In a noble effort to cut costs, many businesses use interactive voice response (IVR) systems at contact centers. While this does lower contact center costs by reducing real-agent answer time, it also reduces customer satisfaction by a whopping 93% overall.
Though I have terrible teeth (and even worse brushing habits), I have a pretty good dentist. His practice is the typical small-business venture, and like most in the medical profession, getting people to show up to have their teeth cleaned is like, well, pulling teeth.
Thus his assistant gets the lucky job of calling people and reminding them to come in. She’s nice, of course, but like most patients, I always let the call go to voice mail.
Personally, I’d rather just have an automated text reminder. It just makes more sense: my day doesn’t get interrupted to have an awkward phone conversation about my not-so-stellar fight against cavities, and I can text back my confirmation or need to reschedule quickly.
In fact, I could see a lot of medical-related scenarios where texting makes more sense than forcing nurses and/or doctors to spend all day on the phone:
- Prescription pick-up: “Your laxative prescription from Dr. Professional is ready for pick up at Corner Drug Store“
- Data Collection: “Please text in your blood-sugar level for today.”
- Lab Results: “Your blood work has been reviewed, and it turns out you’re not a werewolf.”
Here’s a cool idea a co-worker of mine found: Poll Everywhere. Basically, their service allows you to create surveys that people can participate in via text, then have those results posted somewhere in real-time. Pretty cool.
OneReach allows our customers to do this kind of thing too, and it’s just the kind of innovative-thinking that needs to happen with businesses and texting.
For example, liven up that classroom! Any professor knows that – despite the rules – students are texting away on their phones, so why not turn the lecture into something interactive? In those stadium-like classrooms, a professor could swap out “raising your hand” with “text your questions and see them popup on the projector.”
That goes for any kind of speaker, actually. Need to prove a theory and make a statement – do a real-time survey during your lecture, and let the conclusions speak for themselves. Make a speech personalized by getting a pie-chart of demographics, interests, etc. A creative speaker could muster audience participation in any number of different ways.
How about a digital guest-book? A OneReach account and a computer monitor in the lobby could be used to let customers “sign-in” via text, then display a personalized welcome message: “You’re the 561st customer to visit Pantsuits International, Jason!”
This sort of interaction can not only liven up an otherwise dull speech or space, it also gathers contact information, useful as leads or creating a following. If the systems you use have exposed APIs, a simple survey can plug the information you need right into it.
I don’t know about you, but I slept through enough lectures to really hope this sort of thing takes off. Here’s hopin’…
I initially didn’t want anything to do with texting. I had seen enough text-zombie teens and didn’t want to get infected by their thumb-mashing virus.
55% of 18-29 year-olds prefer texting over phone calls
(source: Pew Internet)
Turns out they were smarter than I gave them credit for. Texting is now an indispensable channel of communication for me. It’s the perfect tool for short, utilitarian messages.
- What time are the neighbors coming over for dinner?
- Don’t forget to put the trash out tomorrow
- Wish you were here with me: http://tinyurl.com/o9bw35k
So now that I can’t live without texting, I am seriously perplexed as to why businesses aren’t hip to it. Think of the possibilities:
- I text info to your number: “We are open today from 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM and located at 1062 Delaware Street, Denver, CO“
- I text flight status: “Your flight to Portland, OR today is on schedule to depart at 2:15 PM“
- What about a reminder? “Hey Jeremy, we’re looking forward to meeting with you tomorrow at 10:30 AM. Will you still be able to make it?“
Granted, most companies get the basic phone system and call it done, thinking that Sms-based conversations are out of their price range. But it’s a swiftly changing world, and texting a business is not only an affordable option, it’s eventually going to be as normal as businesses using social media.
One of the reasons I love Google and I always use Chrome is because they absolutely rock at predicting what I want. I type “can grow bl“, and suddenly what I want – “can blueberries grow in shade” pops up, saving me the effort of having to type a single letter more.
This is how business-customer communications should be. Good customer service should try to predict what I want when I call or text in. We call it Proactive Recognition, the emphasis being on Proactive, because good customer service means the company is initiating the effort to find out what the customer wants.
For example, if I’m calling your automotive repair shop because you’re fixing my car, your system should start the call with “Hi Jeremy, are you calling about the status of your Honda Element?”
Even better would be “Hi Jeremy, we are currently waiting on parts for your Honda Element. Would you like to talk to someone about it?” This not only recognizes what I’m calling about, but also gives me a bit of information – which could be enough for me.
Let’s go even further: your shop automatically texts me with status updates: “Jeremy, we just received all the parts for your Honda Element. We hope to have it fixed in the next 1-2 business days.”
Sounds like crazy talk, I know, but some phone and text systems play well with other systems, allowing a company to create flows like those above. To throw a little jargon at you, systems like OneReach allow users to add API integrations to their voice and text flows and then change what the caller hears/reads accordingly. It’s pretty sweet.
Think about all the uses for this and how you – as a customer – would appreciate them:
- Your favorite pizza joint: “Hi Maurice, are you calling to order your usual, a large Hawaiian pizza?“
- Your doctor’s office: “Hello Jane, you have an appointment with Dr. Professional tomorrow at 10:45 AM.“
- Your internet service provider: “Hi Dave, we’d like to apologize for charging you such an ungodly amount of money this month…” – well, we can wish, can’t we?
