It is now clear that to survive and thrive, physical shops need to maximise their online visibility to be found and chosen by their potential customers. Moreover, the digital tools available to establishments have been greatly enriched, notably under the impetus of Google via the Google My Business tool.

Among the most striking developments are the Google Posts, which allow you to publish news, and the Products and Services feature, which allows you to present your products and services.

But let us tell you one thing; these features have nothing in common with the one that emerged in 2019 and which is destined to transform the world of Local SEO: Google Messages.

Messages: Symptom of the explosion of Conversational Commerce

This functionality is part of the conversational commerce movement, which can be defined as the propensity of users to interact with businesses, whether physical or online, via messaging applications (WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, etc.) or voice assistants (Siri, Google Home, etc.) to contact, find out about or buy from these businesses.

According to a study carried out by Podium, 53% of marketers believe that their communication channels are outdated and that they have not progressed from the telephone or email. Another study carried out by Google reveals that 67% of Internet users prefer to exchange messages with a point of sale rather than calling it.

The above figures clearly express that customers have a need that more than half of retailers have not yet met.

What messages are we talking about?

All the main local SEO platforms now offer a messaging system: Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger of course, but also Google Messages (2019), Apple’s Business Chat (2018) and Tripadvisor (2019).

These communication channels developed by the major players in Local SEO are a concrete illustration of the importance of messages for physical shops.

Google Messages: How does it work?

To activate the Google Messages feature, simply connect to the Google My Business application on your mobile, go to the Customers tab and activate the feature.

Once this feature is activated, a “Message” button will appear on your Google My Business page (on mobile phones only) and users will be able to contact you directly to ask their questions.

Please note that you will only be able to reply to these messages from the mobile application, on a store-to-store basis, as Google does not offer a global message management interface. In the United States, it is now possible to answer them on the Desktop, but we do not yet have an availability date for other locations.

In addition, if a message is left unanswered after 24 hours, the functionality is simply disabled for the concerned outlet.

What impact on the organisation of Brands?

Given the multiplicity of platforms and the reactivity required to manage messages, it is essential to define an effective strategy before activating them. This functionality therefore brings a common issue to all brands:

Is it necessary to manage these messages centrally or to entrust their management to facility managers?

What are the advantages of Central Message management?

Professionalism: A response to a message sent by a client must reflect a professional image. For example, spelling, politeness and empathy are essential in managing these messages. However, it can be difficult to ensure that these elements are present if the response is made locally.

Responsiveness: As mentioned in the previous paragraph, if a response is not made within 24 hours, the functionality is disabled. It is therefore necessary to ensure that messages are processed as soon as they are received. However, facility managers often have operational issues that take precedence over the management of their online image.

Brand image: In the customer’s mind, responses to messages are associated with the establishment’s brand and not with the people who work there. Thus, a response must contain the usual language elements of the brand. This can be difficult for a person who is not trained in this respect.

What are the advantages of Local message management?

Relevance: The questions asked per message often concern information specific to the establishment such as the availability of a product, or the news of an establishment for example. In this case, it is the people working there who will be best able to answer these questions.

The tool is designed for the Local establishment: As previously mentioned, the reviews can only be answered from the Google My Business application and from an establishment by establishment basis. Google’s intention is therefore clear. It is a feature intended for local users, and it is almost impossible to manage them centrally for a brand of several dozen or even hundreds of establishments.

Empowering staff: Putting the staff of the establishment in the front line of their customers’ requests may be a good way to make them aware of the importance of customer relations and digital technology for their establishment.

Given these elements, here are Partoo’s recommendations:

  • Equip yourself with a message centralisation solution in order to have a global management of messages received on the different platforms (Google, Facebook, WhatsApp).
  • Train your network on the interest of messages for their activity and provide them with the elements that will enable them to respond effectively.
  • Delegate the management of these messages to the local establishment, and monitor the performance of this management by the establishments (responsiveness, response rate).

The best is yet to come

Today, the messages are mainly used to ask questions to institutions, but it seems clear that this tool is bound to develop and gain in importance in the months or years to come.

Tomorrow, it will most likely be possible to use the messages to buy products or services directly from Google My Business, or even to use this medium as a new marketing channel for points of sale!

Finally, the reactivity necessary for the management of these messages will also lead to the explosion of a new market for physical shops, that of artificial intelligence and more precisely chatbots which should blossom in the coming years.

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