20 min read
The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide to Customer Messaging Apps
Reviews of the best apps that let you leverage Facebook, WhatsApp, and iMessage to grow your business.
Globally, 2.5 billion people use messaging apps on a daily basis. That’s one-third of the world population, and this number is projected to continue to rise. To connect with these audiences, businesses are rapidly embracing messaging, which allows them to easily reach new customers and nurture existing ones to grow revenues
In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of B2C (business to consumer) messaging and its functionalities, look at the main platforms available (or soon-to-be), as well as seven leading companies whose products can help your business maximize its messaging experience.
Table of Contents:
- Customer Communications: Ripe for Change
- Messaging Is The Way Forward
- Marketing and Customer Service Made Easy
- Facebook Messenger
- Apple Business Chat
- WhatsApp Business API
- The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Chatbots
- Bot Definitions and Necessary Features
- Airy Messenger
- Octane AI
Customer Communications: Ripe for Change
For over twenty years now, email has been a staple form of communication for marketers and customer care teams alike. In its heyday, email was revolutionary new tool for businesses looking to broaden their appeal and reach customers more effectively. But even the sharpest tool becomes dull after too much use.
For example, if you send out an email marketing blast, the chances of your email being opened and read depend on a lot of factors that are beyond your control. If your target audience happens to be checking their email out of boredom on the commute home, then you might be in luck. However, if they’re sitting at their desk, rushing to meet a deadline, and receive five similar emails concurrently–then the chances of yours being opened are slim to none. There’s simply too much traffic.
In fact, according to recent data from mailchimp, the average email open rate across all industries is approximately 20%. That means 80% of the time your email marketing efforts are made in vain. It’s not hard to see that email as a channel is overcrowded and ineffective.
As for customer service, it’s increasingly becoming obvious (if it hasn’t already been for quite some time) that the traditional methods of communication are outdated and tired. Fewer and fewer people–especially millennials–make actual phone calls, the response turnaround time for email is too sluggish, and live chat, while advantageous compared to the first two options, requires you to be tethered to a desktop computer.
Fortunately, the way that businesses and consumers communicate is being disrupted by a technology that many of us have already come to know and love–messaging. Also referred to as instant messaging or texting, messaging is an asynchronous form of digital communication that allows two or more parties to casually converse in a manner that is open and ongoing. Some popular messaging apps that you’re probably familiar with, or maybe already using, are iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Viber.
For approximately four years now, many companies have been conversing with their clients through Facebook Messenger for Business. And in March of 2018, Apple launched its own service–Business Chat–which allows customers to directly contact companies via iMessage. Soon, Facebook-owned WhatsApp will enter the B2C messaging space with the launch of WhatsApp Business API. There’s definitely a lot of momentum in the industry. Why is that? Let’s take a closer look.
Messaging Is The Way Forward
One of the more obvious reasons that tech giants like Facebook and Apple are focusing their efforts on B2C messaging is actually pretty simple: there’s a huge audience. There are over 1.3 billion active users of Messenger, 1.5 billion of WhatsApp, and there are 1.3 billion iOS devices in circulation. Internet users, by and large, can be found dwelling in mobile messaging apps. Why not reach out to them where they’re active and make yourself accessible there, too?
Additionally, according to a study from Facebook, the majority of Americans who were surveyed say they feel more confident about a brand if they’re able to message with them. This can be attributed to the fact that messaging is infinitely easier than the traditional channels of communication.
For instance, if someone is chatting with their friends on Messenger and they think of a question they’d like to ask a company, all they have to do is enter said company’s name in the search field, send their question, and then go back to chatting with their friends while waiting for a response.
At this point, we’ve established the fact that B2C messaging is valuable in terms of potential reach and customer preference, but there are other measurable benefits that need to be highlighted, as well.