“I really appreciate Company X’s large confusing phone tree!”
– said no one ever.
We all know the drill – we need something from Company X, but Company X can’t afford to staff an army to answer phones, so they wave the magic “phone tree” wand, spin us in a few circles, and hope that somehow we will be happy with that.
For me this translates into one single mode of operation when dealing with companies: try to avoid – at all costs – having to call them. I don’t want to listen to their menus. I don’t want to be put on hold. I don’t want to enter my account information multiple times because your magic phone tree isn’t powerful enough to remember it.
The funny part to me is that the money-saving phone tree systems typically cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I didn’t go to “Enterprise Business School”, but I’m pretty sure spending that much money to irritate your customers is bad for business. Especially when there are significantly cheaper better options available.
Not every automated phone system is terrible. I once called Comcast and was pleasantly surprised to hear something like the following (I’m paraphrasing here):
“Hi Jeremy, thanks for calling customer support. We’re pretty busy right now, so would you like us to call you back when someone’s available?”
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! They know who I am without me entering some 20 digit account number! They know I want to talk to someone! They don’t want to waste my time!
Of course, this kind of “custom” solution costs a fortune and requires an entire team of consultants and developers, right? Nope. There are solutions out there, including OneReach, that are affordable and can be set up by anyone with basic computer skills.
Consider this your customer support PSA: don’t go chasing after those “cost effective” phone tree systems just so you can give your customer’s the run-around. Find a better solution, one that treats customers like people.
My co-worker and I attended a conference in Chicago this year, and it became clear pretty quick which one of us was the “networker”. While my co-worker bounced from discussion to discussion, I stood at a distance and observed. I am just not very good (nor interested in becoming good) at talking with total strangers about their product.
That’s not to say I wasn’t interested in their services or products – I just didn’t feel like waiting in line to say, “Hey, that looks neat.”
I also wasn’t about to write down a bunch of web addresses or collect business cards either. What would have been really neat is if some of those booths had a number I could text to sign-up for a newsletter, get whitepapers or even download a vcard to contact them later.
I would have to imagine this would be an awesome opportunity for the people in the booths too, as they wouldn’t be missing out on leads just because their booth is over-crowded or because stand-offish attenders like myself won’t get close enough to say “hi”.
Of course, every lurker like myself who does text in has also just given that business a legitimate contact phone number, which has to be nice in a world of fake-email-address-sign-up.
Creative business could find a way to up the incentive to text in, from trivia questions (“What car does Eric Schmidt of Google drive?”) to raffles and even text-based games. Frankly, any of those ideas sound more fun to me than a business card bump, lurker or not.
Had this experience yesterday: my wife and I had free tickets for our kids to go to Elitch Garden’s amusement park, but didn’t know if we could use them on a holiday. My wife called them up and got their automated voice system.
Now she needed an actual person to talk to, but as is par for the course, this phone tree was trying to prevent her getting one easily. And yep, they succeeded in that goal.
“Press 0 if you’d like to speak to an operator.” She did, heard a beep, then got disconnected. She tried this five more times, and each time the system hung up on her.
We didn’t want to make the 30-minute drive with three hyped-up kids only to find out at the gates that our tickets weren’t valid, so she kept calling. At this point, the phone number stopped working altogether: “We’re sorry, we cannot connect you to that number…” My guess is that their phone system wasn’t able to handle the holiday call volume.
Double-fail. Sorry, but at this point, I was willing to change all our plans just because I couldn’t talk to someone on their end. Hopefully someone from Elitch Gardens will read this and get a phone system that doesn’t lose them business.
Customer support centers may see a new “untethered” channel for solving issues, as OneReach recently integrated their system with the SnapEngage web-chat client, providing a way for users to text with live support agents.
According to product manager, Jeremy Balzer, OneReach now allows correspondence between end-user texts and unique SnapEngage web-chat sessions. “This feature seemed like a natural progression for us, given our expertise in business-customer texting,” said Jeremy. “We already support Interactive Text Response (ITR), so adding live-chat as another end point just made sense.”
OneReach CEO, Rich Weborg, added, “We are really excited about the opportunities this will bring to many companies who already use SnapEngage. Those businesses can now easily tie their OneReach number to their SnapEngage account and solve customer issues the same way they always have.”
One of the motivations behind the feature, according to Jeremy, was a desire to make customer support “untethered”: “I love using web-chat for my own customer support issues, but there are times when I wish I could continue that conversation without being tied to my computer or having to download some app for my phone.”
While OneReach is one of a quickly growing number of solutions for text-enabling a business, Rich says that their text-to-chat integration is different from the rest in that it is tied to the OneReach Sms Conversation Engine. “Our product doesn’t just allow someone to text a business, it allows the business to easily put rules in place to automate the texting experience when it’s needed. For example, a company can automatically return basic store hours and location information to customers who need just that, while routing others to live agents with specific support issues.”
OneReach was founded in 2007 to provide affordable custom inbound and outbound phone and text solutions to businesses without the need to hire developers.
If you’d like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with someone at OneReach, please call (303) 974-7351 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.