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SMS payments - the benefits of text to pay

By

Chris Barley

//

Blog

February 2, 2022

Is your business struggling to get your invoices paid on time? 


When your accounts receivable process isn’t able to collect payments from your remote customers, this can quickly lead to cashflow problems. While finance teams widely utilize traditional credit control methods such as email reminders, these often fail to capture the attention of the customer.


This is one of the many reasons why SMEs should leverage SMS payments. The text to pay model uses text messaging to increase engagement and bring customer convenience to the core of your sales process. SMS payments enable you to capture the immediate attention of customers and, as there’s minimal payment friction, encourages them to complete the transaction there and then.


Would you like to get your customers to pay on time? This short guide breaks down all you need to know about making payments for your remote customers effortlessly simple.



Why should SMEs leverage SMS payments?


The problem with sending invoices via email is that they often end up ignored or in the customer’s junk folder. SMS however gets noticed and elicits a faster response.


Consumers are living busy lives, and it’s easy to lose track of what bills need to be paid. To quickly grab your customers’ attention and ensure they never miss a payment, you can use SMS to get customers to pay through a conversational experience that’s both fast and simple. 


If you’re on the fence about leveraging SMS payments, just look at the statistics.


Text messages have a 98% open rate. Comparing this to the average email open rate of 21% across all industries makes it clear to see where consumers’ attention is. It should also be noted that 90% of texts received are read within 3 seconds. So to prevent late payments from causing damage to your finances, connect with your customers via text.


The payment process can also be made highly secure for the customer. Businesses can connect their own subdomain to their payment site, creating links that include their own domain - for instance, payments.yourcompany.com. With secure links and recognized domains, customers can rest assured that they’re dealing with a trusted party.


As the customer is on their mobile, they can pay using their phone’s biometric authentication as a seamless part of the process. This provides compliance with SCA (strong customer authentication) payment regulations and avoids the customer having to switch devices for 2FA (2 factor authentication) when paying from a laptop or similar. 


Do conversational experiences result in faster payments?


The average adult spends 23 hours a week texting. Consumers are extremely familiar and comfortable with this form of communication - and many are now using it for business interactions. 


A recent study showed that 9 out of 10 consumers would like the option to use messaging to contact a business. For SMEs, in a world of instant messaging, having a way to connect, send invoices, and get paid via mobile is critical to an efficient sales and cash collection process.


In addition, 71% of customers expect companies to communicate with them in real-time. While this could involve human agents, many SMEs will likely prefer to automate this process using chatbots. 


Automating the payment process


Even though many chatbots are being used solely for customer support, they can also be used for tasks in your sales process, such as sending invoices and managing payments.


The present applications for chatbots are only just scratching the surface of what can be achieved through automation. Ultimately, it’s all about having the right tools at your disposal. Here at Converso we’re developing a range of chatbot functionality to help you personalize the customer’s payment journey without requiring expensive human resources. 


Customers may have questions on various issues, such as the ability to pay in installments, or the application of specific discounts for early payment. Using automation, a chatbot can respond to all of these issues 24/7 without input from a human agent.


We’re still in the early days, but the potential of this technology is certainly exciting. The increasing use of business messaging creates a treasure trove of conversational data to help personalize the payment experience. Artificial intelligence can also use this data to spot and identify trends that can help make messaging interactions more personal and relevant.


As adoption increases, the sophistication of chatbots and automated messaging services will only become greater. Companies can use this store of data to build automated sales experiences that are practically identical to agent-led experiences - and are in many ways better. With data to draw from, chatbots can create contextualized and personalized conversations with customers, without requiring an army of customer service agents.


How do you send an invoice through text?


It’s easy to get started with text communications. It involves sending a personalised message to your customer with a link to your unique branded payment site.  


The process is very simple:


  1. Send the message and invoice link to the customer, who can chat with support and ask any questions within the same conversation.


  1. The customer clicks on a payment link and pays either by card (eg Apple Pay) or pays with “Pay by Bank” with no data input required.


  1. Once payment is made, the customer is diverted back to the conversation where they can ask any follow-up or support questions.  



Invoices can also be imported from third-party accounting systems, such as Xero, with automatic accounts reconciliation when payment is made.


If you want to achieve faster invoice payments by seamlessly integrating with real-time messaging, now’s a good time to consider developing text as an additional communications channel. 


At Converso, our solution enables you to deliver a better customer payment experience by tapping into a channel that consumers already know and love to use. 


For more information, you can download our e-book “SME Guide to Remote Payments” here.


You can also get early access to Converso here, today!


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5 things every SME should know about Open Banking payments

By

Chris Barley

//

Blog

December 3, 2021

1. There are no card fees

Open Banking payments are made straight from your customer’s bank account to yours. Taking out the payment processor eradicates standard card payment fees of 2-4%, leaving more money in your pocket.

2. It improves your cashflow

Open Banking payments are instant. They use the banks' faster payments network, thereby helping small businesses improve their cashflow. This means improved cashflow for your business compared to using card payments, which often require seven days and more for payments to be deposited into your account.

3. You can invoice via text

At Converso we’ve combined Open Banking technology with text invoicing so that customers are instantly notified of your invoice. With a 5x faster response rate than email, your text invoices are much more likely to be paid on the day.

4. It's more secure

With Open Banking your customers aren’t sharing any of their card details online. Bank-to-bank payments therefore reduce the risk of fraudsters accessing online card details, and help eliminate costly PCI DSS security processes.

Open Banking payments are also SCA (Strong Customer Authentication) compliant. Customers can confirm their identity using their smartphone’s biometric security combined with their banking app, reducing the chance of fraudulent payments with stolen card details.

5. There's no form filling

Your customers don’t have to enter any details to make a payment by bank – they just click on the payment link, and the amount and payee are automatically provided to the customer’s bank. This helps cut payment friction and reduces errors in payment form filling.

Sounds amazing, when can I start using it?

Almost all UK banks are now Open Banking ready so you just need an invoicing service that supports it. We will be launching our Open Banking "Pay by bank" invoicing service in May 2021. Sign up here to Converso and get free access when we launch.

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How to reduce your outstanding Xero invoices in 4 easy steps

By

//

Blog

December 3, 2021

It's been a tough year for maintaining healthy cashflow. Covid-19 has flattened the sales forecasts of many companies, and difficulty in moving transactions online has made the problem worse for many traditional businesses.

As a result, many companies have been forced to rethink the fundamentals of how they collect payments, and how they connect with their customers.

This has led to a new focus on late payments, and as latest figures indicate, it's a problem that’s getting worse, even without the negative affects of the pandemic.

According to Hitachi Capital, since last year there’s been a 22% rise in the number of small businesses spending time and money on legal action to chase late payments.  And with their reduced cashflow, it’s small businesses that suffer the most.

The Chartered Institute of Supply estimate that, in the UK alone, around £13bn is owed to small businesses in overdue payments, and up to 50,000 businesses are at risk of insolvency every year because they lack the resources of larger businesses to cover such delays.  

This is not surprising when you consider that, according to Dun and Bradstreet, in late 2018, SMEs in the UK were owed an average of £80,000 each!

It’s not just the financial pain of not having your customers’ money in the bank. Costs spent pursuing late payments are also considerable. BACS estimates that the average UK business spends £9k a year chasing and collecting late payments.

Focusing on cashflow has therefore become paramount for business survival.

At Converso, we're working to address this problem by focusing on the following key areas:

i) increasing visibility of the payment request

ii) reaching out to customers proactively

iii) making the payment process simpler

iv) making sure payments are secure.

In addition, we're integrating with Xero invoicing to make Xero invoice payment easier for your customers.

Let’s look in further detail at good practice in these different areas.

1. Get your invoices noticed

Whilst late payment can be due to your customers deliberately avoiding paying up, a more likely reason is simply forgetting to pay.

Consumers are increasingly busy: 58% of Europeans that made a late payment say that they had just forgotten to pay their bills.   