Marketing and Customer Service Made Easy
One of the major perks of messaging is that it’s widely-used and much less formal than other means of communication. That’s certainly not the only advantage, however. From a marketing and sales perspective, here are some other great tasks you can accomplish with B2C messaging:
- Drive customer acquisition
- Foster lead generation
- Streamline e-commerce
- Incentivize sales with coupons and loyalty programs
- Provide access to online inventory
- Create content subscriptions to boost customer engagement
- Upsell products and offer suggestions
- Remind customers to finalize purchases in their shopping carts
- Directly process transactions
- Deliver tickets, and boarding passes
Messaging: The Numbers Add Up
Messaging has a 4x higher conversion rate compared to email or phone
Messaging saves 75% compared to other communication channels
Messaging has a 10x ROI
Messaging has a +33% higher customer satisfaction rate
As you can see, messaging isn’t only convenient, it’s multi-functional in a way that other channels aren’t. The same can be said for the customer service applications of messaging, which allow you to easily do the following:
- Create a unified record of conversations with customers
- Collaborate effectively with colleagues through a shared inbox
- Automate responses to commonly asked questions
- Seamlessly redirect complex questions to humans
By combining all of the aforementioned marketing and customer service functions on one platform, your organization can streamline its workflow and save money. In fact, messaging is 75% less expensive than other communication channels like phone and email and it boasts a tenfold return on investment.
Facebook Messenger for Business became available to companies with a dedicated business page in March of 2015, and in many ways began the B2C industry shift towards messaging. To quickly recap: Messenger for Business allows customers to easily contact a company through their Facebook page via chat to inquire about common questions, resolve customer service issues, ask for personalized suggestions, and more.
What benefit does this pose to businesses? For one, enabling Messenger on your businesses’ Facebook page essentially provides your customers with the option to easily contact you for customer service at their convenience.
Also, it allows you to efficiently store records of conversations with current or prospective clients for future reference, and create automated responses (through automation) to frequently asked questions, thus allowing you and your team members to focus on more involved requests. Furthermore, there are quite a few programs on the market, which we’ll examine later in this piece, that allow you to create sophisticated marketing campaigns within Messenger.
Apple Business Chat
Hot on the heels of Facebook is Apple, which launched its B2C messaging service Business Chat in March of last year. Business Chat, which comes included in the latest iOS (11.3), will allow users to search for companies in Maps, Safari, and Search in order to directly communicate with them via iMessage. Customers will also be provided with the opportunity to place orders and make payments with Apple Pay, as well as schedule appointments. Apple’s iMessage uses end-to-end encryption, which makes its very secure.
Apple not only wants to provide businesses and their customers with the option to chat as means to resolve basic problems–the company wants to leverage the technology to make customer service more personalized and meaningful. Here’s how a few enterprise companies are already using that to their advantage.
- Lowe’s Home Improvement allows customers to chat with a live customer service representative and ask for advice and recommendations on home improvement projects. Customers also have the option to reschedule deliveries.
- Those looking for a personalized bouquet arrangement can send 1-800-Flowers a snapshot of flowers they like and receive suggestions of local options from a representative.
The above mentioned businesses are just a few of several that are already using Apple’s Business Chat beta program. Other major companies include Discover, Marriott International, T-Mobile and more. A complete list can be found on Apple’s website.
WhatsApp Business API
Facebook-owned WhatsApp has also recently thrown its hat into the B2C messaging ring with the launch of WhatsApp Business API. WhatsApp has 1.5 billion users, which makes it the most widely-used messaging app in the world. Though the platform is still in limited-preview mode, the potential benefit it will pose to businesses and their marketing communications campaigns is monumental.
WhatsApp Business API was designed to help large enterprises reach out to their customers at scale. Businesses will be able to send users both automated and personalized messages. However, the users must opt-in first. Additionally, much like Apple’s Business Chat, WhatsApp Business API will also allow customers to direct customer service-related questions to businesses using WhatsApp.
Users have long favored WhatsApp for its end-to-end encryption, which provides a private, non-intrusive messaging service. This will create a more user-friendly experience, as there will be restrictions on advertising and promotional content. However, this extra level of security will also allow companies to send customers sensitive documents like flight tickets, boarding passes, movie tickets, order confirmations, and more.
On the business side of things, WhatsApp Business API will no doubt be attractive to large companies, as the API can easily be integrated to and accessed by a network of teams such as CRM, marketing, and sales. Additionally, the platform will allow businesses to monitor metrics for campaigns like how many users have opted-in and how many messages were delivered or seen.
The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Chatbots
Now that you’re aware of the main channels of customer messaging, you’ll be happy to know that there are a handful of supplementary messaging products designed to help you manage your inbound and outbound communications even more effectively. Enter messenger chatbots.
Some of you may remember, not long after Facebook launched Messenger for Business, the advent of messenger chatbots. These chatbots were programmed to possess a working knowledge of a businesses, chat with its customers via Messenger, and answer their questions. They were all the rage for a moment, but quickly fell out of fashion.
