Emojis, read receipts and the language of messaging
July 26, 2019
A conversational newsletter from
Smooch by Zendesk 

Messaging has changed the way we communicate. I’ve written that sentence so many times it’s starting to feel like a cliché. 

But for those of us who don’t live in Messagingville (which is to say, most people), navigating the tools and tropes of conversational technology — emojis, read receipts, typing indicators, “New phone, who dis?” — is like learning a new language.

So what happens when businesses join the conversation?

Keep the receipt 🧾

Read receipts have become standard across nearly every modern messaging channel (sorry, SMS). They’re the check marks (WhatsApp), avatars (Messenger) or text (iMessage) that indicate whether the person you’re chatting with has seen your message.

Although they can usually be turned off, they’ve recently become the subject of intense debate. 

No less esteemed a publication than The Wall Street Journal proclaimed last week that read receipts have “ruined messaging.” According to the Journal’s tech reporter, David Pierce, the feature robs people of agency, forcing us to “chat on someone else’s schedule:"
« At their core, read receipts create a disconnect: They are good for the sender and terrible for the recipient.

On the other side of the divide is Android Central editor Andrew Martonik, who sees read receipts as one of modern messaging’s “biggest revelations” and implores readers not to turn them off. 

For Martonik, digital receipts mimic the non-verbal aspects of in-person conversation (like head nods and other gestures) that reassure us the other person is listening:
« It's another little reminder that you're talking to a person and not an app.

Emojis have their day 🎉

Speaking of non-verbal cues, the sixth annual World Emoji Day came and went last week, along with a barrage of news stories and think pieces on the impact these modern messaging missionaries have had on language and society. 

We’ve chatted before about efforts to make emojis more diverse, their potential impact on child development, and how they’re causing confusion within the criminal justice system. 

To mark this year’s emoji holiday, our friends at Sparkcentral analyzed how emojis are being used in various customer service experiences, including live chat, private messaging and social media.

Not surprisingly, they found that customer emoji use differs widely across cultures. American customers, for example, are more prolific with emojis than their Indonesian counterparts, using three times as many in their communication with brands.

They also gravitate toward different symbols:

For CEO Joe Gagnon, analyzing emoji use is one way for businesses to understand how customers feel about their brands and products. As he told Forbes:
« We can really look at information at a deeper and richer level to allow us to assess how we’re doing as a business.

Avoiding the email trap 📫 

Before we get too carried away, it’s worth raising a couple red flags. 

The first is that private messaging is such a powerful communication medium in part because, unlike their email inboxes, people’s DMs haven’t been bombarded by brands. 

Now that the major messaging channels are open for business, marketers need to proceed with caution. WhatsApp’s restrictions against spam and guidelines around outbound messages suggest the world’s biggest chat app gets this as well. 

The second is that just because messaging has changed the way we communicatewith each other doesn’t mean customers want to communicate with businesses in the exact same way. 

Cliff Bell from Genesys (🔌 another Smooch customer) makes a similar point. Writing for MarTechSeries, he advises that “brands must walk a fine line to appear responsive without seeming pushy, in addition to not seeming smug or overly familiar with messaging slang and emojis.”

Messaging is popular not just because it’s fun and personal but because it’s convenient. Unlike traditional live chat or phone support, messaging allows customers to respond to businesses at their own pace and (ideally) in their channel of choice

But in an asynchronous world, Bell argues, customers may have different expectations of businesses than they do of friends or colleagues. And they should be the ones “controlling the ebb and flow of conversations.”           

It’s still early days for conversational CX, but nobody likes to get left on read

🏆 Before signing off, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention The Message was named a finalist for best enewsletter in the 2019 Content Marketing Awards!

Thanks so much for subscribing — whether you've been with us since the beginning or just signed up. As always, you can send me your feedback, insights, and questions (in text or emoji form) by replying to this email. 

Dan Levy
Editorial Director

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