Part of this late payment problem lies in visibility. Sending invoices via email is a common practice, but email has become overused, and trying to engage your customers with yet more emails just results in diminishing returns.

So your Xero invoice email is more likely to get lost in an overfull inbox, or just ignored as low priority, especially with a younger demographic.   

The truth is, it’s hard getting your customer’s attention, especially when it comes to payment requests.

But optimizing for mobile can help solve this problem. 80% of the UK population owns a smartphone, with customers now using their phone as the remote control for many aspects of their day-to-day lives.

This makes it an ideal device on which to engage your customers and request remote payment, using the medium of business text messaging.  

Getting customers’ attention is where text really scores.

This can be illustrated by text open and read rates, which are in another league compared to email. Text has a 98% open rate, and 90% are read within 3 seconds. That's an open rate of almost 5x compared to email.

That means that when you send a text, it’s practically guaranteed that your customers will see and action it as soon as it’s sent. Your Xero invoices going to spam will be a thing of the past!

It’s also popular: 90% of consumers want to connect with businesses via texting and 78% of US consumers say that text communications is the fastest way to reach them.

Having a way to connect, invoice and get paid via text is becoming essential for any business that wants to make sure their invoices get noticed and therefore paid on time.

2. Make it convenient to pay

The key to prompt invoice payment is making it so convenient for your customers to pay that it’s completed as soon as the invoice arrives.

There should be no forwarding to a third party payment site, inputing long card details, or working out how to get a receipt. It should just be intuitive, with minimal data input, and simple but effective authentication. All done in just a couple of clicks, right from the invoice.

But is this actually what happens?

Many invoicing apps can be set up to incorporate a “Pay” button within an emailed invoice. But many apps don’t accept mobile wallet payments such as Apple Pay or Google Pay, so the customer needs to get their card out and input their details to make the payment.

Incorporating “Pay” buttons from mobile wallets means that busy customers can pay from the invoice with a couple of clicks, without inputting name, address, card details or PIN.

Even when mobile wallets are not enabled, some sites don’t include the ability for the browser to prepopulate card and customer details, requiring extra effort of manual entry - and the potential for the payment to be delayed.

This is also frustrating if you’re on the move, or if the site isn’t optimised for mobile data input.

Invoicing is also one of the key touch points with a customer, and it pays to make it look professional. If the invoice and payment site is not branded consistently with your business, the customer can be confused, resulting in reluctance to proceed.

The optimum solution is for your customer to pay your branded invoice from within your own branded payment site, without needing to be forwarded to a third party payment page. Consistent branding reduces doubts and objections in the customer’s mind, and minimises friction in the payment process.

Convenience always wins - by maximising ease of use, you’ve now increased the chances that your invoice will be paid the moment the customer opens your text.

3. Build trust through payment security

The recent PSD2 payment directive has introduced new authentication checks to reduce fraud. SCA (Strong Customer Authentication) is the result of this focus, and is becoming the required security standard for customer payments.

SCA is designed to improve customer authentication and combat fraud, thereby reducing rejected payments. It also requires a number of customer characteristics to be provided in order to fully authenticate the purchaser as the person whose details are being used to make the payment.

One of these is the biometric details collected from the phone. Complying with SCA is therefore straightforward when paying on a mobile phone, which includes the facility for authentication via thumbprint or face ID.

Whilst online desktop payment methods may also include SCA for additional security, they will in most cases add an authentication step that loops in the customer’s mobile phone, adding complexity to the desktop payment process.

If you need to get authentication on a mobile phone, for convenience you might as well complete the whole process on the same device! When sending invoices via text, you can be assured that your invoices will always benefit from applying SCA to all payments.

Payment on a mobile also makes the use of mobile wallets much easier for the customer, as these are also SCA compliant. In addition, wallets such as Apple Pay tokenise the user’s card data, making it impossible for third parties to view or intercept this data.

This eliminates the need for your customer to input card and personal details into payment sites for each purchase, reducing the risks associated with divulging card details online.

This also ensures adherence to PCI DSS compliance for card payments by reducing the risk of exposure of all parties to in-the-clear card data.

Your customer can also benefit from increased security by connecting the business’s domain to the payments site, to form a company specific URL eg payments.yourcompany.com. This can offer reassurance to the customer that it’s not a phishing site aimed at fraudulently collecting customer data, as well as providing consistent branding with the business name on the invoice.

All these measures increase confidence in your brand, and increase the likelihood of prompt payment from your customer.

4. Communicate with customers for fast resolution

By sending your Xero invoice via text, you have the advantage of “in-channel” payments.

This means that your customer can view and pay an invoice whilst in a two-way conversation with you, and any queries or objections about the invoice or payment can be raised there and then, within the same conversation.

This makes it simpler for accounts to respond quickly to questions, as message context and relevant information are all included in the same thread.

Because it’s a text, messages are read almost instantly meaning you can get responses without having to send reminders and follow ups. And if you do need to follow up on your unpaid Xero invoice, you can automate text reminders so it saves you time and effort spent chasing outstanding amounts.  

Direct customer responses can be invaluable for resolving problems that would otherwise block payment. This could include discussing a discount for immediate or early payment, or a payment plan if the customer is experiencing financial difficulties.    

Customer support can also deal with any questions on delivery or the product itself, without having to switch channel and loose detailed history of the transaction.

5. Making it simple for your business

Just as important as making payments easy for the customer is the need to make it simple for the business. That’s why any payment and messaging solution needs to integrate with the tools businesses already use.

When it comes to managing financials, the most popular tools nowadays are the accounting apps such as Xero, Quickbooks, Sage and FreeAgent. These apps provide invoicing, as well as book keeping, tax and payroll - all the functionality that a business needs for looking after cashflow.

But these tools are for financials, not communications, so they’re not the best for optimizing customer interactions. That’s where communications providers such as Converso can help.

With our Xero integration, you can create a Xero invoice message that engages your customer more effectively by being on a channel they love to use.

This makes the payment process easier by integrating a friendly and informal conversation with your invoice.

And you don't always need to be present to reply: customer queries can be responded to with a chatbot. You can always provide a human touch too, with seamless handoffs to a human if the customer needs more personal attention.

Converso integrates with payment provider Stripe for card payments, and will soon be offering payment via Open Banking for instant payouts, with transaction charges a fraction of card processing fees.

And if you don’t want to use Xero for invoicing, that’s fine – you can create an invoice in Converso and send via a message, with all invoice and payment information automatically uploaded onto Xero for easy invoice reconciliation. 

6. Summary

Integration with Xero invoicing helps make sure your Xero invoices get paid on time, by increasing their invoice visibility, convenience, security and communications.

Payment requests should be easily visible and get the attention of your customer. Sending invoices via email can condemn them to be left unopened, and possibly forgotten as they get submerged in the customer’s inbox.

Sending an invoice via text almost guarantees it will be opened and viewed as soon as it’s received. This makes text an ideal channel to engage quickly with your customers and resolve any payment issues.

The next step is once an invoice is opened, to make sure it can be actioned instantly. The customer shouldn’t need to make any effort or take any action apart from confirming the information displayed in front of them.

The goal should be to remove any objection, however slight or subconscious, that might make the customer delay. If a payment is delayed, it may be forgotten about. Payment needs to be simple, effortless and instant.  

And finally, the customer should have 100% confidence that the whole process if secure. Any doubts will again produce delay, and worse, introduce fraud that may impact your business’s reputation for doing business online or remotely.

If you’d like further information and see how simple it is to send your Xero invoices via text, just click here - it takes just a couple of minutes to sign up, and it's free for early users!

If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to get it touch at info@converso.io.

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6 reasons why invoices sent by text get paid faster

By

Chris Barley

//

Blog

December 3, 2021

The effect of Coronavirus on company finances has been stark, hitting orders and revenues for many types of businesses.

