Customer Service To Text Messaging: “You Complete Me”

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This post was originally published on the FCR blog on December 9, 2015.  Click here to read the original.

Text messaging (AKA SMS or Short Message Service) has been around for a long time, so I hesitate to call this a new wave within customer service—but it sort of is. Of late, more companies are on the scene that want to allow customers to contact customer service via SMS, and for good reason. My research indicates that this channel is quickly becoming a “must have” in order to deliver a great customer service experience. Let’s take a few moments to see why.

The Omni-channel Experience

As we consider a new customer service channel like SMS, it’s important to keep the omni-channel experience in mind. Aspect, a call center software provider, describes the omni-channel experience as, “Customers now expect to receive service from your organization on the channel of their choice, which might be voice, email, SMS/text, web, mobile or social media.” They go on to say that many of these support channels exist in silos and don’t communicate with each other, creating a disjointed experience for customers.

The goal of omni-channel is for customers to be able to choose the support channel or channels of their choice, moving seamlessly between multiple support channels as they desire. From the customer perspective, it feels like one, continuous conversation with the company. From the customer service perspective, that could mean logging into many different systems to communicate with customers.

Does this ability for customers to select multiple channels and have a seamless conversation sound too good to be true? Many companies are working hard to achieve it while simplifying the contact center agent experience at the same time. As a key component to this omni-channel customer experience, let’s focus on SMS.

Why SMS for Customer Service?

At a recent conference I attended, one company advertising SMS customer service made the point that customers could be sending messages to our support telephone number and never receiving a response. That’s all well and good, but why can’t customers just contact customer service on one of the other channels that they do offer?

Here are a few things to think about to help answer that why question:

  • 75% of Americans send and receive SMS messages via their mobile device already. (source)
  • 90% of all text messages are read within 3 minutes or less. (source)
  • Only 7% of consumers use SMS to communicate with a business–partly for fear that companies will abuse their number to send marketing messages. (source)
  • 64% of customers prefer text messaging over voice for customer service. (source)
  • 44% of customers would rather text than wait on hold. (source)

When you consider SMS for customer service, it just makes sense. We constantly have our mobile devices on us and can conveniently communicate with customer service. Here are four reasons SMS is better than other support channels.

  • It’s Private and Secure- Think social media. No one else can see your conversation with customer service and yet you still achieve a level of simplicity similar to social media customer service.

 

  • It’s Simple- Think email. Rather than getting bogged down in reading a long email with lots of detail, you can have a simple, concise conversations with customer service.
  • No Hold Music- Think phone. Rather than calling and holding a phone to your ear, you can send the message and go about your day without the fear of missing the call or getting disconnected.
  • It’s Mobile- Think chat. Have you ever opened a chat session online and then realized you had other things to do on your computer or away from your computer? How about the fact that chat isn’t really designed for mobile?

In each of these cases, SMS has a clear advantage. Finally, consider the fact that with SMS, customer service has your phone number and can easily call you if the situation requires it.

6 Best Practices

While SMS is convenient and simple, it’s important to set some ground rules for communicating with customers. It should be handled differently than a conversation with one of your BFFs (Best Friends Forever).

  • Be Friendly- Make sure your tone is friendly, upbeat, and outgoing. You don’t need to add a lot of fluff to the message. (Example: Hi! This is Jeremy. Thanks for your message.) Be positive and encouraging. Use the customer’s name naturally in correspondence where it is available to you.
  • Be Professional- Always communicate effectively and professionally.

 

      • Use proper grammar and punctuation.
      • Avoid emojis unless approved by the client–or in the case of Domino’s pizza, used to order your favorite pizza pie.
      • In terrific article, Leslie O’Flahavan of E-Write says to Avoid textese (LOL, TY, TTYL, LMAO, OMG, etc). Type out the entire phrase unless the client says otherwise. Well, some of these phrases shouldn’t be typed out either.

 

  • Be Empathetic- When you’re going for concise, there doesn’t need to be a big empathy statement. A simple “I’m sorry” or “I’m here to help” can go a long way toward giving the customer confidence that you are taking ownership if their issue. On the other side “Awesome!” or “That’s outstanding!” can convey a spirit of genuine excitement.
  • Be Ready To Switch Channels- If it’s clear that the conversation isn’t moving toward a resolution, consider calling the customer. You already have the phone number available.
  • Be Responsive- In an article by OneReach, customers expect a response to their SMS within an hour, where they might be ok waiting a day or two to a response to an email. Many SMS solutions can also be configured with autoresponders. This could be a simple auto response that lets the customer know you’re investigating, or a more advanced one where an API suggests an answer to their question from a knowledge base.
  • Be Concise- Similar to social media, you have 160 characters to get your point across. If you need more that 160 characters, break up your messages logically into multiple parts to present a clear message to the customer.

 

Software Providers

There are a number of companies currently offering SMS customer service solutions. In general, many of these offer integrations with your CRM and other customer service tools. They allow you to obtain a phone number and send and receive SMS with customers. In addition, many chat provider now have integrations with mobile sites where chat support can be used from a mobile device.

Here are a few companies to consider when adding SMS customer service:

  • Twillio— Obtain a telephone number and connect directly to a variety of platforms to send and receive SMS messages. Click here for an article on how to achieve integration with Zendesk.
  • Sendsonar— Allows for unlimited agents and bills for blocks of messages sent.
  • LivePerson— This is not true SMS but allows easy integration of chat support on a company’s mobile site. You can even send an SMS to a customer inviting them to a chat session on their phone.
  • BoldChat— Their Enterprise level plan allows for SMS support where they provide you with a telephone number for customers to send messages to.
  • SnapEngage— All of their plans include SMS capabilities for $25 per month per telephone line. Pricing for chat and SMS functionality is on a per agent basis.
  • IMImobile— They offer SMS solutions but from a more outbound sales and marketing perspective.
  • OneReach— They offer a variety of solutions including inbound and outbound SMS along with an IVR (Integrated Voice Response) where you can communicate with an automated system to get information. For example, “text back with option 1 to view your account balance.”
  • LiveOps— They offer solutions for voice, SMS, social media, email and chat. SMS fits within their chat support offering.

Does your company offer SMS as an option for your customers? If so, what have been some of your key wins and opportunities with that support channel? As an outsourcer of contact center service, FCR is equipped and ready to communicate with your customers on any and all channels that you AND your customers prefer.

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Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Experience at FCR, the premiere provider of outsourced call center and business process solutions. He has more than 17 years of experience as a customer service and experience professional. He is co-founder of the Customer Service Life blog and a regular contributor. Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

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