3 Tech Innovations That Will Make Mobile Messaging Real for Social Customer Care in 2017

Opinion: More than 3 billion people worldwide already use WeChat, KakaoTalk, Line, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger

Ask any transformation-driven company which technologies they’re exploring for delivering quality customer care, and many will probably tell you that mobile messaging applications look most appealing.

As they should: More than 3 billion people worldwide already use WeChat, KakaoTalk, Line, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to connect with family, friends and brands they love. So companies would be remiss if they didn’t consider these tools for reaching people (especially millennials) where they already spend so much time—on their smartphones.

Analysts predict that 35 percent of customer support will take place on mobile devices by the end of this year, which is certainly possible. But it is no certainty because several technical hurdles stand in the way.

At the end of the day, mobile messaging is still in its early stages. It’s relatively unproven in customer-care circles. Challenges remain around security and systems integration. And we have yet to see that “killer app” capable of catapulting this technology toward mainstream adoption.

All of this will change in 2017, however, and here are three tech innovations that could accelerate mobile messaging apps for customer care this year:

Chat bots

By now, we’re all familiar with chat bots, those automated (sometimes animated) personalities on websites that respond to frequently asked questions we pose about products or services. The next step in the evolution of mobile messaging apps will be to assimilate these capabilities for customer care.

There are two basic ways in which this could materialize.

The first is a model that WeChat, Line and KakaoTalk are using, where brands use those platforms to create their own, customized self-service hubs for FAQs. This basically enables organizations to lighten the load on call-center agents for inquiries that can just as easily be handled by an automaton. For example, HP Support found that its WeChat implementation is directing about 40 percent of all inquiries to information about service center locations and software downloads.

A second interesting model that Messenger and Twitter are pursuing involves chat bots going even further and helping customers complete basic transactions. Current implementations are still rudimentary, and the necessary conversational elements have a way to go. But this appears to be an area of investment, so the technology should continue to develop and find its way into mobile messaging apps as customers become more comfortable with it.

Artificial intelligence

Most of us use some form of AI, whether we know it or not.

Many consumers first experienced AI on web and social media sites that watched how they window-shopped online and suggested products they might like to view. More recently, AI has shown up as core technology in intelligent assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana and Google Assistant.

For mobile messaging apps to deliver great service at scale, they will have to integrate AI capabilities and serve them up on just about every mobile and connected device.

AI can play a huge role in helping to tear down the language barrier confronting many customer-care organizations today. To date, companies have tried to address this challenge by hiring multilingual staff, investing in multilingual websites and developing multilingual content. All of that is time-consuming and expensive. A more scalable, cost-effective method would be to automate the process of responding to customers and resolving issues using self-learning translation capabilities built into customer-care systems, including mobile messaging. Tools such as Google Translate are getting more sophisticated all the time and could soon be a viable option for accomplishing that goal.

Augmented reality

All efforts at automation aside, human interaction and intervention may still be necessary to completely resolve a customer’s problem. Bots and AI have limitations, and many customers still prefer speaking with live support agents.

But getting on the phone to address an issue can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Emailing back and forth with a representative takes far too long. Even an instant message conversation can be frustrating, especially if customers feel like the agent is following some sort of service script that sounds completely irrelevant to their issue.

Sometimes the problems are more complex in nature and difficult to resolve, particularly given hardware failures. Times like these might require a visual interaction, and integrated AR capabilities within messaging apps could certainly fit that bill.

Analysts expect the AR and virtual reality enterprise market to boom in the next few years. In fact, IDC, in its August 2016 “Worldwide Semiannual Augmented and Virtual Reality Spending Guide,” projected that worldwide revenues for AR/VR technologies will skyrocket from $5.2 billion in 2016 to more than $162 billion by 2020.

Before long, you’ll see customers and service reps using AR to share important information—including images and videos—through messaging apps. For example, HP and Infosys have showcased how consumers will be able to hold their devices over account statements and have FAQs and other important information suddenly pop up on their smartphones or tablets.

The goal of any customer-service interaction is to deliver relevant, personalized experiences and help customers quickly resolve issues with the least amount of effort. In the end, integrating these key technologies to deliver clear outcomes and build best-in-class customer experiences rests on an organization’s ability to innovate quickly.

Kriti Kapoor is global director of social customer care at Microsoft.

Image courtesy of Aleutie/iStock.