This has highlighted the importance of managing outstanding invoices, and one of the key priorities is to make it easy and simple for customers to pay. After all, 58% of Europeans who make a late payment say that they have just forgotten to pay their bills![i]

Sending your invoices via text can help you do this. Here are six reasons why:

1. Make payments more convenient

One of the most common methods of payment is via bank transfer, often because it avoids card transaction fees (which can be up to 3%).

Payment by bank transfer is now easier with the increased popularity of banking apps. However this method still requires input by the customer to log on to their banking app, and manually input the bank data of the payee’s account and invoice amount. This makes payment cumbersome and adds inertia to the payment process.

A similar situation is true for card payments over the phone. These usually require talking to an IVR (interactive voice response) system or human attendant, and inputting card details. This requires costly agent time and/or systems for the business to protect card security and comply with PCI DSS card security regulations.

As more and more customers are on their mobiles, it’s a cumbersome experience for the customer to get out their card and manually input details. 

Alternatively, offering easy mobile card payment via text eliminates these problems by reducing data entry and the requirement to interface with multiple systems to make a payment.

And making invoices more convenient makes them easier and quicker to pay!

2. Get your invoices noticed

Emailing is one of the most common ways of reaching remote customers.

The problem with email is that it’s overused, and trying to engage your customers with yet more email just results in diminishing returns.

Emailed invoices get submerged in cluttered inboxes or just ignored as low priority, especially with a younger demographic. Reminder emails (and also phone calls) can suffer the same fate, as well as requiring additional time and effort from the business to coordinate and send.

Postal invoices aren’t much better with statements getting ignored or lost in the post. And with no “read receipt” it’s impossible to know if your invoice ever arrived.

The truth is it’s hard to get your customer’s attention.

The old channels of email and phone, whilst still popular, are not where the growth is. 90% of consumers now want to connect with businesses via texting[ii] as it’s just more convenient for our mobile-first lifestyles. 

And getting customers’ attention is where text really scores.

SMS open rates for outbound texting is in another league compared to email: 95-98% open rate, with 90% opened within 3 minutes with a 45% response rate[iii].

Consumers are 7 times more likely to read a business text message than an email.

Busy customers love texting and text messages engage directly with consumers on the most important piece of digital real estate they have – their phone.

So this makes text a great channel to get your invoice noticed with your mobile customers - it’s practically guaranteed for it to be seen almost as soon as it’s sent.

The next objective is to make sure payment requests are easily actioned.

3. Make it frictionless to pay

Instead of navigating manually to a payment site, most accounting apps now incorporate a “Pay” button within an emailed invoice for paying by card.

This usually navigates to a separate page, and if it doesn’t have the capability to prepopulate card details, the customer needs to get their card out and enter those manually.

This can be a frustrating experience, especially when the site isn’t optimised for mobile data input.

Alternatively, easy payment from within the invoice, without the customer being forwarded to a separate payment page or site, can reduce payment friction.

Customers can quickly review the bill, make any relevant changes to the invoice (eg address) while on the same page, and pay without any further input, thought or action.

Key to facilitating easy and quick payment are inclusion of “Pay” buttons provided by mobile wallets such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.

After checking the invoice, busy customers can pay within the invoice page with just one click. Payment is completed without any need to input name, address, card details or PIN, thus reducing payment friction and increasing the chances that your invoice will be paid when the customer first receives it via text.

4. Increase security

The implementation of the PSD2 payment directive and its SCA (strong customer authentication) requirement came into force in September 2019 (although it has been delayed in some jurisdictions), introducing new authentication checks to reduce fraud.

Complying with SCA is straightforward when using a mobile phone, as it uses the customer’s biometric details collected on the payer’s phone to verify the customer. This makes it an ideal device on which to pay an invoice, as it improves authentication and reduces the number of rejected payments. 

Whilst increasingly pay by phone and online desktop payment methods will also include SCA measures, they will in most cases also require an additional authentication loop with the customer’s mobile phone, adding complexity to the desktop or phone payment process – if you need to get authentication on a mobile phone, you might as well complete the whole process on the same device!

Sending invoices via text also has the great advantage of leveraging a phone’s biometric authentication features to enable the use of mobile wallets. This eliminates the need for the customer to input sensitive card details into payment sites for each purchase, reducing the risks associated with divulging card details over the phone or online.

This is possible because mobile wallets such as Apple Pay tokenise the user’s card data, making it impossible for third parties to view this sensitive data. This also ensures adherence to PCI DSS compliance for handling card payments by reducing the exposure of all parties to in-the-clear card data.

When a customer pays via a web invoice, it’s also important that the link is from a verified entity, ie the billing party. This can be achieved by setting up payment links using the domain of the business sending the invoice, providing added assurance and verification for the paying customer.

5. Create an ongoing customer conversation

Texting is a convenient 2 way conversational channel which makes it ideal to instantly resolve customer questions about an invoice and any potential reasons not to pay. Texting an invoice also has the advantage of “in-channel” payment.

This means that the customer can view and pay without having to be diverted to another system, and at the same time be able to raise queries about an invoice or payment within the same conversation.

This makes it simpler for agents to respond and quickly resolve questions about the invoice or product, as message context and relevant information is included in the same thread.

Connecting via text also means that you have a personal and direct way to communicate not just for support issues, but also for other areas of customer communication such as product updates, promotions, upsells etc.

This enables seamless follow up, diverting customers from using more expensive channels such as phone support.

6. It’s the future!

Text (and also other mobile message channels such as Messenger and WhatsApp) are conversational in nature which makes them ideal for chatbots.

Chatbots are virtual agents that can do regular tasks without human involvement. Billing chatbots will assist finance staff in the process of sending out invoices at the right time, sending reminders and handling any queries such as account balances, payment dates etc. If payments are late, a billing chatbot can automatically send further reminders, as well as adding on any late payment charges.

These functions can be refined with increasing use of natural language understanding for more intelligent conversations with customers. As well as helping recover outstanding debts and improving cashflow, bots can save significant time for accounts staff in chasing customers and their outstanding payments without requiring direct human involvement.     

Another area that is likely to have a substantial impact on late payments is Open Banking. It’s early days for this new payment technology but it promises to reduce the levels of friction and cost for businesses compared to card payments.

Open Banking works on the principal of customers pushing payments to the business rather than business pulling the payment from the customer, so it’s necessary for the push request to be captured in the most customer friendly method. This is where a text message makes a lot of sense as it’s guaranteed to be noticed by the customer and acted upon almost immediately.

The other main benefit is that payments are made almost instantly using the banks’ faster payments network, thereby helping small businesses improve their cashflow - most card payments take at least 7 days for payments to be deposited in a business’s bank account.   

Open Banking will in the future also include a recurring payment feature that will allow it to provide services to replace direct debit payments at a more reasonable cost.

Future advances in text and other messaging services generally will make business messaging much more appealing for consumers, with the ability to include quick action buttons, images, videos etc.

Especially important for payments will be the ability to incorporate pay buttons in the message thread, making it even easier to pay within the message conversation itself.

The worlds of payments and communications is changing fast and new technologies can help smooth the payment process for customers, helping invoices get paid on time as well as reducing stress of non payment for the small business owner.   

To find out more, please go to www.converso.io or get in touch at info@converso.io, or via text at 07451 277570.

[i] Intrum European Consumer Payment Report

[ii] Twilio

[iii] Twilio

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How sending a text can improve your cashflow

By

Chris Barley

//

Blog

December 3, 2021

The Coronavirus pandemic has created business illness in the form of reduced orders and dwindling revenues, and has forced a new emphasis on digitization and remote sales. Companies must now rethink how they connect with customers and collect payments. Getting this right could be the difference between surviving and going out of business.

Any payment process should work for you, be easy to operate and save you time. It's also important to delight your customers (not easy when presenting them with a bill!) so they're around when the market picks up again.

But right now cashflow is what matters, and this means proactively reaching out to customers, not just to persuade them to pay on time, but also to collect those overdue invoices.

