The guide to conversational messaging
The messaging journey that began with SMS is evolving into advanced conversational channels. Here’s how you can be a part of it.
- What you will learn
- Why omnichannel for mobile messaging?
- The opportunity gap
- The mobile-first customer
- The omnichannel messaging opportunity
- Conversational AI
- Facebook Messenger
- What conversational messaging delivers
- Getting started with conversational messaging
1. What you will learn
Businesses are constantly weighing the pros and cons of today’s messaging solutions.
At Sinch, our customers see an average open rate of 25% when they reach consumers by email. On the other hand, with SMS, they can reach almost everyone they contact, but their messages are limited to 160 characters.
The clear breakaway comes with omnichannel mobile messaging, which gives enterprises the best of both worlds.
By investing in next-generation messaging, you can combine the benefit of reaching all of your customers with a rich, app-like experience—and a 98% open rate.
The benefits of conversational messaging include:
Whether you work in marketing, operations, or customer care, conversational messaging can help you drive substantially more engagement among your customers, creating more frequent sales opportunities, more meaningful touchpoints, and valuable openings to educate consumers across these channels.
Here’s another way to look at it: if users are already familiar with a certain messaging app—perhaps one they use to stay in touch with friends and family—it will be much easier for your brand to reach them there.
Users shouldn’t have to swap between email, mobile apps and customer service calls when they could be having one continuous, seamless, intuitive conversation in their favorite chat app.
The best part is that you’re not giving them another app to add to their already busy screens (and jumping through all the hoops of actually driving those downloads)— your messaging is already inside something they’re familiar with.
While SMS remains critical to business messaging, rich messaging offers you a suite of new features without losing the benefits of what you already use.
Read on for a fuller picture of omnichannel mobile messaging, and to find out how this next-generation technology can keep your business competitive in our evolving world.
4 key takeaways from this guide:
Why conversational messaging is important
Specific features of each channel
How to engage with the mobile-first customer
Industry best practices
No matter where your customer is, an omnichannel messaging strategy can streamline communications and reinforce the brand experience.
users on messaging apps²
messages sent on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram daily⁴
new users estimated to adopt messaging by the end of 2021
2. Why omnichannel for mobile messaging?
The omnichannel story begins with a simple question: Where is my customer?
It’s a question with quite a few answers. Together, they say a lot about how today’s marketing, operations, and customer experience resources are best used to connect your brand to a rapidly changing audience.
You can certainly start with geography — what are your customer’s country and time zone? — but you’ll also want to consider factors ranging from content, channel type and time sensitivity to their online habits.
Questions to ask yourself to gauge your audience
- Are they digital natives or recent adopters?
- What are their favorite social channels and what do they use them for?
- Do they shop on desktop, mobile, both?
- Are they loyal to certain e-commerce retailers or services?
- Do they download apps to make purchases and delete them afterward?
Throughout its history, the internet has helped innovators find ways to enhance communication by reducing points of friction.
By expanding mobile messaging from 160-character SMS to two-way rich media, omnichannel or conversational messaging is the single biggest paradigm shift taking place between brands and consumers today.
In 2021, it’s predicted that half of all businesses will spend more on conversational applications than on mobile apps.
But despite 3 billion users on messaging apps and 100 billion messages sent daily between WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram, brand-to customer communications on mobile chat apps remain untapped territory for many brands.
Examining our own data at Sinch, meanwhile, we see that 160 character SMS has a stunning global read rate of 95% within 2 minutes.
The best of both worlds lies in conversational chat apps, which turn stunning open rates and an app-like, rich media experience into a direct, reliable connection with your customers.
Most people would rather schedule a package delivery via WhatsApp or a dental visit via SMS than search their email or wait on hold for customer service.
Consumers in a world suffused by always-on social media expect the same fluency and convenience from the brands that engage with them.
That’s a challenge for many businesses—but it’s an even greater opportunity.
Omnichannel mobile messaging enables businesses to connect with customers across any channel and maintain context. This is essential, as each customer has their preferred channel of communication. Industry analysts forecast that by 2023, 90% of global enterprises will leverage API-enabled CPaaS offerings to drive their digital competitiveness.
Jonathan Bean, Chief Marketing Officer, Sinch
3. The opportunity gap
So far it’s an opportunity that most businesses haven’t taken advantage of. While digital transformation is moving forward, the journey takes time, money, and effort. And the opportunity gap between what consumers want and what companies can offer remains huge.
