In college, I worked in retail. When I wasn’t folding jeans or cleaning diapers out of changing rooms, part of my job involved accosting customers on the sales floor to ask them to sign up for daily SMS promos.
“But I’ve already signed up for the emails,” they would say as I cornered them between stacks of denim.
“This is different,” I would lie.
The store was banking on the stat that SMS marketing messages have a 98% open rate — but does that make this practice okay? Every morning customers received a breathless text saying stretch pants were 70% off in the same inbox they receive messages from family and friends. Is nothing sacred? The company was hurling leggings into the void and hoping people would catch them.
The outbound SMS mess
The problem with SMS is that outbound marketing messages aren’t conversational — they’re intrusive. There is no guarantee, for example, that a customer replying to the stretch-pants sale notification will get a response from the company. Too many businesses have been treating SMS as a funnel for junk and missing opportunities to create personalized conversational experiences.
It’s not entirely the fault of over-eager marketers. Existing infrastructure hasn’t made it easy for businesses to use messaging channels effectively. Often, the system that sends out the notification and the one dealing with customer support are separate systems that don’t talk to each other. Responses might land in a customer service agent’s inbox, but the agents lack the context to know what prompted the reply, or even who they’re talking to.
On top of that, customers can’t be sure who the message is coming from. SMS notifications are often sent from a random number that can look suspicious and unprofessional. “Smishing”, or SMS phishing, is all the rage, and without verified business profiles, brands risk losing credibility. Google has addressed this by adding SMS verified business profiles — But only for their Android messaging app. It isn’t cross functional on other smartphones, messaging apps, or from every other carriers who supports SMS.
The light at the end of the convo
SMS won't be around forever. RCS is pegged to replace SMS as the standard texting protocol, championed by Google and an array of European and American carriers. "RCS stands for Rich Communication Services," writes Dan Levy in The Next Web. "It comes with modern messaging features like read receipts, typing indicators, and verified business profiles. In other words, it looks and feels like iMessage or WhatsApp, but works over your cell phone network instead of the internet."
In the meantime, consumer chat apps are open for business, and their rich features make them better than SMS for businesses. WhatsApp, the definitive messaging app for users in India, South America, Europe and the Middle East, released their Business API in 2018, making it possible for enterprises to connect WhatsApp to their existing business software — thus becoming more accessible to 1.5 billion users. Features like verified business profiles add credibility. Customers know who the message is coming from, rather than spending time trying to figure out if a random string of numbers is the real deal.
To prevent misuse, WhatsApp approves messages created by brands who sign up through official WhatsApp Business Solution Providers. When brands want to send outbound WhatsApp messages, customers have to voluntarily opt in, and the company submits a template to WhatsApp for approval. Approved messages can be sent and personalized with details like names and account information.
The Sunshine Conversations Notification API connects the system sending the notification to the business’ customer service platform of choice. This means customers won’t have to repeat themselves and agents will have the context they need to support and engage the customer.
Because WhatsApp is an inherently conversational medium, businesses would be remiss to send out notifications without being ready to reply and continue the conversation.
How Milaap doubled their donation volume with WhatsApp
Milaap, India’s largest crowdfunding platform, works with Zendesk's Sunshine Conversations platform as their WhatsApp Business Solution Provider. Using Support and Sunshine Conversations, they’re able to chat with customers from their Verified Business Profile and send them outbound, conversation-starting notifications.
The vast majority — 95% — of Milaap’s customers are considered to be WhatsApp-first, meaning they spend most of their internet time on WhatsApp instead of inside mobile browsers or other apps. Clocking in at 400 million Indian users, it's estimated that nearly every smartphone owner uses WhatsApp. With Milaap, they can set up campaigns to raise money for medical and financial emergencies. The ability to forward messages in WhatsApp makes it easy to share campaigns through their networks.
A campaign that started on WhatsApp, for example, raised the $800 USD needed to help two-year-old Kohana Attru receive cochlear implants. Another WhatsApp campaign raised $37,000 USD from over 1200 supporters, in order to pay for a lung transplant. When Milaap’s customers receive a notification about campaign updates, they can reply for more information. Sunshine Conversations connects the system sending the notification with Support, their customer engagement software, providing agents with the original context of the notification alongside other relevant conversational data.
Rather than intruding in a private, social space, Milaap empowers their customers to organize, build, and improve their communities through conversations.
To learn more about building custom conversational experiences, check out Sunshine Conversations here.