In just eight years, the smartphone has changed how people interact with the world and with businesses, from customer service to commerce to content and beyond. And more change is coming. Every company that has a mobile app or call center is going to have to interact with customers through myriad channels.

Today, those channels are primarily via social media, but that trend obscures the bigger change: messaging.

Messaging will become the primary path for customer interaction over the next five years. It will displace call centers. It will replace or augment mobile apps.

According to industry trends and Mary Meeker’s report, messaging has surpassed social media to become the preferred method of communication for millennials. If brands want to continue to capture new customers, then they must meet their next-gen millennial customers in the messaging channels where the customers want to interact.

Meeker’s research shows that 69 percent of millennials prefer web/internet chat, social media, and messaging to other channels. The Meeker report further breaks down the other channels and shows that 19 percent prefer mobile applications, while only 12 percent prefer traditional phone calls.

1-800 Flowers recently launched a chatbot on Facebook Messenger, and Chris McCann, president of 1-800 Flowers, told Digiday that after just a few months, “over 70 percent of the company’s chatbot orders have been from new customers. As early adopters, these users skew younger than [the company’s] usual audience.”

People are very comfortable with messaging and have been doing some form of text messaging for the past 20+ years. Plus, messaging is not just more convenient, it enables better experiences for customers.

Automation and bots are not toys or marketing campaigns; they are the new user interface paradigm. When customers interact through messaging channels, it can feel like a truly conversational exchange. And messaging has a natural re-engagement component because customers see bots in messaging apps as something with which they can interact.

The days of brands spending millions of dollars and many years to launch an essentially single-use mobile application are coming to an end. Brands will move to bots and automation in messaging so that they can better understand the requests of their existing customers and reach out to new millennial customers.

On mobile apps, people are simply served the content and choices the brand or mobile application developer wants to give them. With bots and automation in messaging, the power is truly back in the customer’s hands. With the right chatbot platform, customers can ask frequently asked questions and get an instant answer, rather than searching for content that might not be baked into the app for various reasons, like lack of screen real estate. The chatbot creates an additive knowledge model for content that is ever-growing based on customer requests. It also allows brands to understand what kind of data their customers want and learn how these customers prefer to buy.

Chatbot evolution

Mary Meeker states in her report that messaging is “evolving from simple social conversation to business-related conversations.”

Messaging is perfect for many types of business interactions because it puts the content and commerce where the customer is. Bot automation platforms like Conversable have dynamic data model structures that make it possible to close out of a customer care issue while starting an entirely new engagement loop with recommendations and conversational commerce. This extended interaction can be based on the data flow within one message thread.

It is not just the tech giants and press who are excited about chatbots and automation in messaging. Even large, conservative system integration and consulting firms are seeing these trends with their brand’s customers.

David Nichols, principal and Americas Innovation and Alliance leader at Ernst & Young, stated, “When it comes to the customer experience, consumers have decided how they want to communicate, and they expect businesses to keep up. Whether through text or social media, consumers have fundamentally changed the way they communicate. Conversational commerce can help bridge the gap by transforming basic interactions, such as sales or service, into seamless experiences. EY sees tremendous potential to drive greater customer intimacy between business and consumers with this emerging trend. This could be the evolution beyond mobile apps.”

Just as the web and mobile brought great new opportunities, they also brought new risks and challenges. Ensuring that brands build truly scalable systems that are secure and able to properly handle critical data such as personal identifiable information will be key to how brands build and launch automated conversational experiences on messaging platforms.

Conversational platforms allow companies to securely tailor interactions between their customers over any messaging interface, while deeply integrating a brand’s legacy and business-critical enterprise systems. This integration includes authentication, ordering, customer service, inventory management, and more. The interactions can be general, such as “Are you open?” or powered by an integrated back-end system, such as “What is the status of my flight?” or even authenticated for conversational experiences with account info, order status, and commerce.

No matter what sector a brand is in, the truth is that messaging is already larger than social media, and it is growing rapidly. The good news is that because of messaging and chatbots, brands are empowered to connect with, understand, and serve their customers better than ever before while also reaching the next generation of customers.

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