The reason being is that most chatbots are programmed to “converse” using what’s called decision-tree logic. They are trained to give a text output dependent on a keyword input. For example, if you’re on the Facebook page of a shoe retailer, strike up a chat with a bot and say, “I need help buying sneakers,” the response that is generated stems from one of the five words in the sentence you wrote.
This isn’t how humans naturally process language, which explains why chatbots, at first, weren’t well-received. However, AI is developing at breakneck speed and bots are becoming increasingly sophisticated thanks to what’s called Natural Language Processing (NLP).
Though chatbots didn’t meet initial expectations, the technology itself wasn’t entirely scrapped. Quite the opposite, in fact. Fast forward a few years and you’ll find that there are several companies competing in the chatbot market space. Some of them have done a really impressive job of fine-tuning chatbots, too.
Soon, we’ll take a look at a handful of companies that have successfully revived chatbots by seamlessly integrating them into existing workflows rather than relying on them to fully automate tasks.
First, we’ll need to define a few basic terms to provide you with a baseline knowledge of messenger chatbots, as well as pinpoint a few features that are essential when deciding which product is best for your company.
Bot Definitions and Necessary Features
These are some of the most common terms you’ll come across when reading the product reviews in this article. They might sound very technical and jargony, but with a little explanation, they’re quite easy to grasp.
- Broadcasts: Messages you can send to all of your subscribers at once.
- Broadcast Sequences: A series of messages which are sent automatically over time.
- Tags/Filters: These allow you to segment your audience based on the actions they take inside your chatbot.
- Custom Fields: A function within a messaging application that allows you to store arbitrary, but relevant details pertaining to customers.
- API: A software tool that acts as a middleman between two applications or programs by receiving requests and sending responses.
- Integrations: Combination of two programs or applications to achieve a function. For example, Airy Messenger offers an integration with Facebook Messenger.
- CRM: Short for Customer Relationship Management, a CRM system helps companies manage conversational records with customers, as well as their data.
- Channel: In terms of messaging, a channel refers to a messaging application like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.
These definitions should give you a basic understanding of the mechanics of chatbots, but that’s not all you need to know when comparing products. Virtually every messenger is marketed as being an innovative solution for marketing communications. However, buyer beware: not every messenger is built the same. When shopping around, be sure to keep these very important features in mind.
One of the most attractive features of messenger chatbots is that they allow you to redirect messages to a separate inbox. This is a huge plus considering that the inbox for Facebook’s Business Manager begins to experience glitches after approximately 1,000 messages have been received. That’s a low threshold for businesses that rely on Facebook for their communications strategy.
However, this perk is best maximized with a collaborative inbox that allows your team to respond to messages in unison, assign conversations to one another, and prioritize customers with custom tags and filters. Having the option to access your inbox across multiple platforms–web, tablet, and mobile devices–is indispensable in this process.
Fast response time is another great benefit of messaging. Incoming queries can usually be automated. In the event that they can’t be resolved via automation, they’ll seamlessly be passed on to a human agent. However, the appeal of quick turnaround times is lost if those messages aren’t seen in a timely manner.
Therefore, you’ll want to make sure that the product you choose notifies you of requests in real time. Once again, this is where having access to your inbox across multiple devices will prove to be instrumental, as it increases the chances that one of your team members won’t miss alerts.
Finally, it’s not enough to have the option to automate responses, they need to be effective, convincing, and mimic human conversation as much as possible. Furthermore, be sure to get the most for your money by choosing a messenger with automations that can generate personalized content subscriptions and marketing campaigns.
The idea is to create the perfect balance between technology and humans–not to repeat the chatbot failures of 2016.
You’ll get a sense for the quality of each company’s automations through the product videos on their sites, online reviews, and by signing up for free subscription plans of trials when available.
Now let’s examine seven companies whose chatbot messengers should be on your shortlist.
Airy Messenger enables companies to redirect messages from Facebook Messenger to Airy’s platform, which is accessible via the web, iOS, and Android. Here users can manage all inbound and outbound conversations individually or collaborate with colleagues through a shared inbox.
From a customer service perspective, Airy Messenger boasts several advantages: intelligent automations that know when to defer to a live agent, feature-rich interactive templates, saved replies, and the ability to easily spot high-priority customers with in-depth tagging, filters, and rating systems.
In terms of marketing, Airy Messenger brings a lot to the table, as well. Marketers can also make use of the product’s intelligent automations to send broadcasts and create personalized content subscriptions to bolster user engagement.