Even in normal times, late payments are a problem, and recent figures have indicated that the problem is getting worse.

According to Hitachi Capital, almost a third of SMEs (31%) have experienced late payments, costing their business at least £10,000 during 2019. This has resulted in a 22% rise in the number of small businesses spending time and money in the last year on legal action to chase a late payment.  With their reduced cashflow, it’s small businesses that suffer the most.

And the Chartered Institute of Supply sites that, in the UK alone, around £13bn is owed to small businesses in overdue payments, and up to 50,000 businesses are at risk of insolvency every year because they lack the resources of larger businesses to cover such delays.   

This is not surprising when you consider that, according to Dun and Bradstreet, in late 2018, SMEs in the UK were owed on average a staggering £80,000 each!

With the added impact of coronavirus and reduced business activity, this situation is unfortunately only likely to get worse.

It’s not just the financial pain of not having your customers’ money in the bank. Costs spent pursuing late payments are also considerable. BACS estimates that the average UK business spends £9k a year chasing and collecting late payments. And Hitachi Capital reckons that 57% of SMEs spend at least an hour a day chasing outstanding invoices and late payments.

Whilst late payment can be due to customers deliberately avoiding or delaying payment, a big factor is also the increasingly busy lives of consumers.  With a barrage of emails to deal with plus demands on their time, customers are less likely to prioritise or will miss completely any payment that takes longer than a few seconds or requires too many steps.

Another key consumer development is that 50% of the world’s population now owns a smartphone, and this proportion will increase to 80% over the next four years[i]. Customers nowadays use their mobile phone as a remote control to manage every aspect of their daily lives.

It makes sense therefore to provide a quick and easy way for customers to pay via their mobile phone so they can settle on time, or better still, when they first receive your invoice.

And forget using email! With 90% of consumers wanting to connect with businesses via a text[ii] and 78% of US consumers saying that text communications is the fastest way to reach them[iii], connecting and invoicing by mobile message is essential for any business that wants to thrive in the next decade.

This is borne out by the stats. Open and response rates for outbound texting are in another league compared to email: 95-98% open rate, with 90% opened within 3 minutes with a 45% response rate[iv], with consumers being 7 times more likely to respond to a business text than an email.

Mobile messaging is a personal, conversational interface, and a much more natural way of communicating than email. 90% of consumers want to connect with businesses via messaging[v] as it’s just more convenient for our mobile-first lifestyles. 

So how can we use messaging to solve the problem of customer connections and collections?

Researching this issue back in 2019, we realised that payment methods for consumers will increasingly migrate to smartphones.  This is due not just to their ease of use but also their inbuilt security features. Nowadays latest PSD2 payment regulations define standards for strong customer authentication (SCA), and smartphones are ideally placed to provide SCA approved payments with inbuilt features such as biometric security.  

At Converso, we built what we call transactional conversations, making bill payment a seamless part of a clients’ mobile communications by using text as a user-friendly, personal channel, helping to get messages noticed and invoices paid.

Businesses are now able to message their customers, offer in-conversation sales, send clients invoices with one-click payment, and keep track of the communication regardless of which sales person started the conversation.

And above all, the process makes it easier and simpler for customers to pay, helping businesses achieve early payment and improve cashflow when it matters most.

We've just introduced our beta service and made it free of charge, so you can use text invoicing to help boost your cashflow in these challenging times.

If you’d like to sign up for the beta, please go to www.converso.io, or if you have any questions or comments please get in touch by text on 07451 277570 or by email at help@converso.io

[i] Juniper Research

[ii] Twilio

[iii] Vipes Transaction Messaging Consumer Report

[iv] Twilio

[v] Twilio

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How new messaging services can give your business the competitive edge

By

Chris Barley

//

Blog

December 3, 2021

We now live in a mobile-dominated economy.

50% of the world’s population owns a smartphone, and this is forecast to grow to 80% over the next four years[1].

Strong mobile growth is reflected in changing customerbehaviour and expectations. 78% of US consumers say text communications is thefastest way to reach them[2]for service updates or purchases, and in 2020, purchases with mobile walletswill surpass credit and debit cards[3].

And nearly a quarter of the world’s population now interact with businesses using chatbots[4], as automation becomes necessary to handle increasing volumes of message based interactions.

This relentless growth has made the smartphone our life’s remote control. The challenge now for businesses is how to stay competitive, as better ways to connect displace the old customer channels of email and phone, and new, more nimble competitors exploit this disruption.

Email and phone are still popular, but mobile messaging, as indicated above, is where the action is; now 90% of consumers want to connect with businesses via messaging[5] because it’s just more convenient for our mobile-first lifestyles. 

And it’s easy to see why. Email was first gaining traction way back in the 1990s when the smartphone was just a gleam in an Apple designer’s eye. Since then, email has made the awkward migration to mobile, albeit compromised by the weight of its formal and un-conversational layout.

Over the same period, use of message chatbots has increased dramatically, as AI driven applications make conversational interfaces a reality. Email however struggled to benefit from this new tech, being designed less with conversation in mind and more around rules-based automation, producing responses that are often more artificial than intelligent!

Chatbots are also great at creating conversation, and they can do this for dramatically less money than a human:  the cost of a contact centre interaction plummets from $15-$200 for a phone call, to $1 for a virtual chat session[6].

This results in chatbots saving businesses upto 30% in customer support costs[7].

The phone call has sadly suffered a similar fate. A ringing phone is now often just ignored, seen merely as an alarm for an annoying interruption, with a rising number of calls unceremoniously dumped to an unloved voicemail box. Customers like to connect on their own terms and in their own time.

For those high value sales calls that do connect, 9 out of 10 consumers want the convenience of an omnichannel experience[8], blending voice calls with messages into the same conversation.

The new upstart channels are dominated by over-the-top (OTT) services, where the service is not specific to a carrier network and is deployed over any wireless or data connection - these have resulted in rapid product innovation and fresh ways of doing business for small and large companies alike.

The humble mobile message, then, is in the right place at the right time, slap bang in the middle of the home screen of 3.3 billion avid smartphone users worldwide.

However only 48% of businesses have the capability to send a text, and its even lower for other OTT services.  The prize therefore for savvy businesses that adopt these new channels is a headstart in defining the future standards for engagement, ecommerce and support, thus overtaking the old benchmarks defined by email and phone.

So what exactly are these new messaging services, and howcan they help you get ahead?

Let’s dive in…

Text and RCS

Texting has of course been around since the dawn of time.It’s ability to send a personal, direct, asynchronous communication at low costhas made it a winner for private communications.

It’s also made it a natural choice for businesses too, as it’s direct and convenient. The stats bear this out.

SMS open rates for outbound texting are in another league compared to email: 95-98% open rate, with 90% opened within 3 minutes with a 45% response rate[9]. Consumers are 35 times more likely to read a business mobile message than an email.

For customer service, 54% of customers already prefertexting to voice calls or email, mainly driven by wanting to avoid on-holdqueues at call centres.

Growth in business texting has been mostly outbound, or A2P(application-to-person) where an enterprise’s software application creates andsends high volumes of messages to customers (who have agreed to receive those messages).

Common examples are marketing messages and appointmentreminders. This type of traffic has increased significantly over the last 5 years. 

Although useful for their direct reach, A2P messages however do not usually feature a response capability, anddon’t contain much personalised or tailored content.

Considering that 85% of consumers want the ability to respond to texts and have a conversation[10], outbound-only messages risk alienating prospects with spammy, one-way texts that have limited interactivity for the consumer.

But thankfully that’s all changing. Texting is growing up from its old 160-character format, to a much improved inbound, or P2A (person-to-application) messaging service. This means that business messaging can now start making polite and useful conversation.

This capability is being unlocked by the roll-out of RCS (Rich Communications Services) which is a Google initiative that turbocharges the humble text to compete and overtake non-carrier OTT services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Thetech detail is outside the scope of this article, however in brief it provides enhanced messaging features forthe carrier, as well as an upgraded SMS message client for the user’ssmartphone.

