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Text Me Back: Customer Service for the SMS Generation

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Many people would not consider texting back a retailer when they get a mobile phone message – in many cases, they simply couldn’t. But that’s changing. More retailers and e-commerce companies are starting to use text messaging for business use to have two-way conversations with their customers as an effective way to improve customer experience while solving problems quicker. 

Karen is ordering a coffee in the airport when her phone dings. A text tells her that her flight is delayed. But instead of calling the customer service number and cycling through a frustrating interactive voice response system with seemingly endless hold times or queuing up to talk to a gate agent, she simply sends a text back to the airline to book a different flight. After a few quick messages back and forth, Karen is rebooked, all in the time it takes for the barista to make her a cappuccino.

Less than a decade ago, this would be considered a far-fetched scenario. However, two way texting is becoming an increasingly used tool by brands to communicate with their audiences. Now changing the time of a flight, tracking a package for delivery or locating the cab you booked are all possible and made easier by text.

The process has been made more simple with technology and there is now the potential to complete and fulfill orders, provide support, and answer any questions a customer may have via SMS messaging. Text messaging can be integrated with systems like customer relationship management (CRM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software via application programming interfaces (APIs).

A customer could text a brand a picture of a code on the tag of a clothing item to order the item in their size or ask how to troubleshoot a television setup. Text messages are fast, widely opened, and platform-agnostic. This allows companies to create an even fuller picture of customer interactions and track behaviour patterns.

And the potential market is enormous. Over three quarters of US adults own a smartphone and studies suggest almost everyone is texting. This is especially the case with millennials who text "a lot" by their own admission. Most importantly, it is millennials who have the most spending power of any generation, which has piqued the interests of brands trying to reach them for their markets.

Realizing the huge market that can be tapped, retailers and e-commerce companies have started using text messaging for business use to troubleshoot faster and facilitate self-service actions like tracking packages or reducing the hassle around a cancelled flight.

While the benefits of two way texting are clear however, it is an under-utilized tactic. Research firm Gartner found that not only do more than half of brands not use it, but one-third don't plan to invest in it. This despite the fact that 90% of text messages are opened and read within three minutes of receipt.

Currently, one in ten SMS exchanges in the US are one-way communications from businesses to consumers. Typically, these are confirmations, verifications, coupons, and special offers – think of passcodes sent via SMS, or deals of the day sent by large online retailers. While troubleshooting two way conversations are present, they are much less common.

For businesses, using two way texting to communicate with consumers can be done simply by integrating the SMS messaging with contact centres and existing systems via an API. These APIs allow data to flow seamlessly between the systems to provide answers or store customer queries.

This lets the company store customer information in its databases and create a complete view of all the customer's interactions, which can later be used for more personally targeted marketing to connect with the SMS generation.

While some brands use apps to achieve this, the simple process of a two way conversation via text avoids the cumbersome process of downloading an application in order to communicate with a company - which can be troublesome in some situations when a data connection cannot be trusted or is unreliable.

Text messaging for business use has now become second nature to many consumers, and studies suggest customers are more willing to text brands than in the past. In effect, consumers and brands are becoming more like friends, texting each other forward and back. For companies that adopt two way messaging, that friendship can result in more satisfied customers.

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Profile picture for user Jean By Jean Shin
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