There’s a better way to serve consumers, and it’s happening overseas, where businesses connect directly with customers through messaging services.

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Thanks for waiting and cue the elevator music. Need to book a hotel for that long awaited trip to visit family? Please hold. Got a question about your electric bill? Hold, please. 

Americans are suffering from a culture of crummy customer service: One survey found that 91% of consumers have had a poor customer service experience in the past six months.

Unsurprisingly, the most cited complaint is long wait times, with some airline travelers recently spending two to three hours on hold to reschedule canceled flights.

Customer disservice is as American as apple pie – that is, if dessert was served after two transfers, three requests for your mother’s maiden name and four hours of Muzak.

There’s a better way to serve consumers, and it’s happening overseas, where businesses connect directly with customers through popular messaging services that allow people to communicate through text and voice messages, and even make voice and video calls.

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Across the world, business messaging is already a reality, with WhatsApp and other messaging services acting as the digital store counter where customers ask questions, discuss products and close sales. American companies are catching up but still lag the world.

Many companies overseas are running their business entirely on messaging solutions. In some parts of the world, WhatsApp might be a business’ website, or their entire online presence. I met a jeweler in Indonesia running his business solely on WhatsApp. When I asked about a website, he shook his head: “Going to a website is like going to a store with no one there to help you.”

During the pandemic, Janak Aonhiya used WhatsApp to showcase products sold at his Uttam Toys shop in Rajkot, India, allowing them to “explore my whole store from their living room.” In Brazil, Michelle Fernandes uses our business messaging app to chat online with people from around the world who shop at her Sao Paulo clothing boutique, closing the miles between them.

Meet customers where they are

Americans are behind – and missing out. How do we close this gap and improve customer service in the states? Businesses need to meet people where they are, using the services they are used to, and connect in a personal and convenient way.

There are plenty of opportunities. From simple solutions like answering a customer question via text messaging to enabling shopping experiences and even finding local businesses to shop from, businesses can increase their customer satisfaction and open the door to potential clients.

Our internal research shows that this is what people crave. In a recent survey we conducted with The Harris Poll, 75% of people said they want to be able to message a business, and 64% said they prefer to message a business over an email or phone call.

And messaging is beneficial to business’ bottom lines as well. Phone support is inefficient and impersonal – agents can support only one person at a time and often don’t have useful customer details at their fingertips.

Messaging gives agents the ability to serve multiple customers simultaneously rather than being unable to multitask while stuck on a call. Additionally, it gives businesses the opportunity to foster stronger customer relationships while also providing the ability to upsell directly within a chat. 

Customers’ needs are shifting

The culture is changing. Failing to adapt is death to bottom lines. Customers aren’t suffering outdated business practices anymore, like long hold times or [email protected] email addresses that go into the ether. The global trend toward messaging will accelerate throughout the 2020s as new platforms and uses are created – from delivering event tickets to booking flights and appointments to getting real-time order updates.

Some companies may roll their eyes at the notion, thinking they know their customers best. A study found that 70% of businesses think they’re communicating effectively with their customers, but only 20% of customers agreed. That disconnect is how companies fail.

Customers are demanding a better way. Businesses that take advantage of new opportunities in messaging will be positioned to succeed. The rest will be left holding the phone.

Matthew Idema is vice president of business messaging at Meta, where he also was chief operating officer of WhatsApp.