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Latest 21 Jun 2018 | Customer Service | 15 min read

Message Volume Trends Across Private and Public Channels

We recently published an article in which Volaris Airlines has demonstrated that Social Messaging was not only 83% more cost effective, but also drove up customer satisfaction at the same time. Following on Volaris’ positive experience with their launch of Messenger Customer Chat, we became curious if customers as a whole are more likely to contact customer care teams through private social channels like Facebook Messenger and Twitter DM, rather than public ones.

Customer care through private social messaging

We believe that customer care through private messaging channels is beneficial to both businesses and customers. For businesses, the asynchronous nature of messaging gives customer care teams more flexibility in allocating resources and setting priorities, especially with the right kind of tools (hint Conversocial). In addition, messages through private channels contain much less ‘noise’ when compared to their public counterparts, such as Twitter handles for instance, which tend to be bombarded with all sorts of content - most of which is irrelevant to the interests of customer care teams. And though yes, many software solutions do exist that provide tools to combat such spam (i.e. machine learning or other sophisticated algorithms), it takes significant effort to maintain a level of satisfactory accuracy, as the vocabulary of languages used on social media is constantly evolving. Moreover, private messaging opens up the opportunity for bots and agents to work together seamlessly, with bots taking care of the tedious parts of data collection and organisation, and agents being free to focus on engaging with the customers and providing issue resolution.

From a customer’s perspective, private messaging is simpler, more intuitive, and more flexible than public. Not to mention, messaging apps today are practically ubiquitous and incredibly easy to access. As a result, today’s consumers always prefer the easiest and quickest means of issue resolution. This is also why we predict that in the digital customer service care arena, people will continue to move away from using public channels like Twitter and Facebook public pages, and gravitate further to private channels such as Twitter DM and Facebook Messenger. A dynamic shift such as this will require brands to support and promote customer care through private messaging channels, thereby contributing to our predicted public to private channel shift.

Once customers contacted you in private, they almost never go back to public!

We began to wonder if our prediction can be verified (or rejected) by collecting and analyzing some Conversocial data. To begin, we pulled 2 year’s worth (March 2016 - April 2018) of conversation history from 60 of our enterprise clients. To ensure that we pulled a clean set of data which excluded spam or irrelevant content that agents did not need to respond to, we teased everything out as follows; the conversations we examined were a thread of message exchanges between a customer and one or more agents, and consisted of at least one response from an agent. This left us with on average 97,000 conversations from each client’s conversation history.

Then, the conversations were split up into 4 groups based on which channel - private or public - they began and ended in. The raw volumes of each combination of channels are shown in Table 1, and the percentages of each combination in Figure 1, below. Overall, just over half of all conversations (50.5%) started and ended in a public channel (i.e., ‘public-public’), followed by 41.2% in the private-private category.

  Ended in a private channel Ended in a public channel
Initiated in a private channel 2,394,870 7,810
Initiated in a public channel 472,580 2,935,523

Table 1. No. of conversations initiated and completed in private or public channels

PvsP1Figure 1. Percentage of conversations initiated and completed in private or public channels

The private-public category stood at just at 0.1%, indicating that customers reached out via a private channel initially, but eventually shifted the matter to a public channel. The reason for going public in the end is often polarised; either the customer would like to give public recognition to the business for excellent service provided, or on the flip side, attract negative attention as a means of pressuring the customer care team to provide a better and faster resolution. The percentage of such conversations is quite small: conversations initiated in a private channel only have a 0.24% (i.e., 0.1% / 41.3%) chance to conclude in public. In other words, once customers contacted you in private, they almost never go back to public. Having said that, it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on such conversations, as they can potentially escalate to a larger PR problem for the business. In terms of overall volume and percentage over the last 2 years, public-public conversations tops the list.


We believe that customer care through private messaging channels is beneficial to both businesses and customers.

Private messaging overtook public social media last September!

Next, we wanted to examine whether the conversations in each category exhibited any notable trends over time. Figure 2 below displays the trend lines in customer care conversations that started and ended in private vs. public channels. These conversations follow the patterns of private-private, public-public, and public-private, using linear regression. Private-public conversations were omitted from this study, as their volumes were too small.

PvsP2Figure 2. Trends in customer care conversations started/ended in private vs. public channels

In each plot in Figure 2, the X-axis denotes the nth day from the starting point (March 1, 2016), and therefore represents a linear timeline over the course of our 2 year period. Points on the Y-axis are log-transformed counts of conversations that started and ended in the corresponding channels. The counts have been normalised so that it’s easier for the regression model to fit the data.

