Remember when social media became a thing? The various platforms acted as windows into the lives of our friends, family members, acquaintances, and in many cases, even strangers. Social media allowed us to share insights and snippets into our lives in ways that we hadn’t before, and it was all so personal and intimate – for a while at least.

As companies of all sizes started to create social media pages over the years, customer service teams started to capitalize on the opportunity to meet customers in a more conversational environment. Though this shift changed the way people interacted with brands and their content, it also made social media increasingly less personal, leaving a void in the virtual world for reclaiming that lost intimacy and the facilitation of more authentic connections.

It’s no surprise that messaging apps are poised to become the next major platform for improving customer experiences and customer service. These days, fewer people are interested in making public declarations, while more would rather have private conversations.

People want a place where they can share messages, memes, and moments with friends that feel personal and exclusive to those invited into the exchange. The numbers back this up. According to Statista, messaging apps like Facebook Messenger boasted 103.55 million unique users in February 2018 in the U.S. alone, and Snapchat trailed in second at 48.67 million users. WhatsApp might have a mere 18.8 million users in the U.S. But worldwide, the app hit more than 1.5 billion monthly active users at the end of 2017.

How do these apps rank alongside social media platforms? Facebook still reigns supreme with approximately 2.2 billion worldwide users, but both YouTube and WhatsApp are tied around 1.5 billion users, with Facebook Messenger and WeChat ranking just underneath at 1.3 billion and 980 million users respectively, proving that messaging apps are usurping those top spots.

A study from BI Intelligence shows that messaging apps have 20% more monthly active users than social networks, validating this trend, and Statista projects that messaging apps will hit 2.48 billion users in 2021.

But you shouldn’t confuse today’s messaging apps with those of the AOL Instant Messenger generation. Today’s messaging apps go beyond just simple messaging, and have developed into “broad platforms that enable things like status updates, chatbots, payments, and conversational commerce”. Messages can include gifs, emojis, animations, and reactions, while conversations are enhanced by AI, live video, and other integrated features. There are almost no limits to the kind of interactions that can happen through messaging apps.

As customer service teams integrate messaging apps into their strategies, they have more opportunities to deliver superb experiences to their customers through real-time conversations to answer questions and provide engaging content and offers.

Let’s look at the benefits messaging apps have for businesses:

  • Instant engagement from shared content: Reacting to customers and providing content in real-time allows you to keep your customers hooked and guide them to the path towards purchasing.
  • Gaining valuable customer insight: Know exactly how your customers feel about what you’re offering them. It’s a two-way street where they’re able to tell you what they like or don’t like, and you’re able to tell them more about your products so you can help them find what they want or need.
  • 1-on-1 engagement and personalized experiences: When a customer feels like you’ve catered an experience to them, they feel heard and understood – and are more likely to make a purchase (and return purchases after that).
  • Optimized internal processes: Letting chatbots and AI filter and sort through customer conversations means that by the time a chat gets to you, all of the menial details have been handled and you can provide the final touches for delivering what your customer wants.

So what do these benefits really mean for customer service teams? They mean serious potential for having productive conversations and making meaningful connections with customers. If that doesn’t convince you, then maybe some more numbers will: by 2020, the average revenue from messaging apps is expected to exceed $15 per user and 30% of those using a chatbot will communicate with a business.

However, it’s easier said than done. With all the different messaging apps out there, customer service teams could potentially run into challenges when trying to manage conversations on multiple platforms. This is where a business text messaging software can help.

Some business text messaging providers offer an integration with messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Line and more to help brands capitalize on the potential to be had through these types of customer service interactions. The integration enables businesses to have conversations with customers from multiple messaging apps all within one single interface, eliminating the need to log into multiple messaging apps.

Having a business texting software also enables customer service teams to automate messages and responses to customers to help streamline simple requests and questions based on either keyword triggers or AI-based message intent, which takes care of some of the work so that the employees can work on executing the customer request.

Many major brands have already hopped on board with messaging apps. Beauty industry giant Sephora is providing additional value to its customers and closing sales by offering unique content like makeup tips, tutorials, and product reviews through chatbots on messaging app KIK, while also recommending products and enabling in-app purchases.

When it comes to enhancing hotel guest experiences, The Hyatt integrated Facebook Messenger to allow guests to engage the hotel for things like ordering room service or contacting housekeeping for some fresh towels.

Other examples include shoe brand Clarks using WhatsApp to provide exclusive video content, and fast food chain Taco Bell similarly offered video content through SnapChat to give an inside look into their products.

Messaging apps offer a unique opportunity to engage with customers in a more personal and innovative way than via social media. When customers choose to engage with a company through a messaging app, they are inviting them into their inner circle and already indicating interest. Companies should be ready to seize on this moment and embrace this new phase of relationship with their customers.