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Increase Customer Engagement by Delivering Text-Generation Customer Service


Presented By: CrmXchange

If you’re like the overwhelming majority of Americans, 24 hours seldom go by without texting. According to a study on U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015 by Pew Internet, texting is the most widely and frequently used app -- including making voice calls -- on a smartphone, with 97% of Americans of all ages employing SMS at least once a day. And whether they use their thumbs or their forefingers, USA Today says that the average adult spends a total of 23 hours a week texting.   

Until recently, the blizzard of texts has been largely of a personal nature, with a few flurries of business activity. But over the past few years, there have been numerous signs indicating that this proportion may now be changing. One statistic that organizations can’t help notice is the Mobile Marketing Watch analysis which reveals that text messages have a 98% open rate, while email has only a 20% open rate. Ninety percent of texts are opened within three minutes of receiving them. A 2014 ICMI study acknowledged that 79% of companies believed that customers wanted text/SMS support. Even earlier, a 2012 CFI study on the Contact Center Satisfaction Index noted that text messages earned 90 out of 100 points while voice calls earned 77 out of 100.   

Businesses now have an expanded capability to engage their customers via intelligent, two-way messaging on mobile devices, but until recently have not chosen to do so. But with call deflection a top priority focus, a 2016 Dimension Data survey noted that 47% of contact centers were considering implementing text messaging as opposed to the 1.5% which had been actively using it. A recent Execs in the Know poll after a webcast on the topic had it even higher, with 64% of respondents saying they were thinking about launching text as a service channel and in a separate poll, 79% considering options for using it.    

The public is amenable as well. An eWeek study revealed that 52% of consumers would be likely to exchange text with a live customer service agent and that the same number would actually prefer it to their existing channel of communication. Three quarters of respondents said they would rather be served by text messages that on social media.   

Innovative SMS applications have the capability to help companies move beyond the noise and get their customers to take notice. Solutions combining the convenient, easy-to-use nature of text messaging with next-generation capabilities can generate dynamic customer experiences.

Yet, while adapting SMS customer service might seem like it ought to be a no-brainer, many companies are still just in the “thinking about it” stage. What has held back the tide…and what factors are moving it forward?   

Until recently one of the most significant obstacles had been regulation. Short code messaging (SMS) was overseen by a government agency with highly restrictive rules. It took up to three months to implement a solution and any updates took as long as six to eight weeks. But all of that has changed since carriers have been allowed to text-enable toll free numbers and give organizations the ability to send MMS pictures.    

Other issues companies feel they need to resolve include:  

  • Creating a level of trust that would enable customers to be comfortable sharing their carefully guarded mobile numbers and getting their permission to send text messages
  • Coordination of text messages. Should employees be able to send them from their own devices or only through central messaging services or specially adapted landlines that companies can use without having to change their voice service?
  • Should there be one number (easy for consumers to use) or should numbers be assigned to individual representatives (easier for businesses to track efficiency)?
  • Recognizing the boundaries between using SMS to send marketing messages— which have the potential to turn off customers if not personalized— as opposed to employing it to provide valued one-to-one customer support.     

But while there are legitimate cautions, they are far outweighed by the potential advantages. "Providing a SMS/messaging channel that allows your customers to use a preferred, mobile, customer service channel, to communicate with your business, is something that every business should be considering," said Don Voogd, Director of Business Development, North America, for white label TaaS (Text as a Service) provider Instaply. “Unlike calls or live chat, the asynchronous nature of SMS/messaging allows both the customer and the agent to engage in efficient, low-effort communication, since neither party has any direct attachment to the other. Customers can text in their question, put their phone right back in their pocket, and refocus on whatever is that they were previously doing, without waiting (on hold, or in front of a live chat screen) for an agent's response. In its essence, this channel gives customers back more of their most precious resource, their time.”   

Recent progress of this burgeoning messaging channel can be credited to companies like Twilio and Tropo. But Instaply believes that offering TaaS takes SMS to the next level. “Everyone knows how to text, yet not everyone understands how to text their customers,” noted Voogd. “By providing a simple UI, that's easy to train/onboard, and the ability to transfer and collaborate on text conversations, both internally (via desktop, or tablet) and externally (via a simple mobile application), the company’s TaaS allows businesses to begin their path to full utilization of the growing SMS/messaging channel.”   

Texting service can involve more than just SMS. “Surveys show more than 75% of the public would rather text or use a mobile app than call a contact center,” said Michael Cahill, Commercial Director of messaging solution provider WEBTEXT. “Our turnkey contact center APIs can be quickly deployed in any Cisco or Avaya contact center platform to allow an organization to support whatever messaging channel their customers are using, be it SMS, MMS, Facebook Messenger or Twitter messaging. We're seeing more and more organizations using messaging for the first time since, in some cases, it's become the only way for an organization to reach their customers."   

What types of businesses are currently providing customer service via these channels? Webtext’s client roster includes a full range of verticals: biotech, cable TV, consumer appliances, education, entertainment, finance, government agencies, hospitality, insurance, manufacturing, public utilities, publishing, retail, retirement systems, social services, security, technology, telecom, transportation and more.   

SMS is already widely in use as a customer communication tool in healthcare with physicians and dentists of all specialties using it as a key tool to confirm appointments. Financial institutions send texts to inform customers about upcoming payments due or acknowledging those that have been received as well as for trade confirmations. Hotel and travel companies confirm reservations, and airlines text travelers about flight changes or delays.   

Alexa Lemzy, Customer Support Specialist with UK-based business SMS provider TextMagic noted one other important advantage. “Texting also gives the customer a record of the conversation,” she said. “During live calls, the recorded conversations are only available to the agents.” The company offers Application-to-Person messaging (A2P) which provides a secure, reliable way to reach almost any person on the planet.”   

In the spring of 2016, voice, language and virtual assistant (VA) specialist Nuance announced Nina for Messaging, which gave enterprises the capability to engage their customers via intelligent, two-way messaging on mobile devices. The solution uses the company’s natural language understanding (NLU) and conversational technologies to enable customer service via conversational messaging interfaces within native mobile apps, through text messaging and in other messaging applications.   

“Nina for Messaging allows organizations to design one VA and deliver conversational, automated customer service via SMS, in-app messaging and through leading global messaging platforms,” said Robert Weideman, executive vice president and general manager, Enterprise Division, Nuance Communications.  

Global customer service software provider Zendesk also recently added SMS to its list of capabilities, introducing Text, a new feature of Zendesk Talk. Inbound texts from customers automatically create tickets in the Zendesk Support ticketing system. Agents can easily respond to customer texts as they would any other channel, use triggers to automate text alerts, or even send customers proactive notifications. “The rise of on-demand services and an increasingly mobile customer base makes this channel important for businesses,” said Ryan Nichols, general manager of Zendesk Talk. “SMS lets businesses connect with their customers wherever they are in an extremely personal fashion. Companies find it particularly valuable in applications such as on-demand services where email is no longer fast enough (when a delivery is  coming in, or a limo is about to arrive).”  

While SMS is mostly a solution used by enterprises, companies such as EZ Texting, Slick Text, Trumpia and TextMagic are introducing programs for small and medium sized businesses. Instaply’s Voogd believes that “Within the next two years, companies that do not offer texting as a means of interacting with customers will be considered behind the curve.”