Modernizing Your Customer Service Channels with Asynchronous Messaging

Anyone who's worked in customer service knows the drill: The customer is always right. This mantra was popularized by the likes of Marshall Field, John Wanamaker, and Harry Gordon Selfridge, successful businessmen who founded some of the top departments stores in the United States and the United Kingdom. Since the early 20th century, this slogan has been used to cover all manners of managerial sins, pitting customers against employees and employees against managers. It's taught irate customers that bad behavior will not only be tolerated but also rewarded by the manager, who often validates their unreasonable demands at the expense of the employees whom they've hired and trained.

This could explain the low morale and high turnover among customer service agents noted in Aspect's "2018 Agent Experience Index Survey," but many agents must also contend with a high volume of incoming and outgoing calls, as well as in-person customer interactions that leave both parties feeling dissatisfied. At some point, management must stop and assess if they're giving their contact center agents and other employees the tools they need to succeed or simply demanding that they do an unrealistic amount of work for an ungenerous amount of pay.

Nowadays, asynchronous messaging (communication that doesn't require one party (say a customer) to wait for the other (say an agent in the contact center) to be available before starting or continuing a conversation) removes the high stress experienced by call center agents in a customer-is-always-right environment. It does so by incorporating most people's preferred mode of contact, whether that's mobile messaging systems like SMS, WhatsApp, or social media messaging apps, but also modern live chatthat no longer disconnects customers. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and SMS/iMessage are the same channels that consumers are already using for personal and private communication, so extending the same ease and flexibility to the business realm is an innovative way to attract a loyal following of increasingly tech-savvy consumers.

Traditional call center agents require training and skills to deal with angry customers on the phone. The telephone is no longer the primary channel for customers to seek information; it is often the last resort when everything else has failed. The nature of conversations over the phone has thus changed, and agents need to deal with a higher percentage of complaints and issues. Compare that with messaging. Due to its accessibility and convenience, customers tend to go there first. And the only way to shout at an agent is to use all-caps or unhappy emojis. With the channel being asynchronous, agents can afford to let a few minutes pass before responding, thus lowering the level of stress they experience.

Asynchronous messaging increases agent productivity and customer and employee satisfaction. Furthermore, customers with agents on Sparkcentral's Digital Customer Service platform have seen 40 percent higher productivity versus voice, 45 percent higher productivity versus email, and up to 25 percent higher productivity versus legacy session-based chat. Asynchronous contact center teams are more efficient; they're smaller but not more stressed, thanks to the fact that they're not governed by random fluctuations in the number of incoming or outgoing calls.

Asynchronous conversations also feel familiar and intuitive to agents (and customers) since that is how they conduct their personal communications. Agents who have the tools and the time to give each customer communication the attention it deserves are more relaxed, which translates to higher employee satisfaction and better customer experience. This drives anywhere between 10 and 20 points higher Net Promoter Scores for companies that have deployed digital customer service agents with asynchronous workflows.

Last but not least, messaging channels are quick to launch. While many businesses already use one-way SMS today for notifications and reminders, turning the channel into a two-way engagement channel can be achieved in a matter of weeks. It gets even easier if a channel has not been leveraged yet.

Melissa Baldoni is director of customer success at Sparkcentral, a software company that turns messaging apps, SMS, chat, and social media into customer service channels on one universal digital customer service platform.