Introducing Unified Messaging – Now in Beta

If you're on the Free or Team plan, you might have noticed a new area in your Dashboard’s left menu bar: Unified Messaging.

Don't be fooled: this subtle menu item marks the biggest product change since Userlike's inception.

But first, let me TL;DR:

You can now join the Unified Messaging beta. With Unified Messaging, Userlike switches from live chat to messaging support. With this change, we tackle the biggest hurdle businesses face when offering web support: the need to always be online. Also, it simplifies expanding your support from website chat to channels like Facebook Messenger, Telegram and WhatsApp.

Alright, now let's dive in a bit deeper.

The number one obstacle for businesses to offer chat support is the need to always be online. This is especially challenging for those without a dedicated support team.

To explain how Unified Messaging tackles this challenge, we first need to clarify the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication.

From synchronous chat to asynchronous messaging

So far, Userlike was synchronous live chat only. This meant that in order to have a chat, both an Operator and a web visitor had to be online at the same time.

Now with Unified Messaging, Userlike can still be synchronous, but it can also be asynchronous – a.k.a. messaging. You're probably plenty familiar with this sync-async mode of communication through messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Without many people giving it much thought, such apps have brought about a true revolution in the way we communicate with each other.

The expectation with messaging is that messages can be sent, even if the other side isn’t there to read them right now. Its conversations can seamlessly transition from a slow back-and-forth, sometimes spanning hours or days, to the quick instaneity of old school desktop chat. That's why we don't see any "you there?" questions anymore. The sender knows you’ll be there when you’re there. The expectation is that a sent message will sit with the recipient until they can and want to answer it.

With Unified Messaging, we are bringing this messaging mode to business-to-consumer communication.

This change has two significant implications for your Userlike usage.

Reduced pressure to be online

As mentioned, the challenge of being online has always been our customers' primary hurdle when offering web support. The sync-async nature of Unified Messaging now allows you to hop on and off without breaking the customer experience.

When you’re online, you can have live chats with your customers like before. Live chat is still the most powerful way to raise your online conversion and play into your customers' desire for instant gratification.

When you're not online, however, your customers can still leave you messages. Like in a mobile messaging app, you can then simply reply to them later when you're online again. Your reply triggers an email notification to your customer, letting her know that she can pick up the Conversation on your website (with the added benefit of pulling people back to your site).

This messaging nature makes it much easier to offer web support for those without a dedicated support team. But it also makes things easier for companies that do have such teams, as they often handle chat and phone support at the same time. When a call comes in, Operators can just switch to async mode without impacting the customer experience much.

Expand to mobile messaging support

The second main implication is that this switch allows Userlike to truly become your one solution for all your customer messaging. Over your website, of course, but also over mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Apple Business Chat and even good old SMS.

We had built some connections to these apps already, but there was a mismatch because the mobile messaging apps were sync-async while Userlike was only sync. This made the Messenger Channels only moderately useful. With Unified Messaging, Userlike aligns to these mobile messaging apps in their sync-async messaging nature.

So let's take a quick look at Unified Messaging's main pillars.

1
Conversations

The 'old' Chat Panel was built for short-lived chats with a clear beginning and end. Its interface couldn't support long-lived, messaging-style conversations. The new Message Center is built for exactly this purpose, which brings us to its first main pillar: Conversations .

The Message Center, where Conversations turn into customer relationships.

Instant chats begin like always, but Conversations in Unified Messaging are the catalyst for long-lasting customer relationships. When a chat with a customer ends, it doesn't mean the end of the Conversation. Like in a mobile messenger, either side can pick it up again.

2
Contacts

This change also made us reconsider the position of the customer. In the end, the customers are the real heroes in this story, so we wanted to give them more prominence while also making them easier to manage. This brings us to the second pillar of Unified Messaging: Contacts .

One Contact can have multiple, ongoing Conversations with your company. That's why we added a dedicated new area: The Contact list . While the Conversation list is the default view for your support agents, the Contact list allows you to go through all your Contacts profiles, showcasing all connected Conversations and an expanding area of customer information. In short, it's a digital representation of your customer relationships.

The Contact list, the digital representation of your customer relationships.

3
Channels

The third pillar, then, are your Channels . Your website is likely still your most important area to connect with your customers, but with Unified Messaging we've made it feasible to offer support over other channels like Facebook Messenger, Telegram, WhatsApp, Apple Business Chat and SMS.

Sidenote: Most inquiries we receive are about WhatsApp. While it's possible to connect WhatsApp to Userlike, it requires access to their API, and the number of businesses that get this access is still limited. Reach out to support@userlike.com to ask about your options.

4
The Website Messenger

The fourth and final pillar is the Website Messenger. All the product changes for the Operator side had to be translated to the customer side.

To make it possible for your customers to hop back into their previous Conversation(s), for example, we've had to implement an authentication feature.

And besides these features, we've also given the website messenger a proper redesign.

The Website Messenger, back with new features and a redesign.

Building Unified Messaging

To make all of this possible, we've had to make some pretty drastic changes to our software. So drastic, in fact, that at some point we decided they became too complex to actually implement them. So instead, we've basically built a new product from scratch.

That's right. Unified Messaging is based on a completely new code structure. Which has a few implications.

First, Unified Messaging doesn't have "feature parity" with the old live chat product. This means that not all the features that you might know from before are present in the beta . The add-ons are still missing, for example.

Our goal for the folllowing months is to develop further on Unified Messaging, incorporating your feedback and aiming for feature parity.

But there have mostly just been upsides related to building things from scratch. Besides reducing complexity and avoiding instability with our 'old' product, it has allowed us to make use of the latest technologies .

You may or may not have realized, but messaging has been one of the fastest developing fields over the past few years. Just think of companies like Slack, WhatsApp and WeChat, and the innovations they've been pushing in this field. Now we don't feel in the least guilty about hijacking these innovations and introducing them into the world of customer communication :)

The result is a customer messaging interface that is largely inspired by these messaging solutions – yet tailored to the challenges of customer support at scale.

Userlike's co-founder and CEO Timoor summarizes our reasons for building UM in his introductory video:

How to join the beta

If you're on the Free or Team plan, you can join the beta right away through the Unified Messaging link in the Dashboard menu . The reason that we limited the auto-unlock to Free and Team is the mentioned feature incompleteness.

For Free and Team, switching to Unified Messaging mostly just extends their possibilities. Those on our Corporate plan or higher, on the other hand, will likely be missing many of the features that enticed them to upgrade.

You can still join in for testing, though. Just shoot us a note via support@userlike.com or start a chat and we will unlock your account.

When you get started, have a look at our new documentation area for Unified Messaging here .

This is a beta and we're looking forward to lots of feedback. If something doesn't work or should work differently, just let us know via support@userlike.com.

Unified Messaging is the biggest change to Userlike since I wrote that awful first blog post back in December 2011. We've been investing quite some blood, sweat and tears in this project – and we will keep on doing so for the months to come.

Please let us know whether it's worthwhile :)

Read this post in German .