In the early 2000s, the thought of companies connecting with customers over instant messaging would have seemed ludicrous. But in 2021? That’s the norm.
According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2021, messaging channels like WhatsApp and Facebook are becoming new consumer favorites. Nearly a third of customers said they messaged companies over communication apps for the first time in 2020. This trend is here to stay, as 74 percent said they would continue to communicate with businesses via messaging.
It’s tough to know which communication app is the best choice for connecting with customers because there are so many options available. We’re breaking down 10 different tools to help you communicate with customers and deliver a personalized experience on the apps they know and love.
The best communication apps
1. WhatsApp Business
“The best part is that we are available 24/7 [because we use WhatsApp Business], and the customers love this fact. It helps us solve their concerns without any delay. It helps us gain the customer’s confidence and interact with them as and when the customer wants.” —Rushad Rupawala and Rahil Rupawala, co-founders of LightSpeed Mobility
With over 2 billion users and a simple interface, WhatsApp Business is one of the best messaging apps to connect with your customers on familiar terrain. Our research shows that more customers are using WhatsApp as a support channel—the volume of support tickets submitted over WhatsApp skyrocketed 101 percent in 2020.
There are two options for businesses looking to connect with their customers: WhatsApp Business App and the WhatsApp API.
The WhatsApp Business App looks just like a personal account on the platform, but it’s equipped with extra features that make a world of difference for a small business owner.
As a small business owner, you can:
- Create a profile consisting of your business name and a catalog of products/services, plus a contact address to help customers get the information they need quickly.
- Contact as many as 256 customers simultaneously with new offers, promotions, and important information using the broadcast feature.
- Segment customers so you can provide personalized responses/offers.
- Categorize active chats by using color-coded labels with customers to keep your inbox organized.
Just note that this tool can be used by only one person. If you run a larger business that relies on using a CRM, contact center, or other customer service software to engage with customers, you’ll want to opt for the WhatsApp Business API.
With the WhatsApp Business API, medium to large companies can reach their customers on the familiar social messaging app without the platform’s normal limits. If you’re not sure what an API is, it’s an acronym for “application programming interface.” APIs act as a bridge between sites and let developers access certain information or features of existing software. You don’t have to figure it out by yourself—you can work with a developer and a WhatsApp Business Solution Partner to access this service.
Along with the WhatsApp Business App features we mentioned above, you can use a template message feature that lets you send shipping information, appointment reminders, and payment updates via chatbots.
Price: WhatsApp Business has free and paid options. Opening a WhatsApp Business App account is free, but the WhatsApp Business API is a paid service. The cost of the API is often included in the business solution provider you choose.
2. Facebook Messenger
If you’re looking for the best messaging app that lets your customers speak with you easily and quickly, look no further than Facebook Messenger. This instant-messaging app boasts over 2.7 billion monthly active users, making it a popular support channel. (In fact, the volume of support tickets rose to 58 percent in 2020.)
While Facebook Messenger has a large user base, businesses should note that the platform has limited features and is unavailable in certain regions of the world.
With Facebook Messenger, you can:
- Increase leads by starting a conversation in a Messenger thread after customers click on a Click to Message ad.
- Receive payments from your customers—without a third-party app—by using Facebook Messenger’s payment option.
- Get analytics to track performance. Note that this reporting feature is limited to bot messaging—not live rep communication. You can find metrics such as the number of messages sent and received as well as the number of people who started the conversation with a bot and got transferred to a human agent.
- Use a chatbot to send automated welcome messages and an away message that lets customers know when you’ll be back.
Price: Setting up a Facebook Business account is free, but businesses are charged for ads and using a chatbot.
3. Instagram Direct Messenger
“[Instagram] is a powerful tool to display what we’re all about and how customers live that lifestyle. Instagram is invaluable—if you want to get more customers, you want more engagement, or you want more conversions.” —Sven Alwerud, founder and CEO of Jelly Skateboards
Ninety percent of Instagram users follow a business account, making it one of the top places for businesses to reach customers, cultivate customer loyalty, and increase sales.
Instagram Direct Messenger lets your service team:
- Send and receive messages from Facebook without leaving the Instagram app.
- Use the voice message feature to walk customers through complex issues instead of relying on text alone.
Price: Setting up an Instagram Business account is free. Similar to WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, businesses can use the Messenger API to handle customer conversations at scale by integrating it with their customer service software.
4. Apple Business Chat
“We want to provide our customers with a simple and engaging experience. Apple technology is helping us to do that.” —David Guillot de Suduiraut, CIO of AXA France
Apple Business Chat gives your company an easy way to connect with the 1.65 billion people who use Apple devices. Your customers can find your business and initiate a conversation with you from apps like Apple Maps, Safari, Search, and Siri.
With Apple Business Chat, you can:
- Receive payments from customers via Apple Pay.
- Quickly collect customer information (with their permission) through keyboard shortcuts.
- Send customers important materials or information, such as a product catalog or event dates to let them schedule their next appointment.
- Provide customers with real-time tracking so they can keep up with their orders before they’re fulfilled.
Price: The price of Apple Business Chat varies depending on your messaging service provider and the size of your business.
