13 min read
Aug 24, 2016
Customer Service

Use These 6 Consumer Messaging Apps to Reach Customers

You've heard the hype about using consumer messaging apps to reach customers. Here are the 6 biggest contenders to help in your CRM efforts. 

Suzie BlaszkiewiczAnalyst

You've heard the hype around consumer messaging apps being used for business. With their domination of the global app market, businesses are starting to leverage the popularity of Messenger, WhatsApp, and Snapchat to be able to reach their customers for customer service, marketing, and eCommerce. But not every messaging app is created equally.

Many of them have the same features, but depending on how you use them for your business, some are far more useful. On top of that, not all messaging apps are popular in every market. Each market has its own preference, and you're going to want to use an app that's popular with the people you're targeting.

As highlighted by Gartner in its report on consumer messaging apps for CRM, I'll go through six consumer messaging apps to reach customers, the market that they're popular in, and how you can use them to get in touch with your customers.

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Facebook Messenger

Active monthly users: 900 million

Biggest market: Global

What can it be used for: Customer service, eCommerce

Simply because it's owned by Facebook, Messenger is one of the most popular options among consumers for messaging, regardless of country (with the exception of China, where people don't have access to Facebook or its Messenger service). Since Facebook made switching to its standalone Messenger app mandatory, its use has continued to increase across the globe.

Its use for business, on the other hand, is still in its infancy. So far, Facebook Messenger can be used by companies for customer service, having established a partnership with Zendesk and its live chat solution Zopim to provide customer support. This means that when a customer has a question, they can simply send a message via Messenger and have a chat, as opposed to posting on your company's Facebook page. Telecoms company Sprint made a shift to Messenger for customer support and saw a 31 percent increase in direct messaging, with a 23 percent decrease in public posting.

Aside from customer service, eCommerce is another viable option when it comes to using Messenger for business. Combined with customer support features, retailers Everlane and Zulily trialed transactional sales via Facebook Messenger to send customers order info, engaging with them throughout the sales process.

Notably, Messenger is also poised to benefit from chat bots, automated computer programs that can respond to simple queries. But I'll get into more of that later.

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Active monthly users: 1 billion

Biggest market: Global

What can it be used for: Marketing

While WhatsApp is a global phenomenon, its biggest user base is in India, where over 70 million of its users come from. Unfortunately, despite WhatsApp having the largest and most engaged user base of all messengers, it's been slow to provide companies with the ability to use it for business purposes. But that doesn't mean that it's impossible.

The biggest obstacle is being able to send mass messages to customers, known as broadcasts, which is limited to 256 contacts per message. This doesn't means that you can't send to more than 256 people, it'll just require a bit more logistical organization to send multiple messages to multiple broadcasts (although there's third-party software that will send messages to more users at once). Messages can include promotions, bulletins, or even content. The kicker is that users will have to have your number saved in their address book in order to receive the message.

Once you set up a WhatsApp account for your business, there are other ways to benefit. The most obvious is so that users can send a message for quick queries instead of having to pick up the phone and call for things like scheduling appointments or requesting opening times, but there are more creative ways to use it too. Colgate ran a campaign where it encouraged customers to send selfies of their smiles to its WhatsApp account, with the winner receiving a style makeover from its celebrity style ambassador.

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Active monthly users: 150 million

Biggest market: USA

What can it be used for: Marketing, brand engagement

Popular among the younger generations of 13 to 34 year olds, Snapchat has been able to seamlessly incorporate business and brand use into its disappearing photo app. With its addition of stories, geofilters, and its Discovery features, brands have been able to benefit from exposure and engagement.

When a person or brand starts an account, fans or consumers can follow the brand to get updates. This can be anything from fun updates, to sending offers or promotions. Snapchat's success for business has been well-documented for brands as big as the NBA, McDonalds, and GrubHub. McDonald's teased their followers with behind-the-scenes footage of their new commercial featuring Lebron James, while food delivery service GrubHub sent promotional snaps to people with a coupon code for a delivery discount.

Another option is geofilters, which give a city or location stamp to photos and can be sponsored by companies for events, which is great for brand exposure.

With its Discovery features, content can live on Snapchat published by brands (mostly publications), becoming a sort of hub for celebrity and lifestyle "news". Publications such as BuzzFeed, The Daily Mail, and People magazine all provide channels on Snapchat with popular news stories, which users can subscribe to.

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Active monthly users: 220 million

Biggest market: Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia

What can it be used for: Marketing, eCommerce

LINE dominates the Japanese market and has one of the most developed platforms for business use. The messenger, known for its cute characters and copious number of stickers, has been able to incorporate an entire suite of features called LINE Business Connect, which optimizes its use for business.

With its business connect features, you can create your own e-commerce functionalities within the app using its LINE Pay services. Once you have an official and verified account, Business Connect lets you do anything from providing reward cards and coupons, to even having your own online store. It also provides a ton of open APIs for sending messages to users and connecting with other business software to be able to centralize business activities from LINE into one piece of software. There's also a version of LINE for SMEs for bigger companies to be able to better chat with customers or fans using LINE.

With an official business account, people can also access a timeline-like feature where you can post content much like a social network. Popular accounts include those for Taylor Swift, iHeartRadio, and Maroon 5.

LINE Pay also lets users add credit card information to make transactions for some of LINE's own services, like on-demand taxi and music streaming that it offers in some markets.

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Active monthly users: 697 million

Biggest market: China

What can it be used for: Marketing, eCommerce, customer service

Because of China's Facebook ban, WeChat has stepped up to largely replace the social network in lots of its features and functionalities, contributing to its huge, almost ingrained, user base in China. Similar to LINE, WeChat has developed lots of features specifically for business use.

With messaging and posting features, WeChat offers things like subscriptions so that businesses can push messages to its subscribers, whether that be promotional offers or content, up to once a day. It also has service accounts for service agents to be able to have one-on-one conversations with customers, WeChat Pay to make mobile payments, and WeChat Wallet, which lets companies set up online stores on the platform.

One children's book and toy company in China created a place for parents to congregate and share tips and advice on the platform. It used this community to successfully open a store on the platform, open one week per month, allowing for in-app purchases and instant customer service. Again, WeChat has offered options that lets companies connect other business apps with the platform.

Another big part of WeChat's strategy for business has been QR codes, giving customers access to their online WeChat portal by scanning real world products or services.

Because of the success of WeChat for e-commerce, China has some of the highest revenue from e-commerce retail in the world.

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Active monthly users: 300 million

Biggest market: USA

What can it be used for: Marketing, chat bots

Compared to other apps on this list, Kik is one of the biggest beneficiaries of chat bots. As mentioned earlier, chat bots are like automated messages with AI that can reply to simple requests and, in some cases, actually have conversations.

With a mostly teenage user base, Kik's dedicated Bot Shop reflects its target audience, with chat bots for H&M, Sephora, and Victoria's Secret Pink brand, as well as a ton of games and entertainment and lifestyle bots.

The Weather Channel bot, for example, will answer questions about current conditions and weather predictions. This will allow for better targeting on future marketing efforts.

As the functionality of bots continues to expand and they become smarter, they'll become more and more useful.

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Get ready for the messenger melee

No matter which market you're operating in, there's a messenger out there that you'll be able to benefit from. Although there are varying functions and features for each app, its not to say that these functions won't be available sometime soon in a messenger near you. In the meantime, experiment with the features that the popular apps in your marketing can use, and see if a larger messenger strategy could work for you.

If you want to read more about consumer messaging apps to reach customers, check out this article about why messaging apps for business are the next big thing.

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