Currently, Airy Messenger offers an integration for Facebook Messenger and is able to provide brands with access to Apple Business Chat and WhatsApp.
Customers can choose from three subscription plans: Free, Basic, and Advanced.
Free: Includes unified messaging inbox, saved replies & templates, customer tags, ratings & filters
Basic: $49 per month and includes basic automations, customer feedback templates, and basic analytics
Advanced: $199 per month and includes advanced automations, messaging campaigns, and advanced analytics.
More information on pricing can be found here.
Airy Messenger Pros: Intelligent automations, feature-rich templates, broadcasts, customer tags and ratings, dedicated iOS and Android apps, Facebook Marketing Partner
Airy Messenger Cons: Currently only offers an integration for Facebook Messenger
Chatfuel creates Facebook Messenger bots to assist with marketing, sales, and support. Registration is easy and with a few simple clicks of the mouse, users are redirected to the Chatfuel dashboard. Here users can manage all aspects of their bots, craft feature-rich templates, respond to inbound messages, schedule broadcasts, view analytics, create Facebook ad campaigns, and more.
One attractive feature of Chatfuel is the option to choose from several pre-made templates–both free and paid–that allow users to take advantage of the benefits of their chabot.
For example, there are templates designed to teach users the basic concepts, how to obtain permission from subscribers to send broadcasts, and more. Additionally, there are also templates for specific verticals like dentists, realtors, and fitness clubs.
On the downside, Chatfuel users are limited to the web app since the company does not offer a mobile app.
Chatfuel offers three subscription plans: Free, Pro, and Premium.
Free: Up to 5,000 subscribers and essential tools to automate your Messenger inbox
Pro: Starts from $15 a month and offers unlimited subscribers, a full-featured and branding-free bot, assistance with Facebook ads, and priority support.
Premium: Starts from $300 a month and offers unlimited subscribers, a full-featured and branding-free bot, assistance with Facebook ads, VIP support, a dedicated account manager, and bot building help.
More information can be found here.
Chatfuel Pros: 30-day money back guarantee, ability to export data to Facebook Ads Manager to create targeted ads, several pre-existing templates to choose from, Facebook Marketing Partner
Chatfuel Cons: No dedicated app for iOS or Android, message notifications can easily be missed.
Conversocial offers cloud-based social customer service solutions by integrating conversations from a variety of social media sites and messengers, including Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, Youtube, SMS, and Google+ on one web-based platform.
Like the other products mentioned in this article, Conversocial’s platform makes use of AI to offer bot/human assisted service. This allows for intelligent routing and prioritization of conversations to ensure that clients receive the best possible customer care.
Conversocial allows companies to gain insight into customer satisfaction by gauging CSAT, NPS, and sentiment conversion. Another perk is that Conversocial can seamlessly be integrated with CRMs like Salesforce, Zendesk, Oracle service cloud, and Pega.
Unfortunately, Conversocial doesn’t offer a straightforward pricing plan on their website. Subscriptions are offered on a case-by-case basis. More information for can found here.
Conversocial Cons: Quote-based pricing model, no dedicated app for iOS or Android.
Another company that enables businesses to integrate conversations from multiple channels is LivePerson which allows users to redirect inbound messages from Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Line, Google RCS, SMS, Google AdLingo, and Apple Business Chat to a unified inbox that’s accessible via LivePerson’s web and mobile apps.
Users can easily create and manage bots to automate responses to conversations using LivePerson’s BotStudio, which empowers employees that might not be technically savvy to build chatbots with ready-to-use templates.
LivePerson subscribers can leverage the company’s platform for marketing, sales, and customer service. Additionally, they offer tailor-made solutions for specific industries like retail, FinServ, travel, insurance, education, and automotive.
Similar to Conversocial, LivePerson doesn’t offer a clear cut pricing model on their website. Instead, one must request a quote that is determined on a case-by-case basis.
More information can be found here.
LivePerson Pros: 30 day free trial, integration for 8 different messaging channels, industry-specific solutions, dedicated apps for iOS and Android.
LivePerson Cons: Quote-based pricing model.
ManyChat allows companies with a Facebook page to easily create a chatbot within a matter of minutes. The chabot can then be programmed to greet users visiting the company’s page, answer a wide variety of questions, broadcast messages to subscribers, and pass off more complex inquiries to a customer service agent.
All of these tasks can be managed through ManyChat’s web app, which is particularly advantageous because Facebook has been known to block high-volume inboxes. This pesky problem can be circumnavigated with products like ManyChat.
