Business Texting: What's App with That?
Consumer messaging apps just don’t make the enterprise grade.
Text messaging has received significant attention lately--it's funny how a $19 billion acquisition will do that for a category. As the excitement over Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp settles down, the lasting takeaway is that messaging is an incredibly useful and powerful communications tool with impressive metrics of engagement and usage. (And to be certain, by messaging, we don't mean SMS marketing--we mean one-to-one communication for business via text message.)
Of course WhatsApp is primarily a consumer service--their CEO has confirmed that time and again. But within the 500 million+ customer base, there are some business users lurking. This begs a question--is consumer messaging different from business messaging, and is a consumer app adequate for business messaging? To quote Reverend Lovejoy from the Simpsons, there are two answers: "Yes with an if, and no with a but."
If the goal is to cut the clutter of other methods like voice and email, then yes. Consumer and business messaging are both used to communicate quickly, easily and efficiently--whether your recipient is at the next desk or somewhere around the world.
But no, WhatsApp isn't an enterprise messaging solution--it lacks key functionality and features that are necessary for moving beyond ad-hoc business professional use into widespread enterprise adoption.
Texting is Already Here in Business--Whether you Know it or not
BYOD has evolved into BYO-App, and it's clear that messaging apps are actively used by employees in the workplace. Text messaging is a key method of conducting business conversations and collaboration. Research that HeyWire commissioned in December (survey report and infographic here) shows that two-thirds of professionals are already texting for business purposes. But business demands more features and functionality than today's personal texting provides.
With that, I believe the key truths about the needs of business text messaging to be:
1. Open Reach
A fundamental shift in reality for today's business messaging mentality--it needs to work beyond the walls of the enterprise. Somehow business messaging and collaboration has been restricted to the walls of the enterprise--for messages to colleagues and co-workers. Tell that to sales and support professionals who need to communicate with customers, prospects and who need to allow anyone to reach them in whichever way they prefer.
So while it's okay to ask your friends or colleagues to download an app--like WhatsApp--to let them reach you, that hurdle won't work in today's workplace.
Our survey revealed that over 50% of a business texter's conversations are with external business partners, vendors, prospects and customers. The implication? True business messaging must allow anyone to reach you and you to reach anyone in the same app.
Of the minority that doesn't text--32% don't simply because their business demands retention and tracking--not just because they don't want to. Many consumer messaging apps today can't offer that feature because their architecture doesn't store any data on the servers.
3. Multi-Device Access--Break Messaging Free from Just Phones
Business professionals need the ability to read and send messages from any device--PC, tablet or smartphone. A study noted that U.S. employees now carry an average of nearly 3 mobile devices per user. Why should a core and critical function such as messaging be limited to use on just one of these devices? This level of accessibility is simply not available today in a consumer messaging solution like WhatsApp.
4. Special Features to Make Business Easier
Business messaging has additional user experience needs. Employees are juggling a lot of conversations--both personal and professional--in the same app and user interface. They want additional app features that improve the ease of use, convenience and manageability like:
• Co-worker Directory--The ability to instantly have access to a list of co-workers and create new tabs to organize people around clients or topics, to easily separate the personal from the professional.
• Existing Business Number--Your office number is your business voice identity. People also need a business text identity--they need to reinforce this number as their digits for business purposes.
• Auto-reply--People expect a timely response to a text message. An auto-reply feature is a necessary control function for users expecting a response--a time-honored business courtesy and an absolute necessity in text.
• Group Messaging--The ability to create a group of those regularly messaged for one-click access to communicating.
Our three closing takeaways:
1. Text messaging is a critical driving force for productivity and collaboration in the enterprise today--text-based conversations, NOT mobile marketing promotions and alert notifications. It's the missing piece of the UC stack that most didn't even realize was missing in the first place.
2. Text messaging is already here. Employees have already brought text messaging into the enterprise, via BYOA/BYOD, and it's not going anywhere. Businesses need to select an official platform--or continue to have these conversations remain "off the record."
3. Ultimately, personal messaging apps don't meet today's business needs for both professionals and their companies.
Meredith Flynn-Ripley is the CEO of business messaging company HeyWire.