So what are the key details of RCS? Well, many of thefeatures we have got used to with OTT services like Whatsapp are present:

Branding Show your companylogo and graphics in the message header to provide identity and verification,enabling the recipient to trust the contents

Quick response buttons Suggest actions viabuttons in the body of the message eg make a payment, share a location, make acall, review an order

QR codes Include QR codesfor tickets and coupons, for events and special offers

Rich media experience Attach videos andanimated gifs to provide a more powerful message to consumers

Customers are able tocreate inbound initiated 2 wayconversations that are dynamic and interactive, enhancing the sales and supportexperience, and extending the reach of your products to any consumer with asmartphone.

And most importantly, youdon’t have to encourage your customers to download an app – all they have to dois open their native SMS client.

Early results from trialsshow 20x higher conversation rates[11],and customer sales up by 25%[12].And 82% of brands interviewed said they were interested in RCS as a futurecommunications channel[13].

Making it more attractive for customers to initiate aninbound conversation can increase the customer’s intent to connect with abusiness, which in turn can boost engagement, ecommerce and support.

In effect, RCS can replace the need for a mobile app, as it creates a new channel for mobile commerce with most of the features but none of the app development and support costs.   

This is an important consideration as getting customers touse a new mobile app is a challenge - 20% of downloaded apps are never openedand a further 21% are only used once[14].

RCS is presently being rolled out internationally across mobilecarrier networks – it’s now universally available across UK and France and theUS. For consumers, 100% of Android users in the US are updated as part of the latestMessages app update, and most Android users in UK will be updated by Q1 2020.

However service providers should enable SMS fallback for anymessages that are not handled by RCS compatible smartphones.

RCS is yet to be adopted by Apple. It’s suggested that whenRCS gains critical mass in 2020, Apple will add RCS to the iPhone, as they won’twant to offer an inferior texting experience compared to Android devices –which are 75% of total smartphones in use.

We will likely see an Apple decision in 2020. Apple also hastheir own business message service called Apple Business Chat.

Apple Business Chat

Apple Business Chat (ABC) is Apple’s business version of their iMessage service, enabling businesses to chat with their customers via their Messages app, with enhanced features for business communications.

As with iMessage, ABC only works across Apple devices – iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch. However this can also be seen as an advantage as it allows a consumer to start a message on their iPhone, and then finish the conversation later at home on their Mac. Super convenient for busy Apple users! 

ABC is controlled entirely by Apple, so there’s no involvement of the mobile carriers, unlike RCS. As you would expect with Apple – renowned for its focus on privacy – there’s high standards of encryption applied as a default for all messages.

With many recent revelations about customer data not being safein the hands of tech companies, this is obviously an important feature for manycustomers and brands. 

In addition, Applehas gone to some lengths to design a high quality chat experience for customersupport functions, primarily focused at mid to large b2c customer brands.It’s very definitely not an outbound marketing tool, like some A2P textservices, as Apple has been careful to eliminate any kind of association withspam messaging.

In line with that objective, consumers have to initiate theconversation with the business. This however is not an issue, as Apple has madeit easy for consumers to discover your business via multiple points withinother Apple products.

For instance, you can start an ABC conversation directlyfrom Maps and Safari. This helps customers easily find your business and send amessage from a website search on Safari, or from a company listing in Maps.

There’s also an ABC messages API that allows you to add a“Chat with Messages” button on your website to help initiate an inboundcustomer conversation and replace traditional webchat services that providesonly a temporary message conversation.

Other iOS features and Apple Pay can also be easilyintegrated within a message conversation. For instance you could accessfeatures such as Camera within the message so you can get a great view of how acustomer is using your product.

You can even use Apple’s ARKit to provide a view to yourcustomer about what your product could potentially look like in a customer’senvironment, say how a prospective new table looks in their living room.

In order to provide consistent branding across all Apple products, businesses are required to upload their company info and logos so the message branding is always consistent, thereby making it look like a private business channel within the Apple ecosystem.  

If you have an existing iOS app, you can also build a hybrid messaging service with ABC. An ABC text conversation can access specific features or access certain data native to your app, with just one tap of a link.

Like Whatsapp Business API, ABC works only via an API interface for the business customer. This means that, as a business, you need to integrate ABC with your CRM or ticketing application. Various CSPs (customer service platforms as Apple calls them) like Salesforce and other CRMs have implemented this integration.

Getting set up with ABC is a commitment in time and resource, and there are a number of requirements Apple likes to see, such as your CSP’s capabilities, QoS reporting, and agent training etc, before progressing.

But the upside is that enrolling with ABC is a statement of commitment to customer service and care that can really differentiate you from your competition.      

ABC has been on limited roll out to large global brands overthe last 18 months. However the scope of applicable businesses is likely to broaden,with the service likely to become available to smaller businesses in 2020 andbeyond. 

Webchat

Webchat is instant messaging between people or chatbotsdelivered via a business’s website. The browsing consumer doesn’t have todownload a browser extension or any software - they can just start chatting.And businesses can instantly offer“live” sales support to a browsing customer to exploit that buying intention.

Whilst immediate response is useful, another benefit formany businesses is lack of a third party controlling the message session. Thisimproves security by reducing the risk of a message’s contents falling into thewrong hands.

For customer security, webchat can also be useful to makeenquiries without the customer revealing their ID, eg for one-off salesquestions or quick support enquiries.

Alternatively, when the customer is logged in to a web basedservice, webchat provides an easy to use and cost effective way to provide realtime, instant support services, as the customer and their account details arealready known. 

However webchat’s attributes as a “synchronous” communicationstool can also be a hindrance. Customersthat have limited time to browse expect an immediate response to their sales orsupport request

This can pile on the pressure for your support team to instantlyreply whilst the customer is still active on your site, requiring more agentsto keep your impatient browsers happy!

On the plus side, deploying webchat (or any message basedcustomer interaction) is always going to be less resource intense than handling a phone call: it’s estimatedthat customer service agents can engage in as many as six simultaneous chats[15]depending on complexity!

Also, as webchat architecture is unrestricted by any thirdparties, chatbot implementation andcustomization is much easier, enabling developers to use a wider range ofgraphical widgets for a richer customer interface and experience.

But in cases where the product is more complex, and where youneed to nurture the prospect over alonger period of time, webchat with a human or a chatbot may not be sufficient.For instance, if the customer wants to purchase an insurance policy or a newholiday, a brief webchat is probably not going to cut it!

Another problem is that when the customer lands on your website as a new visitor, there’s no way to identify the customer or capture contact details to respond at a later time or send future notifications.

However a web message fixes that. A web message is a text originatingfrom a mobile website that forms a synchronous or asynchronous ongoing conversationwith a customer, even when they have ended their browsing session on yourmobile website.

A simple “text to chat” button is installed on your mobilewebsite, which when clicked opens the mobile’s text client with your business’stext number auto pre-filled making it a simple “one tap” for the customer toconnect.

Or if browsing on a desktop or laptop, this can be detectedand a Facebook Messenger session can be initiated.

As it’s a persistent conversation, you can keep in contact at your customer’s convenience in order to close the sale or resolve the issue. The conversation could be over any duration: a minute, a week, a month, or whatever is required.

This can help build trust with prospects, increase the ROI of your mobile website, and boost your mobile sales conversion ratio – as well as provide a more convenient support service for your customers!  

WhatsApp

When Apple introduced notifications on the iPhone, it made it possible for apps like Whatsapp to exist. And as we all know, WhatsApp’s existence has now turned into market dominance, with 60 billion messages sent everyday!

Texting’s great asset has been its ubiquity, but it’s also been its downfall. It has struggled to keep pace on features compared to other OTT messaging services due to the difficulties of innovating on a shared network that must support multiple mobile carriers – an industry group that has not exactly been at the cutting edge of telecoms innovation.   

