Conversational Messaging

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The Future of B2C Communications: Interview with Marta Lopez

Jenna Alburger

February 25, 2021

Is customer experience more important than the product itself? It depends on who you ask. According to Gartner Research, 89% of companies today compete on the basis of customer experience alone.

Those of us in product UX and in customer support know that friction is the enemy of customer experience. Good customer experiences minimize friction for the customer, making all of their actions as low effort and as smooth as possible.

Unfortunately, as we deal with the enduring effects of COVID-19, friction is anything but scarce. At the risk of re-opening fresh wounds, we ask our guest, Marta Lopez, COO of Webhelp, about any recent challenges she's had with customer service. 

Marta doesn't have to think back far as she recalls a recent struggle. For many of us, it's a familiar story -- one involving an automated phone recording, or IVR system. Just today, she says, she was stuck in a never-ending loop while trying to track down a delivery package. "I was not able to get out of the IVR to talk to a human being, so it was horrible. And, in the end, I was not able to contact anyone," she says. 

In a world where we choose brands based on ease of use, convenience, and speed, experiences like this one can easily lead to customer churn. On the other hand, brands that make the customer experience a priority are in a better position for success. 

It is with this context that we kick off our interview with Marta to discuss customer experience and the future of B2C communications. Marta has over 20 years of experience in helping global brands develop the technology and strategies needed to build industry-leading customer communication. This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Do you think that companies are planning to have a customer experience be their differentiator in the next few years?

Marta: Yea, absolutely, I think that most of the companies, when they started they were very focused on product, meaning designing what they wanted to sell, and what they wanted to offer to the customers. 

But then, they realized that once you have your product ready, you need to change your core and start providing an experience. And, I think that the majority of the markets show us that most older companies need to switch to this mindset. With new companies, they are already building this customer experience from the beginning. So, it's very very important now.

This year hasn't been like any other year. Companies have been forced to move experiences to digital channels that they didn't have to have on digital channels before.

Do you find that your clients come to you with more urgent projects or want more automation due to COVID?

Marta: Well, I would say not only due to COVID. What is happening today is that a lot of people are switching from buying in-store to buying online. This, of course, is giving not only more volume because of COVID, but because of the changing situation. 

Of course, what is happening is that we want to increase sales, but we don't want to increase the number of contacts through the same channel. So, we are working in contact deflection, meaning trying to understand why we are receiving these contacts. 

We're also trying to automate the low-value contacts, where we don't really need human interaction. For example, "what is my order?" We don't really need someone behind explaining what it is.

Which industries or sectors do you find are the most customer experience-focused? 

Marta: Well, there are some industries where it makes sense to focus on customer experience. Like in banking, for sure. Another one is the travel industry. When you are traveling and you have an issue, you need to contact somebody very quickly. 

In the case of the travel industry, most of the time you are on holiday, so you want to have a good time. If you have any issues, you're going to be very upset. You're not going to want to travel again with this agency or with this company. 

So, it's very important. But, as a company, I will say that you're going to fail sometimes. You cannot try to be 100% reliable in terms of your product, because sometimes it's going to fail. But, the way that you treat this experience is what you really need to focus on. 

In this case, this is where digital channels may help a lot. 

In which industries are there big opportunities for companies to start adapting their customer experience? 

Marta: Ecommerce is moving very fast. I think that what they are changing today is that at the beginning, for them [ecommerce] was like a channel. It was brick and mortar, and then ecommerce was another kind of experience. 

Today, they are going to start closing some of the stores on the street. So, what they want to do is to have the engagement that you have with the brand, but through the online experience. This is not easy, so they are trying to see how they can create this way of working. 

We use messaging every day to communicate with our friends and family, but companies are still very much on the traditional channels. Even the most forward-thinking ones still have a ways to go to be able to reach their customers. 

It's predicted that by 2023, messaging will be the number one B2C communication channel, making up 61% of total interactions with a brand. Does that prediction align with what you're seeing with your current clients and the work that you're doing today? 

Marta: It depends on the company and the strategy that they have. I think that we are on the road to do that.

And how is web chat evolving? Are you using webchat as well? 

Marta: Yes, but if you look at the difference between messaging and web chat, what I don't like about web chat is that there is a timeout. The agent and the user need to be communicating at the same moment. 

One thing that we learned from WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger is this asynchronous time that you have. It gives the contact center more flexibility. We are more productive because we don't need to be engaging everybody in real-time. Messaging is faster than email, without the pressure like we have on the telephone or webchat. 

Another topic for me that is important is that today if you look at the traffic that we are getting to the website, I would say that around 80% is coming from mobile phones. So for me, it's more native if we start working in these messaging apps. 

The webchat that you are going to offer is going to have exactly the same experience for the user, and it's not giving you the best capabilities in terms of features. 

Compared to other parts of the world, are European companies prepared for the shift to messaging?

When we look at China, there is one single app that everybody is using. Depending on the country, some applications are more used than others. In Spain, it's WhatsApp and then in France and the U.S., it is more Facebook Messenger.

