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Five tips for using messaging in retail

Caitlin Henehan is GM of chat and message with Zendesk a company that builds software for better customer relationships.
Caitlin Henehan is GM of chat and message with Zendesk a company that builds software for better customer relationships.

Messaging in retail is increasingly becoming a tool of choice both online and offline.

Instead of just phone or email, companies can now reach people through social messaging channels, such as Facebook’s Messenger, Twitter Direct Messages, Line or WhatsApp.

Business Insider Intelligence recently reported the use of messaging apps has surpassed the use of social networks, while a report by The Economist states over 2.5 billion people have installed at least one messaging app on their smartphones. And while messaging may have started out as a way for friends to chat socially, its high engagement levels means customers are on these channels and that messaging is an ideal way to reach out to them.

For example, by using Facebook Messenger – which has more than 1.2 billion active monthly users – customers can shop, purchase and communicate with businesses. Two years ago, global customer support software company Zendesk partnered with Facebook to allow businesses to easily manage conversations on Messenger.

Many businesses chose to use messaging as a way of improving their customer service. For instance, when BarkBox, a service provider for dog owners, began managing customer conversations on Messenger, it saw a dramatic decrease in average response time from 60 minutes to four minutes. This helped earn the company a ‘responsive badge’ on their Facebook page.

Effective engagement

In today’s connected world, no one leaves home without their mobile phone. Therefore, when used correctly, messaging can be very effective for retailers to engage with customers. Here are some practical tips on how businesses should get started when it comes to messaging their customers:

Know your entry points:  Not everyone may be comfortable with messaging a company, so it’s best to introduce them to the concept. Businesses with existing Facebook pages or Twitter handles should use the “Message us” button to bring relevant conversations from a social media platform into a one-to-one setting. Similarly, various messaging apps have embeddable buttons that allow customers to message businesses from the website. For retailers without a website, you can encourage customers online through QR codes, which they can scan at retail outlets and start following your messaging profiles. Usually pairing this with a discount or promotional item, helps incentivise the customers.

Identify your audience and the needs: Don’t try and put all customer conversations onto a messaging platform.

Instead identify who will be best served by messaging, and which are the best situations. Generally, messaging works well when relatively short answers need to be provided quickly, but not necessarily immediately. For example, if you run a travel business, and offer online travel bookings, things can get complicated due to the many different permutations. In situations where you need to explain numerous details on a particular travel destination, it may be better for the customer to talk over the phone to one of your staff, who can convert the sale more effectively. However, if you want to send out an alert on a price reduction or communicate how to make payment via the website, then messaging is ideal.

Contextual information: Customers hate having to repeat themselves, so if you need to transfer a conversation from one support agent to another, make sure you pass the necessary context, like customer details, previous purchases, outstanding queries, or shipping updates. When using Facebook Messenger, it is also helpful to link their Facebook identity with your records.

Response time matters: Response time has a strong correlation with customer satisfaction scores. This is particularly important with messaging, as it’s meant to be a way to get answers fast. Messaging is often used for time-sensitive communications, such as someone asking about their food delivery, or a customer having problems in the middle of his/her e-commerce purchase. The golden rule is to answer at least 90 per cent of your messages within 15 minutes. If you can hit this goal, you will earn a “Very responsive” badge on Facebook. In situations where you are not able to respond quickly, for instance after office hours, set an auto-responder so that customers are aware and not left waiting.

Pair humans with bots: This works well as long as you have boundaries about how you use your bots. As the accuracy of conversational bots isn’t there yet, masquerading your bots as a human or having open-ended conversations is not recommended. Instead, use bots for repetitious answers, such as checking account balances, tracking delivery, or handling FAQs. Whenever a bot is driving the conversations, make sure the customer has the option to switch over the conversation to a human agent, with the full context available. The bot space is very exciting and has great potential. For example, one of our customers allows people to order online from restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses. They are leveraging Facebook’s AI-powered concierge that inserts recommendations on Messenger. So, if two friends are messaging each other, discussing dinner, the bot can suggest placing an order online. Ordering and payment can all be seamlessly completed within the same messaging app.

The messaging space has evolved significantly over the past few years, and is still evolving. As this technology and the way people are using it is still so new, the best way for retailers to use messaging is to start slowly and test each approach. Then evaluate the response and if it works well, expand your messaging channels.

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