We’re a society of texters: 8.5 billion text messages1 are sent in the United States every day. On a personal level, it’s about 26 messages, per person, per day.
Even as texting is an inherent part of our daily lives, companies have historically shied away from providing customer support via text. While there have been appointment reminders, payment confirmations and order statuses sent to customers who opt in, by and large, the channel has not been used for general customer support.
This is largely due to the belief that customers would get annoyed and feel like brands were encroaching on their personal space. While this may have been true at one point, customers today actually prefer to text with brands for specific needs instead of reaching out on other channels. In fact, 72% of consumers would prefer to text a business instead of a call2. Customer service on SMS represents a huge untapped opportunity for companies to provide excellent customer support, increase CSAT and decrease costs.
What is SMS Customer Service?
SMS customer service is any type of support provided by a company to a customer via text messaging. It is completely virtual and requires no face-to-face interaction or verbal communication. According to research by Gigaom, text messages are opened over 4X more often than emails.
The biggest opportunities for SMS Customer Service
In addition to reaching customers through a vehicle they are using repeatedly throughout the day, SMS offers two incredible opportunities to transform customer service: offering proactive support and eliminating hold times from other channels.
- SMS opens the door for proactive, predictive and preventative support
- SMS alleviates hold times
The opportunities to step in at critical moments along the customer journey are bountiful on SMS. People have their phones with them at all times: 75% say they are addicted7 ( tapping, touching, or swiping their phone a 2,617 times per day8) and SMS open rates are as high as 98%4. But beyond accessibility, the real magic comes from the built in sensors that provide rich contextual insight into a person’s current situation – with opportunities to either surprise and delight or prevent a problem.
An airline, for instance, could recognize that a person is stuck in traffic and going to miss a flight from data from a phone’s location, gyroscope and accelerometer sensors. The airline could then proactively text rebooking options. A hotel, on the other hand, could send a text when a person’s flight arrives early at the airport, offering an early check-in.
35% of callers will hang up within one minute of waiting9. Similar to offering customers a way to receive a call back instead of waiting on hold to speak to an agent, companies could ask if a person would like to receive support via a text message. With only 6.5% of U.S. households having a landline10, companies could seamlessly follow up with a person on the same device that they are using. Customers who opt in would immediately receive a text and could engage in a 1-on-1 conversation with a human or virtual agent.
The cornerstones of great SMS customer service 📱
When deploying customer service on SMS, it’s critical to carefully execute to ensure boundaries are not crossed on this inherently personal and intimate channel.
- Communicate properly: Leverage channel-specific conversational design. Keep messages brief. While modern phones allow for longer messages, try to keep responses to 160 characters, so it is not broken up into multiple messages. Communicate only the most important things to not drive up data usage or fees. If it aligns with your brand or with specific use cases, don’t be afraid to use emojis and other messaging-first communication styles.
- Use AI to automate SMS support: Agents are already stretched working across traditional and emerging support channels. Deploy an AI-powered virtual agent to automate SMS support. These virtual agents, also known as SMS chatbots, can now fully resolve upwards of 80% of tickets in some cases – especially simple, highly repetitive tickets.
- If needed, escalate seamlessly to human agents and other channels: If a problem is not fully resolved on SMS, loop a human agent into the conversation or offer a frictionless way for customers to opt-in for a call back. Eliminate the need for a person to dial a number themselves and wait for an available agent, or seek help in another channel. Instead, add the customer to the call-back queue, communicate anticipated call-back time and end the conversation.
- Enable two-way communication: Automated text messages today are typically one-way. People can’t often reply, for instance, to the message from their telecommunications provider with their monthly autopay acknowledgment asking why charges are higher this month. Ensure that if you’re leveraging text to communicate with customers, they can reply and engage in a two-way conversation.
- Text the right use cases: Use SMS for support – not marketing or sales. Customers want to text with a brand to troubleshoot issues (70%), ask about billing questions or concerns (68%) or make/update a reservation (64%)4. These are all simple questions that could be easily automated. Complex use cases are not ideal for SMS support. If a complex question arises, suggest the customer reach out on a different channel (or offer a call-back).
The growing customer appetite for brand texting
35% of consumers text with businesses once a day to once a week3
While SMS communication is inherently personal, people are open to communicating with brands, too. In fact, 43% of consumers have texted a business unprompted, which signals an expectation that businesses are already text–enabled3. This mindset shift has come at a time when frictionless experiences are now expected: 64% of consumers think companies who text value their time, are progressive and would recommend them to others4.
This shift in expectations for utmost convenience is also accompanied by overwhelming app fatigue. Texting does not require a person to download a company’s brand-specific app or a third-party messaging app. Texting apps are native on phones. Studies have shown that 77% of consumers say that they use texting more than other messaging tools3. Using the native texting app on their phone, consumers say, helps keep messages organized and ensures that new messages aren’t missed or buried in other messaging apps.
Moreso, good customer service is defined by convenience and effortlessness. Texting is already a part of the daily routine and is the number one activity on smartphones5, even edging out browsing the Web. Plus, the threshold for being on hold has all but disappeared: 81% of people get frustrated waiting on hold on the phone or a computer to talk to an agent6. Texting can do away with a lot of the inconvenience that typically comes with reaching out to customer service.
SMS represents an incredible opportunity to provide hyper-convenient, immediate and effortless support. It’s a channel that already commands so much customer attention and if SMS support is deployed properly, the frustrations with modern-day customer support could be eliminated.
Interested in learning how SMS can fit into your multi-channel customer support strategy? Let’s chat! 📲