When is a phone not a phone? When it’s in the hands of today’s customers.  In our daily lives, we have shifted from talking to typing to communicate using our phones. This transition was swift for Millennials and Generation Z who text three times as often as making a call. But even older smartphone users, up to 55 years old, text twice as often as they call. It’s only natural that customers also look to communicate in the same way with the businesses they buy from. Retailers and the banking and insurance industries will need to invest in newer technologies and rethink their customer service processes so they can cover all of these new communication channels. With face-to-face assistance, call centers, emails, websites and apps as long standing service points for customers, companies had thought they were on top of customer service. Industry executives ask “How many more ways do consumers need to find us?” With 77% of Americans having a smartphone, it’s apparent that firms need to push forward now with the new service channels. Smartphones have made this possible–mobile website virtual agents, customer texting, in-app messaging on programs like Apple iMessage, and social chat such as Facebook Messenger. Users expect instant connection.

Apple has answered this customer demand with its new single click iMessage-to-brands capability which launched in March 2018 with iOS 11.3. Now companies can offer immediate texting from inside the iMessage app. Wells Fargo was among the first to take advantage of this new opportunity. Now every customer with their app installed sees the familiar WF logo and can communicate directly with Wells Fargo from launching from within the iMessage app. This integration extends beyond iMessage to Apple’s other applications such as the virtual assistant, Siri, which suggests users call or message a business when they ask about the company. And messaging can have the same security and privacy protections used on dedicated phone apps, with traditional logins, Touch ID and FaceID available, so users can trust their information has the same level of security.

But will customers actually use this? Yes. 80% of adult smartphone owners use message apps daily. Surprisingly, 56% also prefer to interact with customer service via text/messaging than call, according to a 2016 Nielsen-Facebook survey. Larger retailers, banks and insurers have listened to what their customers want and are going all in. They are developing strategies to incorporate messaging into their mix of traditional service communications, email, chat and social media. Wells Fargo has gone so far as to take the next step by introducing their own virtual agent, named Erica. Ultimately, retailers, banks and insurers want to serve customers wherever and however they prefer, and the companies are venturing into new technologies and ways of working to accomplish it.

Beyond expansion of customer service channels, by embedding their communication capabilities into texts, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Siri, Amazon Alexa and other virtual assistants  retailers, banks and insurers protects against the very real risk that consumers will tire of using apps. There is a convergence of messaging into a few often used methods like Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant and messaging apps to solve the bedlam of hundreds of apps on users’ phones.

Will customers accept this automation? Questions about whether the friendly agent helping customers is a human or chatbot have been not been definitively answered. Some firms are using live agents while they work to launch virtual assistants. Some have chosen a mixture of both, working together, since responsiveness and service availability are key factors in positive customer experiences. As bots have improved dramatically in their ability to carry on natural conversation and depth of skill, demand for virtual agents, they have become a vital part of a combined strategy for adding messaging to the standard communication channels.

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