Whatsapp, as an OTT service, has none of these restrictions - it quickly launched features such as read receipts, groups, photo attachments etc, thereby strongly differentiating itself from the ageing text.

WhatsApp has also worked hard to promote itself as safe, trusted, private, and free from advertisements and spam.

This has led to huge popularity for personal messaging, and now that's being leveraged with its two business versions - WhatsApp Business and WhatsApp Business API.

WhatsApp Business is designed for small SMEs to provide a more business grade messaging service to end customers. Businesses can now benefit by being able to easily reach out to Whatsapp's 1.6 billion users across the globe.

Features include Business Profiles where company info such as name, email, phone, web address, etc are verified to give assurance to consumers, plus also providing branding to your messages. Message reporting and product list also enable business owners to measure their messaging effectiveness and promote their products.

The disadvantage for business users is that it’s a mobile-to-mobile product, with no ability to connect with a business’s communications system to distribute messages. This makes it difficult to handle anything more than low message volumes, as office based agents can’t use a contact centre or similar to allocate messages amongst a team.

It also means that business processes can become disjointed, as there’s no integration with back office systems such as CRM and ticketing. Managing contacts, deals and support requests can therefore become time intensive.

There are some support desk organizations that do provide unofficial integration with WhatsApp Business, however this is not a Whatsapp supported integration, so potentially features could be lost without notice in the future.  

Whatsapp however has addressed this problem with WhatsApp Business API which is a more sophisticated product, where features are exposed via an API (application programming interface) that allows integration with business systems. WhatsApp messages can now be managed in the same way as a business’s emails and phone calls, and distributed amongst a team of support agents.

This of course allows more flexibility to handle messages,as well as providing more relevant and information rich services. Account updates, delivery information,payment requests can now all be delivered by a customer service team using acontact centre or CRM. Automated alerts, notifications and reminders canalso be set up to save agent time.

This results in both an increase in message handlingcapacity, and an improved customer experience.

However, like Apple Business Chat, WhatsApp Business API is not a quick or easy set up. As it features end-to-end message encryption, maintaining this security feature requires a complex implementation. This results in higher costs, making WhatsApp Business API more suitable for enterprise customers with large message volumes.

This may well change with Facebook’s (which owns WhatsApp) announcementthat they are merging WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram into one platform. Thiscould potentially lower costs for WhatsApp Business API implementation – itwill be interesting to see how this development unfolds in 2020.

So if you’re a small business with a couple of employees,Whatsapp Business could work well for you. But if you’re an SME or mid sizeenterprise, and you have more than a couple of sales or support staff, it’sgoing to potentially struggle to handle your message volumes.

However Whatsapp Business API is a more expensive optionthat might be difficult to cost justify unless you are a large b2c brand withhigh message volumes.

A great option for businesses that fit between the twoWhatsApp business products is Facebook Messenger.

Facebook Messenger

With around 2 billion users every month, Messenger exceeds even the reach of WhatsApp (1.6 billion), although its dominance varies from territory to territory: India, Germany, UK and Russia are the biggest WhatsApp markets, with US and France the largest Messenger markets.

But when you look at total interactions, Messenger is thestandout leader for customer engagement and brand presence with 20 billionmessages sent between business and consumers every month.

There are a number of reasons for this popularity:

  1. Business Pages Messenger is integrated with every Facebook business page, benefitting from the traffic generated by 1.6 billion daily Facebook users spending an average of 1.5 hours everyday on the social network
  2. Verified accounts Messenger messages are tied to Facebook accounts so the account is verified as a genuine user
  3. Free It’s free to send messages anywhere in the world (try achieving that with a text!)
  4. Features With features such as image and video attachments, read receipts, group messaging, sender ID etc, it provides a more enjoyable b2c user experience than text
  5. Cross platform Like Whatsapp, it’s an OTT service, so it can be used on any device - an Android mobile user can connect with an iOS desktop user with the same features and user experience 
  6. Web app Messenger has a web app so business users can respond from their desktop making it easier to use in an office environment
  7. Chatbot friendly Messenger is a chatbot friendly platform, with 300,000 bots already built for the platform. Messenger developer program makes it straighforward to develop a bot that’s specific to your business.

Chatbots are a keyfeature of the Messenger platform and can be built quickly to automatesales responses, handle support tasks, take FAQs, all without taking up agenttime. Businesses and their bots can also be easily discovered via search on theFacebook platform.

One of the main drawbacks of Messenger is that it’s not encrypted by default (although we won’t get into the merits or otherwise of data privacy in this article!) but, again, this is likely to change with the consolidation of Facebook platforms in 2020.

However Messengerdoes have an API which can beintegrated at much lower cost (depending on your supplier) than the WhatsAppBusiness API, so you can connect Messageswith your back office systems, such as your contact centre, CRM or ticketingapp. This also overcomes the drawback of the non-API Whatsapp Business asbeing a mainly peer-to-peer communication service.

One useful feature of Messenger is the web version, whichmakes it also suitable as a webchat tool, as it has the advantage that acustomer can start with web chat on their desktop and then continue on theirmobile, without the conversation ending when the browser session ends.

It also helpsbusinesses proactively connect with web visitors and create a persistent, asynchronousconversation that’s much more convenient for the customer.

All of the above make Messenger a great messaging option for small and large businesses alike,and make it a front runner for both 2-way direct interactions, andcommunications via your webpage.

Conclusions

Customers now want convenience when connecting with their favourite business or store, and aren't so keen on visiting the high street, endlessly searching the web, or listening to piped music whilst being held in a queue. 

Messaging fulfils this requirement for convenience.

Businesses that focuson developing messaging as a new customer channel will differentiate theirproducts by offering superior customer experience through conversational salesand support.

Those that don’t, risk losing customers to organizationsthat are more nimble and easier to do business with - and just happy to chat!

So if you want to build a messaging service for yourcustomers, what is the best option for you?

The humble text is a great place to start, especially forsmaller businesses. Whilst it’s not as feature rich as newer OTT services, it’svery cost effective for national coverage, is easy to set up for a small support team, and provides a greatplatform for convenient, professional chat.

Apple Business Chat, WhatsApp Business API and RCS are newservices with rich multimedia features compared to text. So far they’ve had limitedroll out, with high set up and monthly costs, making them at the moment suitableonly for businesses with high message volumes. This situation though is likelyto change in 2020 and beyond.

Facebook Messenger is much more cost effective for those SMEswith lower message volumes, but also still has many of the business grade features of the other OTT services, makingit an excellent platform to build on, especially for basic interactionsthat can be managed by a bot.

Webchat messaging has its place for web based interactions,although there are scenarios where a webmessage based service, such as text orMessenger, provides a more suitable service for longer sales cycles and morein-depth support.   

Messaging is a dynamic market that's developing rapidly. Costs will reduce and new features will be launched that we haven’t yet even thought about or imagined.

So, as messaging develops into a modern complement totraditional phone and email, it’s importantto get started so you can keep your mobile customers happy, stay connected, andmost importantly stay ahead of your competition.

Ina future blog, we’ll look at the typical use cases for messaging, and how thesecan benefit your customers.

In the meantime, to find out more about how messaging can help improve your customer experience, please visit www.converso.io.

We’re also launching our beta service, to sign up please click here – its free for early users!

[1] Juniper Research

[2] Vipes Transaction Messaging ConsumerReport

[3] WorldPay

[4] Chatbots Magazine

[5] Twilio

[6] IBM

[7] Chatbots Magazine

[8] UC Today

[9] Twilio

[10] Twilio

[11] Vodafone

[12] Subway

[13] Mobilesquared

[14] Statista

[15] Telus International

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Conversational data – what it is, and how to use it to increase your mobile sales

By

Chris Barley

//

Blog

December 3, 2021

Direct messaging is more and more popular for businesses looking for a more effective way to connect with their mobile customers.

But the move to messaging is about more than it just being an attractive communications channel.

According to Walker, a CX consultingfirm, 2020 will be the year customer experience surpasses price and evenproduct as a key competitive differentiator. 

