There’s a seismic shift happening in how companies communicate with their customers. It’s a shift away from the transactional nature of customer service — service for the masses, to intelligent service tailored to the individual customer.

From it’s inception the call center was designed to be transactional. Since the invention of the 1-800 number as the means to communicate with a company, the call center hasn’t kept pace with how consumers communicate. Today the world of communication has changed dramatically since then, in a couple big ways:

  • Nearly every consumer carries a smartphone in their pocket every day, every hour
  • Consumers are increasingly more comfortable using visual communication and messages, thanks to almost 10 years of Facetiming
  • Between text and chat, communication isn’t dependent on a live conversation that demands your full attention — I can be texting my mom, chatting online with a service rep about an issue with my cable box, and answering an email, all while sitting in a meeting.

Up until now, service departments haven’t been able to grasp just how profound these changes are, and how they can (and should) adapt. It’s not just about providing the customer with what they want, which is more seamless, conversational communication options available to them. It’s also advantageous for the support agents because they can multitask too. In the age of the 1-800 number, one service agent could only be interacting with one customer at a time. But with SMS or messaging apps, one service agent could be interacting with numerous customer at once and moreover, it’s a more fitting communication style for both their and their customer’s lifestyle.

Today’s service agent is much more adept at communicating with chat and SMS than a traditional phone call — it is, after all, the preferred communication method for how most of us talk to our friends, family, social networks, and nearly everyone we interact with.

That’s not to say that SMS is completely foreign to businesses, but in the past it’s been largely an outbound or notification channel — like when you get a text from the dentist office with a reminder of your appointment. But in order to shift from outbound-only to true conversational messaging, businesses must be ready to shift in two key ways.

First, because the call center was entirely built on and optimized for voice, customer service standards and analytics are voice-centric. Second, leadership has been wary of the brand language issues that arrive when agents are using messaging instead of reading off of a script on a phone call with the customer. SMS has a whole host of questions to answer about how you interact with customers — do you use emojis? Spell out y-o-u or use “u”? It’s about understanding your customer demographic and what they’re looking for — what makes sense for a young, up-and-coming company probably doesn’t make sense to replicate for a company that caters to an older demographic.

Previously, the technology just hasn’t been there for businesses to engage in an intelligent, conversational way — until now. Tools like LiveMessage enable your customers to connect with agents in the channel they prefer, and the agent can send personalized, contextual messages to the customer without having to leave their agent console. It makes messaging a viable and scalable channel for service contact centers of all sizes and all industries. There are even tools to simplify even further — including bots that answer simple FAQs so your agents don’t have to work with par-for-the-course questions and instead engage on the tougher cases.

Customer service can now be truly conversational, enabling customers and agents alike to privately communicate with one another just as they do with their friends and family, quickly and easily — via text message or their favorite messaging app. Because it’s built on the Salesforce platform, you can activate and configure LiveMessage in as little as a day, and start delivering the kind of conversational service your customers expect tomorrow.

Want more tips for how to transform the contact center and the customer experience in 2017? Check out the interactive infographic 20 Customer Service Best Practices.