Whether you’re scaling up, growing into new regions, or just meeting emergent needs by changing how you serve your customers, these are challenges you’ll face as a business navigating this uneven, fragmented world.
Transitioning to omnichannel mobile messaging, so you can engage with customers using whatever method is most effective for a given message, involves everything from marketing and customer service to operations.
Even companies that stay the same structurally will need to find new ways of interacting with their customers in complementary ways, like grocery stores offering contact-free delivery and medical practitioners moving to telehealth.
One challenge is uneven consumer behavior
As mentioned above, 3 billion people are using chat apps today, but their channel of choice isn’t evenly distributed. And people in different parts of the world have differing preferences for how brands should reach them.
People who’ve grown used to juggling home life and work-life will prefer brand communications that make that ongoing multitasking easy.
Brands whose messages used to be scattered across (often muted) app notifications and (unread) emails can now deliver convenience and personalization by letting users continue the conversation without having to guess how to find it.
4. The mobile-first customer
A consumer who needs something—she’s researching rates to refinance her mortgage, he wants new running shoes, their cable signal just died—might know which brand to talk to, but not want to download an app in order to get informed.
A report by Comscore further supports this trend: In one quarter of 2019, two-thirds of smartphone users in the U.S. said they downloaded an average of 0 new apps per month.
This reluctance to use apps limits the frequency and relevance of people’s interactions even with businesses they trust.
If your pharmacy just launched prescription delivery, your customer might only learn about it if they’ve downloaded your app and enabled push notifications.
But what if a customer’s entire relationship with your pharmacy, from shopping and transaction to delivery and feedback, was one ongoing conversation in a format they’re already familiar with?
If they’re already messaging you on SMS about flu shots and prescriptions, a ping about free delivery would be informative and most likely welcomed.
The many digital disruptions of recent years have forced all of us to adapt, and so have the many uncertainties that 2020 has brought.
To keep in touch and remain customer-focused, brands must adapt as well, and that very much includes updating their messaging strategies and their methods of interacting with consumers.
Companies that adopt an omnichannel mobile messaging strategy ready to meet today’s realities can expect to thrive amid tomorrow’s challenges.
Tomorrow’s brand relationships will rely on reaching your customers across all their channels, in a prioritized order.
5. The omnichannel messaging opportunity
What benefits can your company expect from transitioning to omnichannel messaging? How can these new tools help you serve your customers while building a more robust and efficient business?
But each channel has unique abilities and limitations—what formats it can and can’t support, what content it allows from a compliance perspective—and every consumer uses different apps for different reasons.
If your brand lacks a unified approach to mobile customer communications, going omnichannel might prove cumbersome for your development, applications, and customer support teams.
Sinch can help
Whether you need a simple API to integrate channels into your current tools or want the full conversational offering, Conversation API‘s single integration point adds the reach and familiarity of numerous channels to your messaging— and when your user switches channels, you can stay focused on your message rather than dealing with each channel’s unique technical requirements.
Every brand wants to control its look and feel, across every message and every channel. Built-in seamless transcoding optimizes the message across all channels and creates a consistent brand experience. Whether your user is on WhatsApp, Facebook, or SMS, create the message once and fine-tune that content until you’ve got your brand representation perfect.
Suppose you’re a bank that needs to send a customer a fraud alert and get back a yes-or-no response ASAP.
Your contact center reviews the customer’s opted-in channels—say WhatsApp, RCS, and SMS—and tries WhatsApp first, because that’s their most recently used channel. If the number returns “Message can’t be delivered” or no response— for instance, if the recipient is traveling abroad and has turned off cellular data — the message will be transcoded into RCS, then SMS, and so on, until the user gets the message.
Of course, since SMS now acts as our native inbox, it’s also the ideal default channel.
Using rich mobile messaging to reduce churn by personalizing customer updates
Cross-channel relationships rely on conversation history and context
If your banking customer starts a chat at home and wants to continue after leaving the house, an automated “warm handover” can seamlessly move that conversation history to WhatsApp. And if the customer posts a message there—“Here’s my case ID”—the customer service team will get her history without having to ask questions she might have already answered.
Business operators also use rich mobile messaging to reduce churn by personalizing customer updates.