5. Direct Messages on Twitter
“For our small team, the ability to scale conversation and influence perception is integral to our success. Whether people are applying to test products, shop, or get answers to frequently asked questions, the AI in Twitter DM connects them with us quickly, efficiently, and on their time.” —Kayla Glanville, head of growth, Hill City
According to a survey by Twitter and Sprinklr, two out of three people prefer to use Twitter over other social networks for customer support.
Using Twitter, your service agents can:
- Move conversations from the Twitter feed to the privacy of your inbox with the click of a button.
- Turn tweets into tickets using a help-desk tool.
- Prompt customers to start conversations with you via the Conversation Buttons feature, which can be paired with a video or image.
- Ask customers for feedback on their service experiences with the Request Customer Feedback button.
- Set up a chatbot to answer FAQs and send welcome messages to customers when they initiate conversations.
Price: Send Direct Messages on Twitter and get a Twitter Direct Message API for free, or look for a customer engagement platform that already has the channel integrated.
“Slack has allowed us to really provide the experience we want to deliver: The satisfaction of the customer always goes up, and the overall resolution time goes down.” —Jon Brummel, senior manager of premier support at Zendesk
With Slack, you can:
- Build a community for customers where your support agents or other customers provide answers to their questions. Slack can also serve as a knowledge base—with conversation history at their fingertips, customers can search for answers to their own questions.
- Create dedicated channels for high-priority clients.
- Receive notifications about support tickets and tasks assigned to them, reducing response time and increasing customer satisfaction.
Price: Slack has free and paid plans.
7. Google Business Messages
“Google My Business reviews are key to our success, providing brand acknowledgment and giving customers the confidence to purchase.” —Kelly Montague, marketing director at Stephen Einhorn
Looking for a way to increase foot traffic by leveraging your online presence? Google Business Messages might be the best messenger app for you. Your customers can initiate a conversation directly from a number of Google platforms, including Maps and Search.
With Google Business Messages, support agents have the ability to:
- Answer customer inquiries about products or services.
- Receive payments securely via Google Pay.
- Send customers updates on refunds and orders.
- Track customer satisfaction through feedback and CSAT ratings.
Price: It’s free to set up and use Google Business Messages.
“[LINE] has a very strong network of users [. . .] The users in these markets are more engaged than usual because so many of their friends and family use the LINE app.” —Jon Russell, writer for TechCrunch
LINE is a mobile messaging platform used by over 84 million people in Japan. The platform offers Official accounts to companies, allowing customers to view their posts on LINE’s ecosystem and connect with them in the same way they do with friends.
LINE offers several features to improve how B2C businesses interact with their customers:
- The Customer Connect feature enables support teams to provide personalized and memorable customer experiences.
- Premium and Verified accounts are searchable, which means customers can type in your business name and find you.
- Customers can shop and pay for products in-app using LINE Pay.
- Customers can receive notifications like appointment reminders and order confirmations when LINE is integrated with customer service software.
- Official accounts can share information on LINE’s timeline and capture users’ attention.
- The LINE ad service lets businesses run campaigns about promotions and product launches. You can target specific customers with these ads so you reach more qualified leads.
Price: LINE has a free service that supports sending 1,000 messages per month to customers. If you want to send 15,000 messages or more each month, you’ll have to upgrade to one of the paid plans, which start at $45.
“In South Korea, there’s no escaping KakaoTalk. The country has a smartphone penetration rate of 73 percent, according to research firm EMarketer, and of those people, 93 percent use the mobile messaging app Kakao.” —Sarah Frier, writer for Bloomberg
With 46 million users, the KakaoTalk app is South Korea’s leading messaging platform. Users can follow and initiate conversations with brands through the KakaoTalk Channel.
The basic KakaoTalk Channel is designed for smaller businesses to provide support for their customers more easily. Service teams can:
- Post on users’ news feeds, send messages, and even send promotional coupons.
- Send users pop-up notifications recommending your channel to them. Agents can also send push notifications called Biz Messages to customers, prompting them to engage with your brand.
- Encourage customers to initiate conversations by using QR codes, chat links, website buttons, and Kakao ads.
Price: KakaoTalk is free for one-on-one messages, but businesses are charged a fee for each general and targeted message they send. General messages cost $0.012, while targeted messages are slightly higher at $0.016.
10. Your own website or mobile app (live chat)
“It’s kind of amazing because we’re able to give a resource to every type of customer. Not everybody wants to call. A lot of people don’t want to email, because they want this instant gratification of having their questions answered. Chat is perfect for that.” —Jeanne Foley, co-founder of The Groomsman Suit
Embed messaging on your website or mobile app so you can give customers instant support without having to go to another application. Using a tool like Zendesk's messaging software is an easy way to integrate messaging across channels.
With Zendesk, you have the ability to:
- View customers’ entire conversation history so you can respond quickly without asking them to repeat themselves.
- Access customer data to personalize conversations and get insight into their specific needs.
- Increase visibility into all customer interactions—which take place in a centralized workspace—allowing agents to seamlessly move messaging conversations from one channel to another.
- Use Answer Bot as a self-service option so customers can resolve basic queries without having to wait for a live agent.
- Add helpful third-party integrations (like live location maps) to give customers the information they need.
Price: Zendesk has three different plans, with prices starting at $49.
Keep the conversation going
Choosing the right business communication app is a great first step. Once you’ve decided on a platform, take advantage of the speed and simplicity of these apps by providing customers with rapid support. Connect your messaging app to a CX platform to send informed, curated responses based on customer data.