In December 1992, 22-year-old Neil Papworth sent the first ever text message, appropriately saying “Merry Christmas.” Papworth and coworkers had originally conceived text messaging as an internal communication tool, but providers soon found a way to monetize texting with paid messaging plans.
Teens and young adults were the first to adopt the technology in the 1990s, enjoying the ability to communicate without their parents understanding. Since then, text messaging has exploded in popularity among all ages. Over 93% of millennials text, but so do 68% of baby boomers. Texting isn’t strictly a young man’s game.
Texting also isn’t just for person to person communication anymore. In 2014, businesses started to adopt SMS for all aspects of their business, not just marketing. Businesses can now use texting to communicate with customers, and vice versa. A Harris Interactive survey conducted on behalf of OneReach found that 64% of customers would rather text a business than call them. Text adoption started to climb in 2014 as businesses started to understand the positive impact it could have.
But now, an increasing number of businesses are responding to consumer demand for text, and are using the text messaging throughout their enterprise. Businesses that offer text can send their customers appointment reminders, account balances, surveys, and much more.
Texting isn’t just limited to businesses; local governments have started to take advantage of it too. Communities like Evanston, Ill., use texting for traffic updates and snow alerts, but also let citizens text them back. Humanitarian organizations are using texting to solicit donations, send tips and advice, and alert citizens about incoming disasters. One powerful example of texting can be seen in this year’s Ebola crisis.
A lot of businesses use social media to provide customer support, but they’re not limited to that channel (nor should they be). For example, a lot of companies use Twitter for customer support, which makes sense since over 500 million Twitter messages are sent each day, but so are 23 billion text messages. Texting is more popular than any social network, and the more businesses recognize that, the better service they can provide.
Texting has made some major strides in the past year, most notably:
- Channel pivot. With the introduction of business texting, a new technology breakthrough has emerged. Companies can now expose their SMS channel within their IVR. For example, instead of waiting on hold, the caller could press * to transition out of the voice queue and into a texting expereience (either automated or a live conversation). This acts as a discovery mechanism which is good because customers aren’t always interested in talking to someone. They’re usually trying to get their problem solved with the least amount of effort. Companies that let customers channel pivot (switching between a phone call and text or vice versa) give customers the chance to communicate on their terms. A Harris Interactive study commissioned by OneReach found that 44% of customers would prefer to live chat with an agent immediately rather than wait on hold. When customers do switch channels, they should be able to pick up the conversation right where they left off.
- Text enabling 10-digit numbers. In the past, businesses relied on short codes (5 or 6 digit numbers) to communicate with customers over SMS. These numbers cost several thousand dollars a year and are heavily regulated. Long code numbers (traditional 10-digit numbers) only cost $1-2 per month and can be used to send voice messages as well as texts, providing a cost-effective, functional alternative to short codes. (Learn more about the benefits of text-enabling a business here, here and here).
- Text enabling toll-free numbers. Text-enabled toll-free numbers allow businesses to get more out of their 800 number and support a more consistent communication strategy. Toll-free numbers usually send customers through a drawn-out IVR process, but now customers carry out these interactions in seconds rather than minutes over text. This also means customers can carry out service interactions over text, saving themselves and agents time.
- MMS Support. In addition to calling and texting a business, customers can now MMS a business. Thanks to companies like Twilio and Zipwhip, businesses can send multiple file types to customers, and vice versa. Customers can share photos, forward voicemails to text message, and read PDF help files without needing to interact with an agent.
- API Economy. APIs can be a difficult concept to grasp, but what they essentially do is tell two separate software applications how to interact with one another. This lets contact centers integrate their services with CRMs like Salesforce, so that they can personalize interactions based on customer data.
- Context. Almost 90% of customers hate having to repeat their problem multiple times. That’s because most departments in a company store their data separately, keeping them from creating a comprehensive view of their customers. Advanced contact center solutions unite all customer data in one place, regardless of the channel they use or the department they reach. If a customer texts a company, an agent should be able to see a history of all their past interactions, whether they’re national or site-specific.
- Personalization. Today’s customers are looking for personalized experiences on multiple channels. This goes beyond adding someone’s name to a text message (although it includes that too). Companies can use a customer’s past interactions with the company to deliver a more optimized, personalized experience. The more a company knows about a customer at the beginning, the quicker they can help them and the more satisfied the customer will be.
- Automation. Customers expect speed in their service interactions and companies can deliver that with interactive text response (ITR). Customers trying to check their balance or reset their password don’t need a human to walk them through that; they can do it themselves with automation. However, just because responses are automated doesn’t mean they need to be completely robotic.
Companies and customers alike are starting to realize the value of text as a service channel. It’s got the capabilities of all the other channels combined—the one-on-one interaction of voice, the immediacy of live chat and the flexibility of self-service. Plus, it doesn’t require an internet connection like today’s popular messaging apps do.
Looking Ahead to 2015
At OneReach, we believe 2015 will be a bigger year than ever for business texting. In fact, it’s gonna be such a big year that we have some big predictions to go along with it, like:
Using SMS for support will overtake the use of SMS for marketing in the enterprise.
More enterprises will add an (Interactive Text Response (ITR) capabilities
Text surveys will replace email surveys in companies that offer both support channels.
In 2014, SMS was for innovators in 2015, SMS will start becoming mainstream.
In 2015, we will see a significant increase in enterprise use of text message support.
We also believe businesses will integrate texting with other channels as part of their omnichannel service offering—one where customers can switch between channels without companies missing a beat. In addition, we predict that more and more companies will automate their service in 2015–interactive text response (ITR) will become an increasingly preferred form of communication.
IP messaging services like Whatsapp and iMessage will be added to contact center offerings and will be integrated with other channels. Although IP messaging has siphoned off part of the worldwide text traffic, SMS will still be a channel to be reckoned with for years to come.
2015 will also see phone carriers clashing with companies that provide text-enabled toll-free numbers. Late this year, Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson told Wired that carriers will start enforcing new fees and rules on text companies like his. We expect the FCC to issue a ruling this year on whether or not carriers are entitled to any of the profit that comes with these messages.
Needless to say, 2015 is going to be a big year for business texting and the customer experience. What predictions do you have for the upcoming year? Let us know in the comments or text “2015” to 720-414-5269!
Have a great New Year!
Photo from Marketing Mobile Interactif.