For example, a leading telecom company noticed that many of its subscribers had questions about their bill, but couldn’t always find quick answers that were tailored for them.
The company decided to create unique videos for their customers to break down their invoices and help their customers better understand their charges.
This type of proactive, seamless brand interaction makes for a more positive customer experience and also takes some weight off the shoulders of your operations team.
By combining the features of mobile messaging with rich, app-like content, you can keep everyone up to date—and drive real business results.
Not only did the mobile component drive a clickthrough rate that was 4.5x higher than what they saw on email, but they saw a 17% annualized churn reduction as a result.
The service journey is crucial to creating lasting customer relationships and brand advocacy.
Your Sinch integration can include an AI chatbot whose natural language abilities enable it to converse with customers on topics it has been trained on. It can also seamlessly transfer your conversation history to a contact center application.
More advanced chatbots enable automated two-way chats that retain context and continuity in multiple languages, even if the user switches channels. In short, a powerful chat solution is easy to set up, requires little code, can help your customer service operation provide better, faster, and smarter care, and improve efficiencies within your call center.
As one example, the call center at a leading media and entertainment company was handling over 20,000 support requests a month.
It was difficult for the servicer to match the size of its support team with its growing volume of requests, while also delivering the quality of service its customers expected.
To help streamline customer care, the company started addressing support requests using WhatsApp to reach customers who were already active on the app.
With a combination of scripted decision trees and AI natural-language processing, along with fully encrypted messaging for additional security, the company was able to answer 82% of tickets with an automated bot, increase the satisfaction of its customers, and reduce the cost of running its call center by almost 50%.
Omnichannel mobile messaging also makes it easier for clients to give feedback since in many cases, your best feedback comes from customers who would otherwise feel that sharing their experience would take too much effort.
If they leave their feedback on a chat app, you can also engage them instantly if it’s a negative review.
Too much development time and management overhead goes into maintaining one-off APIs.
While no one can be sure exactly how the messaging world will evolve, we do know that existing channels will grow their user base in new countries, telcos will create entirely new channels, and even new chat apps will appear.
As your options expand, Conversation API integrates these new channels—including players like WeChat, Kakao Talk, Apple Business Chat, and Line—alongside your existing tools.
And as you scale up when more choices are added, you’ll still only need one messaging API gateway and one vendor supplier to keep your integrations up-to-date.
You can’t send promotional or marketing messages on WhatsApp. You have to create carousels and reply chips on RCS and Facebook. And what you can do in checkout might be very different in one region than it is in another.
More importantly, each region has specific policies on provisioning phone numbers for outbound SMS, channel-specific regulations, and complex guidelines for opt-in, opt-out and data storage.
Your development team doesn’t need to become experts in all these channels if you have a partner like Sinch that already knows how to do everything possible to keep you compliant with them all.
6. Conversational AI
What is Conversational AI? Conversational AI—previously referred to as AI chatbots—involves the technologies behind application interfaces that accept human input in natural language as text or voice and produce context-appropriate responses.
Examples include chatbots, voicebots, conversational search, speech-to-text, text-to-speech, and more.
Along with being more effective, engaging a customer in a back-and-forth dialogue is more personal. Oracle CEO Mark Hurd predicted that by 2025, 85% of customer interactions will be automated. “Digital assistants that can glean the emotional content of customer interactions are one big reason that will be possible”.
The fundamentals of every successful digital product or service is a good strategy. AI chatbots are no exception.
Chatbots are a complementary layer for your customer experience, and overall they should delight your users.
So, don’t build for the sake of building, but understand the opportunity, one of offering a great user experience and returning business value in terms of ROI.
Start from the business problem
Assume you’re a leading eCommerce retailer and you want to manage customers’ questions on payment issues, but know that these queries are less than 2% of your global volume of queries, you might want to build a chatbot for another purpose.
So, start from the business problem and build it from there. Technological trends alone are no guarantee for a successful bot.
It is also necessary to find the right use case.
Based on a user-centric approach and different criteria and questions provided, you can easily find the best objective of your virtual agent and define some key performance indicators on how to measure ROI.
It is important to engage with customers where they are, in their preferred mode of communication. Channel formatting is also essential to keep in mind. Some channels provide rich capabilities like buttons and carousels (e.g. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, RCS), while others are text-based (e.g. SMS).
Enrich your chatbot with 3rd party services
The most successful use cases in terms of operational efficiency are integrated directly into the business’ internal systems, maximizing the end-user experience.
