Conversational Apps Will Replace Websites as the Main Interface Between Businesses and Customers

Messaging apps are the new web browsers. Conversational apps are the new websites

Messaging apps are on track to rival web browsers, the main point of contact between brands and their customers. Instead of opening Google Chrome to go online, we'll simply open WhatsApp. Instead of pulling up a fashion retailer's website, we'll message them. 

Think back to 20 years ago when websites were made up of just text and hyperlinks, compared to where they are now. The same evolution is happening with chatbots and conversational apps. Right now, chatbots are mostly made up of text and some interactive elements (like buttons and carrousels) running on messaging apps. 

Conversational apps already go beyond that, adding any graphical element rendered in these channels (like date pickers, log-ins). This is quickly evolving with the help of webviews, catalogs, payments, and more.

In the near future, what we'll have are mini-websites (or mini-programs) operating within messaging apps, as now is already happening in WeChat. Messaging apps (like WhatsApp, Messenger, or Telegram) will become the new browsers (like Chrome, Mozilla, and Internet Explorer). The software within these messaging apps will be conversational apps.

Taking notes from WeChat in China

If our vision of the future sounds out of touch, all you have to do is look East to understand that this paradigm shift is well underway. In China, WeChat connects over one billion people to their friends, favorite brands, and activities. 

But WeChat isn't just the country's most popular social application -- it's essential to everyday life. From within WeChat, you can book a plane ticket, find a doctor’s appointment, look for a job, make a reservation, read the news, and even file for divorce. There's not much you can't do from within WeChat. WeChat's payment features are even making cash obsolete. 

In fact, our clients in China report that 98% of their customer communication happens through WeChat. With WeChat, they are able to combine the pervasiveness of messaging with the best rich graphical interfaces. This combination is a key reason why WeChat has become a national success and takes customer experiences to the next level. 

And other parts of the world aren't far behind. Sure, China's unique socioeconomic conditions helped pave the way for WeChat. But, customer communication preferences, technology, and business interests in other countries are all evolving such that messaging apps will be equally as dominant. 

The success of WeChat in China is a sign of what's to come globally. Messaging apps are ushering in one of the most significant paradigm shifts in the way we communicate with brands -- and access information in general. 

What's driving the shift towards messaging apps and away from websites? 

The rise of conversational commerce 

In 2010, every single one of us was sending emails and making phone calls to our friends and family members. Now, we rarely (if ever) send emails to friends and family. We still call when the topic is urgent or important, but for everything else we use messaging; our favorite channel. 

Today, messenger apps have transformed the way we communicate. Instant communication and connection have become a way of life. We send GIFs, photos, messages, stickers, and much more to friends and family without a second thought. 

So it's no surprise that people want to communicate with brands in the same way they communicate with friends and family. Most people would rather send a message than be kept on hold. They'd rather send a message than wait 24 hours for a response via email just to have it get stuck in a spam folder. 

Customers appreciate the immediacy of messaging, as well as the asynchronous nature of it. Messaging doesn't require customers to be consistently active in the conversation. Instead, they can reach out with business inquiries and issues in ways that don't disrupt their schedules. This doesn't just improve the customer experience; it creates more sales opportunities. 

People also like the fact that they can send files, audio messages, or any other type of media to effectively communicate and solve their problems. 

But customers aren't the only ones that prefer messaging. Businesses are finding that meeting customers on messaging apps makes them more efficient. It decreases operational costs while making customers happier.

Instead of paying €10 per ticket with traditional channels like phone and email, businesses can pay €1 or €2 per ticket with messaging. As a result, they decrease their cost per contact and average handle time, while also improving customer satisfaction and net promoter scores. 

On top of that, the combination of automation and messaging makes it possible for businesses to scale relevant and personalized conversations. They can use automation purposefully -- instead of relying on simple automation. Unlike interactive voice response (IVR) or early chatbots, automation is finally at a place where it improves experiences and adds value to use cases.

All of this has given rise to conversational commerce, or the intersection of messaging apps and business. Alongside the growth of business-to-customer communication has been the growth of transactional operations within these channels. Now, we can make payments, modify information, and place orders -- all through messaging apps. 

In short, the benefits of messaging apps extend well beyond communication alone. Entire customer journeys can be reimagined, from discovery to purchase and everywhere in between. Thus, while it's always been a goal to meet customers on their preferred channels, there have never been more implications or opportunities. 

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Our tolerance for friction is at an all-time low

Customer expectations are a major driving force behind this paradigm shift. Thanks to businesses like Amazon, Netflix, and Uber, our tolerance for friction is at an all-time low. On-demand movies, same-day delivery, and other services have led to a culture of instant gratification. 

Over time, it's become clear that the brands with the least amount of friction win. Brands that are dedicated to customer experience have more loyal customers. Those customers spend more and share their experiences with friends. As a result, these brands have better reputations, spend less on customer acquisition, and are generally more profitable. 

And as more brands embrace conversational commerce, what we consider "friction" is changing fast. At one point, it was a novelty for a brand to have a website and a mobile app. These days, if the shopping cart isn't synchronized across a website and mobile app, we consider that friction. 

Our intolerance for friction is also evident as we look at the decline in branded apps. Today, there's an app for everything from turning on the lights to warming a coffee mug. But, people are tired of downloading apps for some marginal level of convenience. 

People would much prefer brands to meet them on the apps they already use. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2025, 80% of customer service organizations will have abandoned native mobile apps in favor of messaging for a better customer experience.

Let's say, for example, you're booked a flight and want to add luggage. Instead of being forced to download the airline's mobile app, you can easly add or adjust any luggage options directly from WhatsApp. The airline automatically puts the extra luggage on your flight booking. They add the tickets to your Apple Wallet. They seamlessly integrate with your everyday apps and everyday life. 