And an essential part of improving customer experience is how data generated from interactions is usedto personalise the text conversation with your customer.

The advantages of making conversation

There are already many customerdatapoints - but conversational data is one of the key missing pieces of thecustomer data puzzle.

The rise of business messaging is set toproduce a treasure trove of conversational data — chat history and context —that businesses can begin to use to gain a more complete and personal view oftheir customers. It’s the juiciest of low-hanging fruit for CX-focused brands.

Brands with this data will be able todeliver the type of intelligent and seamless sales experiences that theircustomers are looking for.

They can do this by collecting, storing, analyzing and ultimately acting upon the actual words customers are saying during a conversation.

Imagine if your business was able toaccess everything your customers have ever said to you.

Their emails to customer service, livechats with sales, phone calls with the order help line, SMS messages,interactions with your Facebook bot, social posts with mentions of your brandetc - all these organized in a unified conversation timeline.

With conversational data at your support agents’ fingertips,you can stop dealing with a stranger every time, and start having informed and contextualized conversations with eachcustomer.

No frustrated customers having to repeat themselves over and over again. The whole buying experience becomes….more human and personal.

Optimising sales

Beyond providing amazing customerservice, businesses could also mine this data to supercharge their growth. Byanalyzing common support questions, product inquiries, trends, and requests,you can surface actionable insights foryour marketing, sales, business operations, and product teams.

Imagine a user on WhatsApp who asks abouta specific product instead of browsing your brand’s website. They might engagewith a human over live chat or messaging, or with a product discovery bot.

If the customer goes on their way withoutmaking a purchase, wouldn’t you want your marketing software to be aware of theconversation, and generate an email or WhatsApp message offering additionalproduct information or promoting a discount on that specific item?

Analysing conversational data willincreasingly allow brands to truly listen to what their customers are sayingthrough words, actions – and of course, emojis — and respond accordingly.

Customers are smarter and better informedthan ever before. They expect personalization and transparency.

Business messaging services now gives youthe chance to increase sales conversionswhilst offering customersa more personalised customer experience.

To find out more about how messaging can help improve your customer experience, please visit www.converso.io.

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Why mobile messaging is your new sales channel

By

Chris Barley

//

Blog

December 3, 2021

Messaging apps now reach more people than social media:

Because of this, messaging is now ranked the number 1 channel customers want to use to engage with businesses. (Source: Twilio). And as message networks become more feature rich, this momentum is set to continue:

9 out of 10 users would like to connect with businesses using messaging and more than 8 out of 10 consumers would like to reply to a message from a business (Source: Twilio).

52% would prefer texting customer support over their present preferred form of communication (Source: eWeek)

Text is the highest rated contact method for customer satisfaction out of all communication channels, with 90% satisfaction, compared to phone on 77% (Source: CFI Group).

98% of text messages are opened, and most texts are read within 3 minutes of receipt.

So why are people messaging businesses? According to Facebook, there are a few standout reasons:

83% want to learn about a product or service

76% want to get support

75% want to make a purchase

Yes that’s right, 75% want to buy something when they message a business, so if your customers can’t message you easily, you’re missing out on sales. In the meantime, cold call conversion rates are plummeting and cold emails have a 1% open rate and 81% of tech buyers who encounter gated content don’t fill out the form. 

Compare that with the open rate for a private message of 92%!

But getting through to customers is only half the story. The characteristics of messaging make it ideal for sales:

Rapid response: Research shows that responding to a new lead within five minutes of when they first reach out is crucial. After 10 minutes, there’s a 400% decrease in your odds of qualifying that lead. Texting lets you quickly respond to customer’s enquiries without having to wait around – conversations drive conversions!

Customer led: Using text messaging empowers customers to easily make the first move, contacting a brand when it suits them, on their terms. This means you’ll get engagement from customers who are already interested in your brand.

Personalized: 52% of customers would switch away from brands who don’t personalise communications, so its important to send personalised messages, offers and checkouts to specific customers and groups – 91% say they’re more likely to buy from brands who remember who they are!

Despite app saturation, the average person only uses five apps regularly and, you guessed it — messaging apps claim these spots, boasting 10x better open rates than the next leading digital channel.

These messaging platforms have huge audiences: there are over 4 billion active monthly users on the top three messaging apps.

Switching to messaging also saves you time and money, reducing the number of calls your sales agents have to make, improving support team productivity and increasing response times.

The challenge for business owners is how to handle messages from customers across different messaging services via a simple, single interface.

At Converso, we blend messaging services such as text and Facebook Messenger into a single conversation, viewed in a single inbox that can be shared amongst your team. This helps provide a more holistic service by giving you and your team a complete view of all your customer touch points.

You can also create a personalised checkout in the message, enabling you to take immediate payment and convert a sale directly from the message conversation.

This turns messaging into a highly effective sales channel!

As messaging is growing up as a business tool, it's worth considering positioning it alongside your existing phone and email channels as a new way to reach your customers.

And with new, business friendly features, it's a great time to build an early lead over your competition by developing your messaging presence.

To find out more about how messaging can improve your sales performance and customer experience, please go to www.converso.io

(Our private beta service is launching very soon – please click here for further info - it’s free of charge for early users!)

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How to descope PCI DSS compliance whilst improving your customer experience

By

Chris Barley

//

Blog

December 3, 2021

A successful sales team needs to be good at turning customers into revenue.

Straightforward enough if the customer walks through your door, makes a purchase and checks out at your till. But it’s more difficult when your prospective customer is sitting at home watching TV, or out shopping, or rushing to catch a train.

So how do you make it hassle free and enjoyable for your remote customers to buy, wherever they are? As well as simultaneously descoping your PCI DSS compliance requirements?

Remote payments aren’t designed for our mobile lifestyle

“Card not present” (CNP) purchase scenarios, as remote sales are termed, have traditionally involved directing customers either to a third party ecommerce or payment site, or taking card details over the phone.

But these ways are rapidly becoming outdated in our mobile first world.

Customers looking to pay using an ecommerce or payment site need to be proactive – they have to login, navigate to the correct page and fill in their purchase and card details. And on a mobile site, this may not be easy.

If the customer has a question, there’s usually no easy way to seamlessly communicate with your sales agent – the customer needs to resort to a separate communications channel such as email or phone, losing conversation context.

And if we assume that more and more customers want to connect on their mobiles – well, email is not a very mobile or conversation friendly channel. Specific purchases are difficult to navigate to for historical reference, and it’s hard to track associated comments, such as product questions.

This all adds friction to the sales process and risks the customer just giving up and walking away.

In order to be more responsive, many businesses resort to the telephone. Here your agent can take payment details from the customer in real time. However this requires some effort from the customer to retrieve and dictate card details, and time spent by your agent manually keying card information into the virtual terminal of the payment processor.

Apart from making payment seem like an afterthought, this method is labour intensive and exposes your business to the customer’s sensitive card data, with significant implications for data security. Enter PCI DSS.

PCI DSS compliance requirements

PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) describes the different levels of compliance that businesses are required to meet for handling card payments. This depends on various factors, including the number of transactions the business (or merchant) handles, the method in which credit card data is inputted, the extent of card data storage, and the design of the business’s IT network.

Your business’s responsibilities here are extensive, both in reaching the necessary standards, and then maintaining them.

The PCI challenge is highlighted by industry data – in one recent survey only 55.4% of surveyed businesses passed PCI compliance (Source: Verizon “The State of PCI DSS Compliance”).

The considerable infrastructure and operational requirements that must be met for PCI compliance could explain this worryingly low figure. In addition, defining exactly which of the many different levels of self-certification applies to your business can be overwhelming. This results in many businesses, consciously or unconsciously, not complying.

PCI non compliance risks major fines, and more significantly businesses are responsible for covering any resulting costs of fraud. As recent examples in the press illustrate, data breaches can be ruinously expensive, especially considering recent GDPR data regulations which apply hefty fines for security “lapses”.