Conversational AI success stories
- 78% of requests were handled by a chatbot in Brazil to recruit university students, reducing workload and time on the application process. (WhatsApp logo)
- In March 2020, a chatbot covering 70 user scenarios was deployed in two weeks to streamline HR and IT questions while a European organization shifted to working remotely. Deployed in two weeks, it provided consistent COVID-19 communications while reducing workload on internal staff. (Webhook logo)
- A rail transportation company overwhelmed with inbound support ticket questions hosted a chatbot on Facebook Messenger and their website. With 2,000 monthly users, 89% of requests were handled by the bot. (Facebook Messenger and webhook logo)
You can offer content and user-specific replies based on their user profile, hosting the full conversation in one mobile chat.
AI Chatbots allow your customer care team to be available 24/7 by automating most frequently asked questions, reducing call center traffic. Most importantly, maximizing efficiency allows you to scale up and adapt to emerging needs with minimal investment.
Now, as machine learning technology becomes more accessible, companies can offer one experience that’s aligned everywhere with multilingual chatbots.
At Sinch, we have our very own Conversational AI platform called Chatlayer.ai. Chatlayer.ai is a language-independent platform that you can configure in up to 125 languages — in text, rich media, and even voice.
The Sinch guide to conversational messaging
Navigating the channels
Stable, dependable SMS, the original mobile communications channel, has been around for more than 30 years, and still lets people send and receive timely, cost-efficient text messages almost everywhere in the world.
According to Mobilesquared, “SMS remains the leading channel when it comes to reach. Any brand looking to develop a rich messaging strategy will still need to include SMS, as SMS-only users (i.e. nonsmartphone users) still account for 37% of devices.”
Because they’re limited to 160 characters, SMS messages can be delivered instantaneously, and you can send a lot with just those characters: two-factor authentication codes, secure and verified logins, links, confirmations, and more.
Instant reach and powerful engagement possibilities have kept SMS a valuable tool that’s easy to integrate with existing systems and gets the job done efficiently.
Sending SMS messages is pretty easy, but knowing when to send them, to whom, and at what time, can be more difficult.
The experts at Sinch are available to help you make SMS part of the backbone of your company’s marketing and communications strategy.
To find the right SMS supplier, you need to do three things:
Have a clear vision of how SMS can add value to your business
Transform this knowledge into solid requirements for SMS providers
Compare SMS suppliers based on your needs and what’s on offer
As of autumn 2020, WhatsApp is the world’s most-used messaging app. WhatsApp and its corporate sibling, Facebook Messenger, are growing roughly twice as fast (30% year over year) as Facebook itself. In fact, there are only 10 countries in the world where a Facebook app isn’t leading the market.
global users in 180 countries
messages sent per day
user time spent on WhatsApp weekly
Bring conversations into your entire customer journey by scaling on WhatsApp Business API
All this popularity makes it crucial to understand how these apps match your own messaging strategy.
Boost campaign performance using powerful WhatsApp business metrics to help you better understand and engage with your customers. Put analytics to work and map out the perfect, friction-free customer journey.
WhatsApp’s opt-in rules protect its customer experience by disallowing messaging that could be considered promotional or “unrelated to expected customer service scenarios.”
And WhatsApp session windows ensure that users get only responsive messages that they expect, and only within a specific amount of time.
For years the mobile industry has been hearing about RCS (rich communication services), an emerging messaging protocol whose multifeatured, interactive multimedia experiences could eventually supplement or even replace SMS (and compete with Apple iMessage).
That prospect leapt forward in 2018, when Google and its cell phone carrier partners produced Chat, an RCS-based protocol that lets subscribers from different carriers and countries communicate with each other with rich media.
According to Mobilesquared, while WhatsApp holds a clear advantage over actual RCS in terms of reach, “the [number of] potential RCS users highlights the longer-term opportunity RCS presents.”
RCS is still expensive and bulky to roll out, but the user experience is impressive.
In addition to exceeding the 160-character limit of standard SMS, verified RCS messages can include photos, audio, video, and group messages, all from directly within users’ messaging apps.
Businesses will be able to use RCS to offer their customers an incredible range of experiences, from simple Q&A to dynamic product carousels.
WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and other apps have had these features for some time. Now the Android world might be about to catch up with such over-the-top services.