For all the 3 patterns an upward trend can be observed over the 2 year time period, but the slope of the private-private conversation trend line is steeper than the other two, indicating a higher rate of acceleration. In reality, prior to our log-transformation, the acceleration rate for the private-private category was even higher than it appears in the plot: at the beginning of the two year period there were on average 6,000 private-private conversations per week. By the end of the timeline, the weekly number stood at approximately 60,000 conversations, yielding a 10-fold increase in the private-private cluster. For comparison, the number of weekly public-public conversations started at about 22,000 in March 2016 and ended at about 32,000 - a meager 45% increase.

To obtain the results displayed in Figure 3 below, we merged the four categories into two (resolved in private & resolved in public) and observed only where each conversation concluded. Once more, the chart makes it clear that the volumes of both categories have been rising, with private conversations rising more sharply. The chart also illustrates that in September of 2017, private conversation volumes overtook public ones, and the lines appeared to diverge further after that point (with the exception of early 2018 when both channels experienced a volume spike caused by severe weather conditions in UK and on the east coast of US, but the gap quickly widened again afterwards.).



Figure 3. Trends in no. of issues resolved in private vs. public channels

So, compared to two years ago, people are more likely to get in touch with customer care teams through private Social Messaging channels, such as Facebook Messenger and Twitter DM, than public ones. 

In order to see whether this trend of private channel use persisted across different fields, we segmented our 60 clients into 8 industry sectors: Airline, Automobile, Financial, Hospitality, Railway, Retail, Telecom, and Tech & Utility. Figure 1 illustrates the respective volumes of messages resolved in private and public channels along the same 2-year timeline. Apart from Telecom and Tech, all other sectors have witnessed private message volumes catching up to, or overtaking public volumes during this time period. The finance industry, in particular, has seen this shift as early as 2016, due in part because banking related inquiries typically contain personal and sensitive information and require a higher level of security, for which private channels are more suitable. The Travel, Retail, and Utility sectors have likewise seen this shift to private channels all throughout 2017.

AirlinesData1 Automobile Data2
Finance Data3 HospitalityData4
RailwayData5 RetailData6
Telecom and TechData7 UtilityData8

Figure 1. Trends in no. of issues resolved in private vs. public channels for 8 industry sectors

Table 1 below shows us, with at least 95% confidence according to Mann-Kendall tests, whether the trends noted in each respective sector are significant. ‘No trend’ means the trend detected is not statistically significant. Overall, all the industries we studied have indeed seen a significant increase in conversations resolved via a private channel. In contrast, the Finance, Hospitality, Retail, and Utility sectors have seen a decrease, or in some cases a plateau, in conversations that ended in a public channel.

Industry Resolved in Private  Resolved in Public 
Airline  Upward Trend  Upward Trend 
Automobile Upward Trend  Upward Trend 
Finance  Upward Trend  No Trend 
Hospitality Upward Trend  Downward Trend
Railway Upward Trend  Upward Trend 
Retail Upward Trend  No Trend 
Telecom and Tech Upward Trend  Upward Trend 
Utility Upward Trend  No Trend 

Table 1.  Direction  of trends for each industry


We also carried out the same trend tests for all of our 60 enterprise clients. The data is not shown here but in summary, two third of the clients have seen either no  trend,  or a decline in the volume of conversations started and resolved in public channels. In contrast, 56 out of 60 (93%) have witnessed an increase in private-private conversations.

What we have learned

So what does all this data tell us? Customer care teams today are 10 times more likely to resolve customer inquiries via a private channel, like Facebook Messenger and Twitter DM, than they were two years prior. What’s more, the rate of growth of conversations using private channels has accelerated to 20 times that of conversations using public channels (i.e., 900% vs 45%). All of our findings did  in fact  prove our prediction true that customer services through messaging benefits both consumers and businesses alike. For consumers, messaging is more intuitive, more convenient, and more personal. For businesses, messages can be dealt with in an asynchronous fashion, which makes resource allocation more flexible and in  turn  it improves efficiency and drives down cost. By taking advantage of automation systems that  utilise  rules and machine learning (i.e. bots, content routing, tagging, and  prioritisation ) and integrating them effectively into a number of stages throughout message processing, businesses are such to reap the rewards that this new era of social messaging will provide.

So what does all this data tell us? Customer care teams today are 10 times more likely to resolve customer inquiries via a private channel, like Facebook Messenger and Twitter DM, than they were two years prior.

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