Text messaging in business is often thought of as purely transactional. It’s commonly used for password verification, appointment reminders, package delivery updates, service appointment arrival times, coupons and promotional offers—all of them transactional communications. But messaging can have much more impact as a conversation.
Most transactional messages are push messages sent out based on triggers and automation. Most don’t invite replies, with the possible exception of an appointment reminder that asks if you need to reschedule. They tend to be static, which can result in increasing the gap between your business and your customers.
Conversational messaging invites response and engagement. To move beyond the transaction, you must consider what you want your prospects and customers to do. This means thinking about the context of the conversational discourse rather than just a single send.
For example, let’s say you’re a restauranteur and your chef has created a wonderful dish. You send an MMS message announcing the addition of the dish on your menu with a mouth-watering picture and a link to the story behind its creation.
When the customer clicks on the link to view the story, this triggers a follow-up message that asks if she’d like to book a reservation to try the dish with friends or family.
If she doesn’t respond, you could follow-up with an invitation to a cooking class where your chef is teaching how to make the dish with a link to sign up.
Use the “And Then” process to construct your conversation:
The best way to create a conversational narrative is to decide what you want to share and then keep asking what’s next based on what you want them to do. After each step you start with “and then” and keep going.
Step 1: What do you want to share? (Announce a new dish)
Step 2: And then: What if they express interest and click? (Send message to book a reservation)
Step 3: And then: Invite them to engage further (Attend our class to learn how to cook the dish)
Step 4: And then: Find out what they think (Survey about experience – class or meal)
Step 5: And then: Decide what’s next based on their response, but continue the conversation based on what you’ve learned about them. (Their entire conversational history is tracked in your CRM.)
The difference between a transactional message and a conversational one is that you’re inviting response and participation. You’re not just informing them of something, but rather helping them to engage with your brand.
This conversational approach can work effectively whether your business is a restaurant, you sell real estate, you’re a recruiter, or you sell SaaS technology or need to drive enrollment at a university.
Conversational messaging is about give and take. Take the opportunity to learn more about your customers and segment them according to interests. As related to the example above, based on whether your customer chose to dine in your restaurant or attend the class, you’ve learned something about them that can inform how you continue the conversation.
A conversation after all is an exchange of ideas. It’s social and more casual than formal communication.
Here are a few tips to help you make your messaging more approachable and engaging:
- Write like you talk. You want to stay professional but come across as friendly. Align your messaging with your brand’s attributes so the experience is fluid when your customers experience your brand in other channels or visit your website. Just remember to avoid jargon or acronyms that your customers won’t immediately understand.
- Identify yourself. Use your name and company name. If you just say “Dave here…” will they know which Dave you are? Clarity is important for engagement.
- Stay within the character limit. Text messages are limited to 160 characters. Even though some carriers are concatenating longer messages into one, some will not, which means your message will arrive on their smartphone in chunks that can end up confusing your customers. MMS messages can be longer, up to 1,200 characters, but that’s a lot on a mobile screen, so choose your words wisely.
- Limit frequency. Best practices dictate no more than 2 – 4 messages per month. This is why it’s important to plan your conversation using the steps above. Knowing what you want to share and how you want to engage will ensure that your conversations stay fluid rather than becoming disruptive and a nuisance that can invite opt-outs.
- Be purposeful. Every message in a conversation should invite action and response. Make sure that what you’re asking your customers to do is as relevant to them as it can be. Focus on adding value at every step of the conversation.
The Bottom Line
Conversational messaging platforms provide the tools you need to engage with customers in a personalized way that scales easily through automation. The thought you put into constructing the workflows and narrative will help your messages come across as friendly and relevant. Every business has a need for transactional messages. Businesses that can pull off purposeful conversations will see continuous engagement and business growth.