Though a unified RCS messaging system has yet to emerge, and it isn’t yet available on all devices, the protocol has already gained roughly 430 million active users.
This platform continues to grow, and it’s worth being ready for.
MMS (multimedia messaging service) is a standard way to send personalized, situation-specific multimedia messages: a welcome to someone who just signed up for a service; a ticket order confirmation; a video walk around your car to explain just-performed maintenance.
MMS is available through many mobile operators in the US, the UK, Australia, and Ireland, and it remains a useful option for global brands.
Mobile media available on MMS includes video, audio, and links, making it perfect for more advanced messages than SMS while retaining the direct user reach.
11. Facebook Messenger
In 2016, Facebook created the Facebook Messenger Platform, whose rich features like predictive text, branded business profiles and suggested reply buttons make it easier for people to browse, chat and engage with brands.
“Messaging gives people a direct line to the businesses they’re interested in spending their money with,” according to Facebook.
“When people message businesses, they come with a certain set of expectations.”
And the world’s most popular social media company works hard to meet them.
As with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger has specific opt-in entry points so the user can trust they won’t receive unwarranted messages.
And the channel invites companies to define their customer messaging strategy with a range of brand experiences.
Whether it’s payments, product recommendations, digital shopping assistants and customer service requests; scheduling, delivery notifications or re-engaging users after a transaction; or reply surveys or other feedback, businesses can reach their customers at every step of the customer journey, with points for encouraging creativity.
LEGO, for instance, used a chatbot named Ralph in Facebook Messenger to help guide customers to the perfect gift, recommending products based on recipient data such as age group and interests.
A purchase is just a few clicks away, and the user never has to leave the chat.
That kind of convenience, use of rich media, and responsiveness to the customer embody the best of what omnichannel messaging has to offer.
Viber is emerging among the other leading channels, and it might be one you’re missing if you have an international base.
With more than 1 billion users in 193 countries engaging in more than 7 million interactions per minute, Viber is a preferred channel for an emerging global audience, primarily in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and some Asian markets.
Boasting a 90% delivery rate within 3 minutes of being received, it’s less cost-intensive than SMS, since you only pay for delivered messages, and its end-to-end encryption gives it high levels of user trust.
If you work with a Viber Business Messaging Partner like Sinch, Viber Business Messages displays your branded business profile page and offers a native, secure way to engage your audience with rich messaging, interactive buttons and links, realtime status updates, personalized content and a wide range of business solutions focused on marketing and e-commerce alike.
Viber is an e-commerce and promotional powerhouse for brands that adopt it.
13. What conversational messaging delivers
Building a mobile messaging strategy on conversational apps will allow you to drive revenue, reduce costs, and increase customer satisfaction.
Conversational mobile messaging allows users to resolve their customer service requests simply and easily in one conversation.
Being available 24/7 allows your customer care team to focus only on the most complex requests, rather than frequent repetitive tasks.
And most importantly, users are more comfortable engaging with a brand on a channel they’re already familiar with.
The business benefits possible through conversational messaging include reduced churn, uplifted engagement, lower business costs, and higher customer satisfaction.
When users are familiar with your brand and the channel, the message is welcomed and less intrusive. You can also ensure higher customer satisfaction when issues are resolved without speaking to an agent, on the user’s timetable.
Consumers expect actionable communication-at their convenience.
With conversational messaging, you can empower your users to:
14. Getting started with conversational messaging
The rapidly changing messaging landscape represents a major opportunity for brands ready to embrace omnichannel. You might already be in discussions about changing your messaging strategy.
Whether you’re interested in uplifting customer service measures like NPS scores and reduced ticket times or simply capturing engagement on all channels, the experts at Sinch are here to help.
Book a discovery workshop and we’ll:
Review your current messaging audience and business goals to suggest best practices
Determine your technical implementation needs
Get your team started on the onboarding process
Download the guide
Learn the benefits of conversational messaging
Get a deep dive into the channels
Gain best practices for how to go omnichannel
29 Oct. 2020; Statista, J. Clement,
Josh Constine, 30 Oct. 2018.
Kelly Lewis, 4 December 2019.
Mobilesquared, October 2020.
WhatsApp Revenue and Usage Statistics (2020)
Mansoor Iqbal, updated 30 October, 2020.
Jeff Horwitz, Wall Street Journal, 12 Feb. 2020.