Additionally, users have access to basic analytics, the option to create Facebook ads in ManyChat, as well as a handful of industry-specific message templates to choose from.
The main downside to ManyChat is that users are limited to managing their account through a web app. Currently the company does not offer a mobile app for iOS or Android devices.
ManyChat offers two subscription plans: Free and Pro.
Free: Includes unlimited broadcasts, 2 broadcast sequences, 4 growth tools, 10 tags, and 3 custom fields.
Pro: Includes unlimited broadcasts, unlimited broadcast sequences, unlimited growth tools, unlimited tags, unlimited custom fields, advanced marketing automations, API & developer tools, integrations, and the ability to process payments via chatbot. Pro accounts begin at $10 and are based on the number of active subscribers.
More information on these plans can be found here.
ManyChat Pros: unlimited broadcasts in free version, ability to create Facebook ads, existing message templates, Facebook Marketing Partner
ManyChat Cons: No available app for iOS or Android devices, message notifications can easily go unnoticed.
If you’re interested in leveraging several messaging apps in your customer service strategy, then you’ll definitely want to check out MessengerPeople. Their customer service platform allows companies to interact with their clients via WhatsApp, Telegram, Apple Business Chat, and Facebook Messenger.
All messages are consolidated in one unified inbox, thus allowing teams to neatly keep track of customer requests and streamline communications. Like ManyChat and Chatfuel, MessengerPeople also offers the option to integrate chatbots to assist with automated responses.
E-commerce companies will find MessengerPeople’s notifications and alerts especially useful. Businesses can send customers important information–like flight status updates or purchase confirmations–that reach them on their smartphone lock screen.
Those looking to boost their marketing efforts with MessengerPeople will be disappointed, however. Whereas the company once offered a marketing automation platform, this is no longer an option.
Basic: 69€ per month and includes 300 subscribers, unlimited newsletters, 1:1 Chat, chatbot, builder basic, support basic, 1 channel.
Business: 399€ per month, 3.000 subscribers included, unlimited newsletters, chat center, chatbot builder pro, support business, 1 channel, 3 categories, targeting, and API.
Enterprise: 899€ per month, 10.000 subscribers included, unlimited newsletters, chat center, chatbot builder pro, support enterprise, 5 channels, 7 categories, targeting, and API.
More information on subscriptions can be found here.
MessengerPeople Pros: Free 14-day trial, available in five languages, collaborative inbox, CRM integration, Apple Business Chat and WhatsApp integration, affiliate and partner programs.
MessengerPeople Cons: Marketing automation is no longer available; no dedicated app for iOS or Android.
Octane AI has developed a messenger chatbot specifically for companies that conduct their online business through Shopify. The company’s CEO, Matt Schlicht, describers their bot as a “concierge that your customers can talk to.”
The main USPs of Octane AI’s chatbot are its ability to automate customer service questions, increase abandoned shopping cart conversion, send receipts as well as post-purchase follow-up messages, and use AI to generate precise marketing campaigns based on customer demographics gathered from Facebook Messenger.
Another upside to Octane AI is that they allow businesses to easily track their campaigns, see how much revenue they’ve generated over time, and customize automated bot messages without any knowledge of coding or programming.
Additionally, marketing agencies have the opportunity to sign up for Octane AI’s Affiliate Program, which offers partners an additional revenue stream, new leads, educational resources, sales training, and more.
Octane AI offers two subscription plans: Basic and Pro. The price of both of these plans fluctuates depending on the total number of active users a company has.
Basic: From $9 a month, includes unlimited Facebook messages, unlimited admins and accounts, email and live chat support, abandoned cart campaigns, receipts and shipping notifications, auto-responses, welcome messages, broadcasts, analytics, demographic targeting and more.
Pro: From $209 a month, includes unlimited Facebook messages, unlimited admins and accounts, email and live chat support, abandoned cart campaigns, receipts and shipping notifications, auto-responses, welcome messages, broadcasts, analytics, advanced demographic targeting, and more.
Octane AI Pros: 30-day free trial, abandoned cart recovery, demographic targeting, Facebook Marketing Partner
Octane AI Cons: No dedicated app for iOS or Android devices, no free plan, only beneficial for Shopify users.
This brings our buyer’s guide to customer messaging apps to a close. By now, you should have a clear idea of the benefits of messaging, the types of products that are currently available, as well as a foundational understanding of how they can bolster your company’s communications and marketing strategies. And remember: Everything your customer needs is just a message away!