This week, both Google and Bing released instant messaging features. Both engines will now provide the ability for users to connect with brands directly from the search results, making it easier to receive immediate brand communication and closing the customer feedback loop. For this blog and the remainder of this year’s content, we will discuss up-and-coming trends and patterns that have the potential to transform the local search ecosystem in 2017, and how your brand can prepare for them.
This week, Google released a new messaging feature that will roll out as a pilot experiment and enable select brands to provide messaging features for customers directly on SERPs through Google My Business. If this feature proves popular among Google users, and these brands are able to utilize it to create a better customer experience, it can be assumed that Google will roll out the feature for all brands in the near future.
Unsurprisingly, Google has strict guidelines regarding a brand’s ability to use the new messaging feature. According to Google, if a brand’s average response time is “too long,” they will be suspended from the experiment.
Unlike Google, Bing’s messaging feature is a permanent new aspect to business listings in the SERPs. When a business links to their own messaging feature from Bing, there will be a direct link as shown below.
Bing also provides the ability to connect users to Facebook Messenger if a company does not have an independent chat system.
With the ability to chat with a business directly from the search results, customers will easily be able to get in touch with a business, eliminating the time spent searching for a brand website and then hunting through the site for the appropriate contact information.
Chatbots and Messaging in the Future
In an increasingly on-demand economy, the need for a unique, personalized experience for every customer has become more important than ever. With so many companies vying for their time and attention, customers are quick to drop brands who do not meet their expectations and fail to be competitive with means of communication.
Google and Bing have made strides in creating a smoother customer experience by integrating messaging features into the search engine results, and these new capabilities are likely to come as a welcome surprise to millennials who prefer text over talk 75% of the time. These features are also likely to increase communication between brands and their customers by reducing the congestion between the point of search and discovery. Customers will be able to ask questions, give feedback or take action without the having to filter through numerous web pages or be inconvenienced by disruptive phone calls in order to communicate with a brand.
The LSA’s Greg Sterling emphasized the millennial generation as primary responders to chatbots and messaging:
||There's no question that users, especially younger users, are willing and able to engage with businesses via messaging. And for those marketers and businesses that do take advantage of these tools, it could mean more sales, greater loyalty and stronger word of mouth. ~ Greg Sterling, VP of Strategy & Insights, Local Search Association
The use of chatbots for messaging will also help brands gain and utilize data like never before. Chatbots will be able to accumulate data over time, which enables the artificial intelligence to more quickly and easily respond to similar queries or customer issues. This will provide key data points that brands can use to further personalize the brand experience, address issues and feedback and optimize future product development. This data will open the door for retargeting and create a more seamless online-to-offline experience.
Local SEO expert, Steve Wiideman, is cautiously optimistic about the future of messaging:
||[These features] are a warm welcome to businesses in search of better real-time engagement from their marketing. However, it's too early to know whether this particular change will be a good thing for all businesses, particularly those that work at a slower pace than most or with fewer staff members. ~ Steve Wiideman, President and Senior Strategist, Wiideman Consulting Group
Chatbots could even be a solution to brands who suffer from manpower issues. Customers would be directed to chatbots based on their issues or inquiries, reducing the manpower needed for customer service departments. This also provides all customers with the same level of personalization and conversation-based engagement, which can improve customer relationships and cultivate long-term loyalty.
Ultimately, we will see chatbots and messaging used for a variety of purposes, such as booking appointments, reserving a table, booking a ride, ordering food, etc. The lines between chatbots and messaging and apps will be blurred, with many chatbots integrated into a brand’s mobile app.
Brandify’s VP of Strategy, Andy Roy, makes the following 2017 prediction:
||Chatbots are fast becoming an essential tactic for local marketing. Consumers will expect the ability to text about about hours, product availability, directions and scheduling appointments. Best-in-class bots will converse about what is happening on a daily basis, special offers at specific stores, ask visitors what they need, and take online pre-orders. ~ Andy Roy, VP of Strategy at Brandify
Consumers will become accustomed to seeing chatbots and interacting with them on a daily basis, more and more brands will begin adopting messaging capabilities as part of their customer service integration, and brands that fail to provide the same immediacy and personalization as the competition will find themselves falling behind.
In order to better prepare for 2017, brands should start thinking about how they can integrate messaging features into their customer service strategy. Even messaging services that are only available for a small period of the day or certain days a week can help increase engagement and overall brand satisfaction.
Messenger features are more locally relevant, and brands need to make sure their local-social profiles are active and up-to-date. Location data should be optimized for messenger systems and easily retrievable for on-the-go users. Above all, experiment to see what works for your brand and what does not; find the best solution for your brand by trying new things and finding out what is most impactful for your brand’s audience.
Start 2017 off right by gaining the tactics you need to create an engaging local marketing strategy with Brandify’s free whitepaper, The Engagement Stack.