The point is, customer experience and the commitment to eliminate friction have never been more important. Leading global players recognize this, and are consolidating their channels into one digital hub. Instead of requiring customers to bounce between their app, website, and other channels, they are aggregating them all through messaging apps. 

The UX of messaging apps are evolving

The user experiences on messaging apps get better every day. Facebook, Apple, Google are all in a race to be the next WeChat. They know that messaging apps are more than just a communication tool, they are the future of commerce, payments, and business in general. 

For that reason, they are all working quickly to expand their business messaging capabilities and features, which is accelerating the adoption of messaging channels. Businesses now have the freedom and flexibility to design branded their own experiences within their messaging platforms. They can also integrate with the CRMs and tools that they need to be effective.

Facebook, for example launched a new messenger API for Instagram. The API was launched in early June at the annual F8 Refresh conference. The update allows businesses to use the same engagement features available on Facebook to directly respond to Instagram messages.

WhatsApp also just released new buttons, catalogs, and other rich elements to make conversations more intuitive. These rich features make WhatsApp an even more powerful weapon in the fight against friction. 

As messaging companies release more rich elements and features, it's clear that their roadmaps are focused on improving customer experience within their platforms. For businesses, that means they are able to create a more seamless customer journey. They can treat each interaction as a mini use case, reducing the steps it takes to get from point A to point B. 

For example, an airline might want to use messaging to help customers book flights. During a conversation with an agent, the customer will need to select the date of their departure. For this interaction, a date picker will be the fastest way to communicate this information. 

A date picker is a graphical user interface widget that allows the user to select a date from a calendar and/or time from a time range. It eliminates confusion related to date formats and can also validate dates by restricting date ranges, e.g. only after today and for two weeks later, or only for dates in the past

This is just one of many examples of how conversational apps can be designed to combine the best of all types of user interfaces. You can use graphic, text, and voice user interfaces to build next-level experiences. And as brands continue to build out these conversational apps, customers continue to choose them over websites and traditional channels. 

The API ecosystem is making innovation more accessible

Our current API economy is helping entire industries get conversational. The shift towards conversational banking, conversational insurance, and conversational commerce is made possible, in part, because of application programming interfaces (APIs). 

APIs help businesses innovate without dramatically altering their tech stacks. They can work with third parties to take advantage of the latest technology, like messaging and automation. 

All of this makes personalized, one-to-one conversations scalable, feasible, and accessible. Automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning are no longer tools for a handful of global retailers with deep pockets. Instead, these tools are more widely accessible and are being used on a much larger scale. 

Previously, unless you had a large budget to invest in customer experience or enough agents to man these communication channels, conversational commerce was a lofty goal. Now, conversational commerce is possible, scalable, and preferred by both businesses and customers. 

How can brands prepare

Think long-term 

Messaging apps will not just be a channel where commerce takes place, they are going to be the channel. This isn't just the latest technological trend to adopt or another communication channel to open. With the help of data extracted from Gartner and Deloitte reports, we predict that 60% to 80% of all business interactions will take place on messaging in the next years.

Again, we're talking about a paradigm shift in the way businesses and brands communicate. Consumers have already shifted to messaging channels; now they're just waiting for brands to bridge the communication gap.

This shift will require brands to develop a long-term conversational strategy. They'll need to consider how messaging will transform each part of the organization today, three years from now, and ten years from now. 

It's also important to understand that it's not just the customer service department that will benefit from messaging. While the adoption of messaging usually begins with customer service use cases, it will quickly grow in scope. 

Sales, marketing, and the entire organization will want to use messaging as they develop a deeper understanding of its possibilities. It's critical to plan for this in advance to avoid information and tech silos between departments and understand if additional technology is needed to make the shift. 

With this in mind, brands will need conversational strategies, conversational designers, and people that understand how to build great experiences. They'll need to understand how conversational experiences touch each departmental role. These unified experiences will require the collaboration of different stakeholders that may not have previously worked closely together.

You'll also want to think carefully about how you will integrate your tech stack. CRMs, analytics, AI, and other tools should be integrated in order for messaging to be the singular point of entry for consumers. 

Define the use cases

Next, make sure to define the use case(s). Do not open a messaging channel just for the sake of it. Properly define the scope and desired outcomes. While messenger apps will eventually be the singular point of entry to your brand, this can't happen overnight.

Instead, begin with a specific business problem, or use case, that could be solved or improved easily. This will help ensure your conversational strategy is adding long-term value to your business. 

When defining the use case, businesses should start with processes that are repetitive and fairly predictable. Master each use case before moving on to the next. Again, the point is to reduce friction and improve customer experiences.

With customer support use cases, it's important to measure metrics like CSAT and NPS along the way. If you intend to use messaging to increase sales, have the proper tracking in place to disaggregate new sales by lead source. 

Understand how your channel volume will shift 

There will be more tickets on messenger in the beginning, while people are testing out the channel. Once people understand how they'll be helped on messenger, that initial influx of "test" tickets will decrease, but people won't go back to traditional channels. 

Over time, ticket volume will shift away from traditional channels and towards messaging. It's important to have a system in place to reallocate resources and train employees accordingly.

There are significant differences between attending traditional channels versus messaging. The skills needed to answer phone calls are not the same as those required to service customers via chat. A key difference is that messaging is asynchronous, so human agents can attend three to five cases at the same time. 

Agents will also require training on the equipment, tools, tone, and language needed to provide proper support. For example, they may need to know how to work with any automation in place, managing the handover from chatbot to human, and back again. They might also need to understand the ins and outs of knowledge bases (KB), enterprise information systems (EIM), and other software.