The adoption of messaging for service with a layer of AI is already here, and it is growing. By leveraging these capabilities to match increased service expectations, brands can embrace this change and reap the benefits in the coming year.