Are You Prepared to Offer Customer Service via Text/SMS?

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I am, by definition, part of the Millennial Generation, although I’m nearly as old as someone can be while still being lumped in with these young whippersnappers. Nonetheless I do relate to a lot of the stereotypes associated with my generation, although I don’t remember getting a trophy when we lost, I think that must have started later. I bought my first cell phone in the year 2000, it was a Nokia 5110 which is the phone that everyone had at the time. The only way to text was using “T9” functionality, for those that weren’t part of this you had to use the 9 dial pad keys to text.

From my first message I was hooked. It was a more convenient method of communicating as you could do it when a phone call wasn’t an option and you could carry on a conversation throughout the day/week. Early on I thought that it would be amazing if I could order pizza or make dinner reservations via text to save me the hassle of calling. A phone call requires your undivided attention (mostly) while a text can be completed in several short instances allowing the communication to flex around your daily tasks. This flexibility of communication is precisely why it continues to amaze me how slow businesses have been to adopt text/SMS as a channel for communicating with their customers. 

Technology

While the technology to conduct customer service via text/SMS has been around for a while the rest of the infrastructure wasn’t entirely ready, but now it is. To manage this type of communication in a customer service environment the ideal solution would present the messages to customer service agents in the same manner as a chat session, and ideally through the same interface. The second hurdle is that customers might have a single conversation of an entire day or week or more and the person responding needs to have context of the previous interactions before responding, no customer likes to repeat themselves. Finally, there has to be a mechanism to obtain the customer’s credit card or private information (when applicable) in a secure way. I’m happy to say all of these technology requirements are available, but adoption has been painfully slow.

Demand

Consumers want SMS as an option to communicate with customer service/support. There have been several studies completed that validate this statement. A study conducted by the International Customer Management Institute found 80% of consumers want SMS as a communication channel. Aside from research it’s not hard to see that people prefer communicating through text messages. If you were to count how many total conversations you had on your cell phone in a given month, how many would be phone calls?

Adoption

Companies have been slow to adopt but I’m starting to see a shift. Dimension Data published a study in 2016 highlighting that only about 50% of companies have some level of SMS/text as a supported channel. They also found that people under the age of 55 would select SMS/text as one of their top 3 preferred channels of communication. To add to the idea that the demand is growing, this study also found that people under the age of 35 list it as their #2 choice for communication (Social Media and Email also rank in the top 3).

Since it is clear the next-generation customer base is shifting away from the phone channel, businesses are finally starting to move their direction.

Solutions

If you’re in the market or just want to learn more about this technology be sure to ask your prospective vendors these questions:

  • Are the various channel interfaces siloed or in a single user interface for all channels of commination (Social media, SMS, phone/voice, email, chat, etc.)?
    • All contact types from every possible channel should come through the exact same interface.
  • What kind of real-time views/analytics does your product provide from a Supervisor/Admin perspective?
  • Does this product integrate with my CRM?
  • Do you have the ability to work multiple contacts (on various channels) simultaneously?
  • Is this system able to support both inbound and outbound needs?
  • Can an agent elevate an interaction with a customer from one channel to another (i.e. Move from talking on the phone to texting or email)?

Check out my previous post related to addressing millennial needs in the contact center.