Change the Channel: Is SMS in Your CX Plan?

May 5, 2020 9:57:37 AM

How many texts do you leave unread? Exactly. Basically zero. SMS is a real-time channel and we presume the people who have our mobile numbers have something to say that we need to see. So we look. Almost reflexively. 

Underscoring this, TechCrunch says Americans spend ~5 hours a day on our phones—the vast majority of that time on social media, messaging, and entertainment. {My personal stats in this pandemic era are even higher than that but in my defense, I work on my phone and I also haven’t been sleeping as much as I usually do. You, too, huh? Find me on Scrabble ;)} 

Anyway, I have actually been appreciating SMS as a channel in a whole new way lately. Yes, I love my “Quarantinis” group chat with my mom friends, and I frankly need the text reminders from my kids’ teachers about home school lessons and deadlines. But I am also so happy to be getting SMS updates on orders I have placed with anticipated delivery dates, alerts on in-stock items I have been waiting for, and information on specials from my local businesses. 

I also find myself choosing text as my preferred channel if the option exists to interact with customer service that way. Honestly, I am on the phone (and video chat) for the majority of most days. The last thing I want to do is TALK to a customer service representative after that. Or basically anyone for that matter. Sorry, mom.

Texting Customers is No Longer Taboo

So, when I came across this WSJ Headline, “Texting Customers Is No Longer Taboo When Everyone Is Stuck at Home,” it landed perfectly. I wanted to text Ann-Marie, the author, and be like YES, GIRL, YESSSSSS! Statistics show that 98% of all text messages are opened and 95% are responded to within 3 minutes of being delivered. This is in stark contrast to email open and response rates that hover closer to 20% and 6% respectively. This is partly due to the number of each type of message we get—our email inboxes tend to be much more crowded than our texts. 

So what does this mean for brands and the customer experience? A full six years ago, eWeek reported that more than half of people surveyed said they would be likely to text with a customer support agent and would prefer texting customer support more than their current preferred method of communication. However, it still is not a pervasive customer service channel. Why? 

For starters, in most cases, providing service via SMS often requires the contact center to add yet another solution to what are already complex tech environments. Agents then need to be trained to use that solution and to interact with customers via a new channel. (Or new agents need to be hired to handle this silo specifically.) Adding SMS also adds a layer of complexity to scheduling, recording, reporting, and customer satisfaction. Unless…

Unless SMS is treated the same way as every other channel in a platform that is essentially channel-agnostic where routing, reporting, recording, and everything else is handled through a single pane of glass. 

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Ann Marie goes on to say, “With retail stores closed and people wary of spending money in a deeply uncertain economy, companies are scrambling to enhance relationships with customers with all the tools at their disposal—and go beyond emails and websites.” And, I would add, they have scrambled since early March to figure out how to even send their customer service agents to work from home with the technology they had in place. (Some contact centers have kept people on site much to the agents’—and the wider population’s—dismay.)

Incorporating SMS into Your Customer Experience

With the tools available today, this seems like a shame for agents, customers, and brands. Right now is an ideal time to be using a channel like SMS to enhance customer (and agent) experiences… to reach customers where they are—at home, on their phones. SMS is an intimate channel. It gets to customers in a different way than email does. Brands should be capitalizing on the opportunity to connect, at a human level, whether they will immediately sell something or not. Besides shipping updates and promo alerts, brands should look to incorporate SMS to:

  • Empathize, relate, and wish customers well
  • Explain ongoing business continuity plans 
  • Share what products and services are still in play
  • Highlight ways they’re protecting workers and supporting their community
  • Look toward the future and what reentry will be like
  • Offer retail therapy relief (within reason and with respect) and a break from the topic hogging everyone’s mental space

Building confidence for the future is just as, if not more, important than booking a sale in the moment. What happens when the wary spenders get comfortable spending again? You want to be at the tip of their itchy trigger finger. Literally.

Candace Sheitelman

Written by Candace Sheitelman

Candace Sheitelman brings more than two decades of marketing expertise to Edify, much of it focused on CX and the contact center. She's responsible for Edify's go-to-market strategy and execution. Sheitelman previously ran her own marketing communications firm and global marketing at Aspect. She earned her B.S. in Public Relations from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Learn more here.