So, I think that the difficulty that European companies are facing is that it's more difficult to choose which channel that we want to have. We need to -- and we are obliged to -- use a multi-channel approach in Europe. That is something that is not happening in other countries. 

Do you find that some companies think that messaging is more of a gimmick for young audiences? 

Marta: More than the channel itself, I would say that real-time experience is what is for younger people. When we look at the younger generation that we have today, they are not used to waiting to watch their TV shows on TV. They are used to Disney+ and Netflix, so they just click a button and they see what they want. 

This is the experience that they are expecting from any company. So, if they need something at 2 pm, they want to call, they want to send a message, or use some kind of do-it-yourself process to have what they need. 

This is what they are expecting, and I think that the best way to do it is usually from messaging apps. But, not because of the channel itself, but because of the expectations that they have. The older people are used to waiting. 

Can you share a couple of examples where your customers are using messaging for customer support? 

Marta: Yes, sure. We have an automotive company that is using WhatsApp to follow-up with open cases that they have in post-sales. As you can imagine, if a customer has an issue with their car, it takes some time to fix it. 

So, instead of following up via email or phone just to say "we don't have any news yet" or "we are going to come back to you in a few days," we are engaging through WhatsApp. It's quicker, it's easier. 

In fact, we are supporting more and more through this channel because it allows, not only to be reactive and to write to someone, but you can send a sound clip so we can hear the sound of your engine to tell you if you need or not to go to the dealer. 

That is impossible to do through other channels. Or, we ask the customer to send a picture of the control panel in the car if there is a light that is just popping up and they don't know what it is. It's easy to know what is happening, whereas if they try to describe the color of the light or the icon of the light. So this is one of the cases that we are using.

Exactly the same for some fashion brands; when there is an issue with the order, customers are sending us pictures so we can see if there is a defect in the piece. We can ensure that they can send it back, and we can do a refund. This is something that is easier for everybody if we can do that through these kinds of channels because we can send pictures and share this kind of information.

Absolutely, and I'm sure that customers are happy to be speaking on their favorite channels. But from a business standpoint, what sort of impact are you seeing from these use cases?

Marta: When we started putting WhatsApp as a channel in customer service, it was because the customers were asking for this support. They were calling us to ask for something, and they were asking if they could send us a picture through WhatsApp, or if we could send them a photo. We were not able because we did not have this channel as a tool, and we said "we need to do something." At that point, it was not open as a channel, but it was the need. 

In other parts of the world like Asia, for example, messaging is used much more heavily than it is here in Europe. Can you share a little bit about the use of WeChat in China and its capabilities?

Marta: Yes, in fact, when you are using WeChat, it's helping a lot not only with the messaging itself but also because it's linked to all of the different processes. When the user has this app on their mobile phone, they can interact with everything. They can pay, they can order, they can check and change the delivery. 

Today, when you are doing an online order, usually if you have any issue with a logistics company, you need to go to another platform or another website. Sometimes they don't even have an app to try to solve this, and it's very difficult. It takes a lot of effort from the customer to try to move from one partner to another one to one party to another.

In the case of WeChat, everything is integrated. I think that this may be the future, but again, In China, it's easy because there is only one tool -- so everybody's working with that tool. But in other places like Europe, Africa, or Latin America, there is not this cultural integration between tools, so I don't know if it's going to be the same. 

Nevertheless, I think that thanks to the APIs and the way that we are able to integrate everything, we are going to be able to offer this kind of experience to the users. With one app, they are going to be able to manage many different things.

What technology from WeChat do you think will cross over to WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and which ones won't? 

Marta: I hope that eventually, it will be easier to identify yourself within the apps. Once you are in WeChat, you have your ID, and your ID is linked to all of the companies that you are working with. So, they are sharing information through WeChat.

I don't know if they are sharing that information between the companies, or only with WeChat, but as a user, you identify yourself once and you are operating with all the companies at the same time. This is really very easy for you. 

What do you think messaging apps will look like in five years?

Marta: Well, I think that maybe they are going to be like a platform. If you look at WhatsApp today, it's like a communication channel that you use and you can attach different files or different features. 

But what I think may happen is that WhatsApp is going to be like an operational system in which you're going to have different options to work with. It's not going to be a communication channel anymore, at least not as we think about today. 

And, I'm saying WhatsApp, but it can be WhatsApp, it can be Telegram, I don't know which one, but I think that they are going to concentrate.

What you've described is also how we see the future at Hubtype. We see messaging apps like the browsers of the future, and the experience that you have on messaging apps taking the place of today's websites. 

Customers in the future won't go to websites anymore, everything will happen within these apps. We're not that far from this, where you can be browsing directly within the app and you can choose a product, you can check the availability in the store, and then you can purchase -- without ever leaving the conversational interface. 

Who knows which app this will be, but this experience is very feasible, and we're almost there in a lot of cases. 

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us today?

Marta: I know that we are talking only about technology, but I would like to say that behind this technology there are always people. The profiles of the people that are preparing these tools and these experiences are different. 

So, we are working with this technology and trying to automate and reduce the quantum interaction, the interactions that you're going to do with people are going to be more important because they're going to be really meaningful. This is what we are going to try to do with this kind of technology.

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