Up until now, mobile messaging apps have largely been used as a simple alternative to sending friends and acquaintances SMS text messages.
However, a range of recently introduced features across Facebook Messenger, as well as BBM and Skype, are set to transform these apps into valuable customer service, sales, and collaboration tools for your business.
Sales and customer service
The first and most important of these features is the ability to transfer money directly from one user to another. At the moment, this feature is incredibly limited. It is only being rolled out across the US, and only supports Visa or MasterCard debit cards, while credit cards, prepaid debit cards and PayPal are not yet supported.
Nonetheless, it’s not difficult to imagine Facebook extending this feature and turning it into a shopping feature, and monetising it by taking a cut of all transactions.
A second feature, unveiled at Facebook’s f8 conference, allows businesses to use Messenger as a customer service platform.
Known as Businesses on Messenger, the feature allows customers to receive order confirmations, shipping status updates and other information from online retailers after making a purchase. It also allows customers to ask businesses questions, as well as modify, track or return an order.
As I identified back in January 2014, mobile messaging has a tremendous amount of potential as a customer service and sales channel:
The growing use of modern, mobile versions of these instant messaging services is a trend businesses should watch closely. It could very well emerge that, like social media, mobile messaging becomes an effective way for businesses to communicate with their customers.
These two new features are really an attempt by Facebook to monetise this potential.
A third feature, called Messenger Platform, allows third parties to develop plug-in apps that further extend the functionality of Facebook Messenger.
So, for example, at the moment Facebook Messenger doesn’t include the ability to send Vine-style short video clips. Messenger Platform would allow a third-party to create an app that adds that capability. Needless to say, this has a number of leading app developers excited about the potential.
Of course, it’s not just Facebook that is adding features to its mobile messaging app in a bid to monetise it.
While BlackBerry is best known for making smartphones with keyboards, a growing proportion of its business is made up by another product: A cross-platform mobile messaging app called BBM. Originally developed for its own smartphones, the app is now available across Apple, Android and Windows Phone.
In January alone, BlackBerry reported an astounding 1 billion users had used its BBM Shop feature, which allows users to download stickers and other content users can post in messages. In recent times, BBM has added another interesting feature, called Channels, that allows businesses to use BBM as a means of mass-messaging their customers.
Of course, mobile messaging apps aren’t just focusing on customer service and sales – they’re also becoming valuable collaboration tools within businesses.
Late last year, Microsoft announced it was merging its Skype messaging app with its Lync video conferencing software to create Skype for Business. Meanwhile, BBM has added its own video conferencing software, called BBM Meetings, as well as a version aimed specifically at enterprise customers.
What’s on the line here
The interesting thing to note here is just how lucrative Mark Zuckerberg thinks this emerging market for business customer service, sales and collaboration is.
Back in early 2014, everyone was scratching their heads about why Mark Zuckerberg paid $US16 billion for WhatsApp.
At the time, I suggested it was because he recognised how these mobile messaging platforms could potentially be monetised by being transformed into customer service and sales platforms:
The owner of that service then becomes the gatekeeper and determines which businesses can use their service to send their customers text messages or calls, even as ordinary customers continue using its service for free.
Consider how a mobile carrier currently charges your dentist to send you a six-month reminder message saying you need a check-up. If those messages are sent through an app instead, the owner of that app is in a position to charge the dentist for sending a large volume of text messages to its users.
Likewise, it’s in a position to allow most users to call or text each other for free, while charging businesses for receiving a large volume of calls to a single account – for example, to run a call centre.
It appears it is precisely this potential that Zuckerberg is trying to monetise with Messenger Payments, Businesses on Messenger and the Messenger Platform.
Meanwhile, given we are now in the mobile-first internet age, a growing number of your customers and staff are communicating using mobile messaging apps. Given this, mobile messaging is likely to become an increasingly important channel to reach – and sell to – your potential customers, and boost the productivity of your staff.