Smartphone messaging apps were used by more than 1.4 billion consumers last year, but very few of the conversations that took place were between shoppers and local merchants. Although plenty has been written about the future of mobile chatting, and the implications for e-commerce companies that use digital messaging for customer service, brick-and-mortar merchants have largely been left out of the equation.
“Messaging is everywhere these days—SMS, WhatsApp, Messenger, Twitter, and it seems every day new messaging platforms emerge. Since it’s where customers are, businesses naturally want to be there, too,” says Adi Bittan, CEO of OwnerListens, a real-time customer service platform. “Big businesses who want to message with customers can take months to put together a program that fulfills all their needs, but SMBs can move faster to take advantage of this revolution in communications.”
Here are seven examples of ways that local merchants can start using messaging apps to improve customer service and boost customer acquisition right away.
1. Summoning help on site “If you have significant square footage, whether indoors or outdoors, chances are sometimes customers need help and they can’t find anyone. It’s extremely frustrating to walk up and down the aisles looking for help or to be stuck in a fitting room, pants off, without anyone to get you a new size. Don’t risk those customers abandoning the store. Let them know they can text for help and someone will be right over or simply text them the answer (e.g. ‘wrenches are in aisle 6’). These are customers with strong intent to buy, so it’s a shame to lose those sales.” (Adi Bittan, OwnerListens)
2. Promoting special discounts “Let customers know about special deals, events, discounts or other timely reminders by sending out mass text messages. This is a great way to drive repeat traffic, fill empty seats during down time, or reward your loyal customers with exclusive deals. Text messaging is the most widely supported and used feature or app, with penetration close to 97% among smartphone users.” (Dan Kamins, TextMarks)
3. Turning off-hours into profitable hours “You can’t be at the store all the time, but what if you’re closed and someone passes by and takes an interest in a dress they see in the window or wants to ask if you offer catering? Put a big sign up that encourages passersby’s to inquire about your products or services by sending a message. They would probably never call and writing an email is hard—most people abandon the email when they have to think of a subject line. An instant message is so much easier and more natural.” (Adi Bittan, OwnerListens)
4. Competing with national brands on customer experience “Messaging tools that allow for direct communication are evening the playing field between local shops and big brand retailers in the game of customer service. Trying to contact a brand through a call center can be alienating and frustrating, but messaging tools that allow you to take inquiries directly from customers will make them feel connected and valued. It’s a great opportunity to showcase that personalized service that small businesses are known for.” (Tom Byun, LivePerson)
5. Sending timely reminders “We see merchants using mobile marketing for appointment reminders—which reduce ‘no shows’ by typically 20%—or to let customers know about new products in real-time. Customers waiting on a product that’s not currently in stock can easily be alerted to its arrival. Retailers should also track customer preferences, which allows them to alert opted-in shoppers when new styles from their favorite brands arrive.” (Brooke Temple, CallFire)
6. Using messaging for reputation management “Negative reviews can really hurt a business, especially small ones who can’t compete with the SEO power of Google Places, Yelp, Facebook and the rest of the big guys. Following every interaction with your business, remind customers that they can text you anytime with their feedback or complaint, and promise to reply. It’s as simple as giving everyone a thank you card with your number as they leave the store. Make sure to mention that feedback will be kept confidential and their private mobile number will not be shared or sold.” (Adi Bittan, OwnerListens)
7. Partnering up on messaging promotions “Partner with another local business, school or church and drive traffic to each other. For example, a coffee shop could promote their business at a movie theater by advertising a text call-to action on all movie screens: ‘Text COFFEE to 41411 to get a coupon for a free cup of coffee at Joe’s Coffee shop!’ Likewise, Joe’s Coffee shop could promote discounts to the movies by sending mobile coupons to its mobile database.” (Dan Kamins, TextMarks)
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.