Securing your network

To protect against this, IT networking including segmentation and firewall protection must be in place to prevent hackers accessing card information on your data network. 2FA (factor authentication) and physical access security and processes must also be installed. Regular penetration tests and vulnerability scans are the norm.

Faced with all these requirements for data and IT security, many businesses resort to expensive outside help to interpret PCI regulations, and implement the necessary solutions.

And when all this is in place, staff will still require constant training. And network security will still need to be regularly tested.

All in all, it’s a substantial cost and risk for any business just to get paid by a “not present” customer!

There must be a simpler way…

Pushing security to the mobile phone

As with many things in life, the smartphone is showing us the way.

With a mobile phone, security can now start on the actual device, making it the ideal tool for handling mobile payments.

Card details are tied to the phone, and biometrics authenticate the phone to the customer, resulting in a high level of authorization for the transaction. This is presently done through Touch ID but increasingly we will see facial recognition for “selfie” authorization.

This level of authorization provides reassurance for both customer and business that the person authorizing the mobile payment is actually who they say they are.

In addition, mobile wallet providers (such as Apple Pay and Google Pay)  tokenize card details to help keep card data secure, further adding to card security, and reducing the requirement for expensive IT networks.

Reaching out via a message

Email, phone, and good ol’post – all are traditional methods used to let customers know they have a bill to pay. But a mobile message can be much more effective. Its convenient, ubiquitous, instant, direct and personal – qualities that make it ideal as a payments channel.

Messaging represents a new way for requesting and receiving payments from your customers. Here’s how it works: a text conversation is initiated with a customer regarding a proposed sale, or to collect payment for a previous sale. The customer could be on the phone with the agent, or the agent may initiate a separate message conversation.

A payment link is sent as part of the conversation, providing secure access via a unique URL to a customer specific payment page, branded with your company name and logo to give a professional image.

By clicking on the “Pay Now” button, the customer’s mobile browser automatically populates previously entered card details or provides the option of Apple Pay or Google Pay if your customer has these mobile wallets installed.

(Its predicted that by 2020 in the US, at least half the population will have a mobile wallet).

To confirm payment, the customer just uses Touch ID and the transaction is complete – secure check out in a few seconds!

Increase security and reduce cost

Using mobile payment offers a number of advantages for your business over payment sites and over-the-phone card payments.

Payment authorization via smartphone Touch ID is a more secure way to authenticate the user, reducing card fraud.

Also, as card data is sent directly to the card processor, no card details are stored by your business. With processing and storage of card data eliminated, your business can benefit by descoping your PCI DSS compliance requirements, as well as reducing security risks and downgrading your IT network specifications.

Changing your sales process from taking card details over the phone to simply initiating a text conversation with the customer streamlines operations and saves time, substantially reducing collection cost.

A joined up customer experience

Your customers can now avoid the hassle of getting their card out, making a call to sales and dictating their card details over the phone (or logging into a payment site) – proactive effort that may result in the customer not bothering to make the purchase at all.

Now all a customer has to do is open a text link, and pay with a “one click” thumbprint, reducing payment friction, helping increase spontaneous sales and increasing the attractiveness of buying from your business.

Connecting with your customers via message also provides a new and direct channel for you to communicate with your customers for a variety of other uses.

For instance, during the sales process you can provide support via text as an integral part of the conversation, enhancing the customer experience.

When the payment is made the customer receives a text receipt that forms part of their conversation with you, adding personalization to the purchase. And your sales agent simultaneously receives a payment notification, and can create notes to save alongside relevant texts and call logs.

Creating a conversation makes the sales process more natural and progressive, and as all context around the purchase is saved in one place, it’s easy for any team member to pick up where you left off for future customer support or sales.

In this way, a conversation can be used to provide a seamless journey, from discovery, to sale, to payment, to support.

So make more conversation! It’s good for your customer experience, and can also help you descope your PCI compliance requirements.

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Why businesses should get serious about texting

By

Chris Barley

//

Blog

December 3, 2021

When was the last time you answered a phone call? From somebody you didn’t know?

Automatically answering a call is becoming a lost habit, and making outbound calls can also sometimes be a chore. The phone call has lost some of the convenience and spontaneity that has made it such an attractive communications tool. In an age where we expect instant connection and rapid response, a call nowadays more often promises delay, or the ringing of a tiresome sales desk.

A message on the other hand has very different characteristics. It has the advantage of being potentially either asynchronous or real time – it’s acceptable to delay a response, but if both parties want to treat the contents as urgent, the message can be escalated to immediate status.

Messaging also helps save time. Whereas we used to pick up the phone to connect, now we have the option to discuss a subject via message, and set up a call at a more convenient time for a more detailed discussion. Uninvited calls that barge into our day and demand our attention are usually ignored, and often we may tag the caller as inconsiderate with our time.

That’s why customers now increasingly want to use messaging to connect with businesses. People can communicate in their own time, on their own terms.

In addition, business texting gets attention, fast – with a 98% read rate, texts easily outperform email’s open rate at 20%, and 90% of texts are read within 3 minutes. And with the introduction of customer service bots, there’s an immediacy about messaging that’s just not there with other channels.

The evolution of text

Up to now the humble text has been very successful in living up to its name – it is, after all, just a message with some text.

But now that’s going to change with the introduction of RCS (Rich Communications Services). This new standard will turbo boost the text to compete with WhatsApp and other OTT (over-the-top) message services.

RCS is a Google initiative which provides the technology to upgrade the mobile carriers’ existing SMS networks. The detail of this tech is outside the scope of this article, however in brief it provides enhanced messaging features for the carrier, as well as an upgraded SMS message client for the user’s smartphone.

It’s being introduced for Android smartphones by a range of carriers – in the UK, the 4 dominant mobile operators are expected to launch by Q1 2019. Similar timescales exist for the rest of Europe. It’s also expected that Apple will enable RCS on iPhones in the near future.

So how is RCS going to change texting? Common features such as read receipts and group messages will be possible, as well as some other interesting features:

Branding Show your company logo and graphics in the message header to provide identity and verification, enabling the recipient to trust the contents

Quick response buttons Suggest actions via buttons in the body of the message eg make a payment, open a calendar or map, make a call, review an order

QR codes Include QR codes for tickets and coupons, for events and special offers

Rich media experience Attach videos and animated gifs to provide a more powerful message to consumers

Businesses texting will soon be able to create unique 2 way conversations that are dynamic and interactive, enhancing the sales and support experience, and extending the reach of a business’s products to any consumer with a smartphone.

That’s a lot of consumers when you look at the global SMS market – as an SMS upgrade, RCS has the potential to reach 4 billion users. So with smart phones becoming ubiquitous (even in developing markets), you can now replicate an in-app sales experience without any app costs, and have the potential for it to be available to a multi-billion user market!

And more importantly, you don’t have to encourage your customers to download anything – all they have to do is open their native SMS client.

The future is multichannel

Early results from RCS trials show 20x higher conversation rates (Source: Vodafone), and customer sales up by 25% (Source: Subway).

So in the next 12 months there is likely to be a completely new opportunity for businesses to reach out to their customers and establish a new, more effective channel for sales and support over SMS. Indeed, 82% of brands interviewed said they were interested in RCS (Source: Mobilesquared) as a future communications channel.

But its not just text messaging that is evolving – popular OTT services such as WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage (or Apple Business Chat as it will be known) are due to introduce new features for business by end of 2018. These include the ability to connect to business systems so that multiple messages can be shared and managed amongst sales and support teams.

Of course, phone and email will still be key channels for reaching out to customers for sales and support. But the use cases for communications channels are changing as the capabilities of messaging offer a better fit for our busy work and social lives.

Businesses now need to try out these new channels, and adapt to what works best for their market. Consider the problems, challenges and questions your customers already have – offering multiple touch points could well make life simpler for you and your customers.

(To find out more info, please download our white paper here ).

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