SMS Customer Service and SMS Chatbot Strategies (Updated August 2021)

Written by Emily Cummins  on   Aug 9, 2021

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 sms messages, per person, per day. With that much volume, if your business does not have an SMS customer service strategy – powered by SMS chatbots – it’s obvious that opportunity is passing you by.

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 (think social media). In fact, 72% of consumers would prefer to text a business instead of receiving support-related phone calls2. Customer service and support powered by SMS chatbot builders represents a huge untapped opportunity for companies to provide excellent customer support, increase CSAT and decrease costs.


Learn more about companies using chatbots for customer service.


What is SMS Customer Service?

SMS customer service is any type of support provided by a company to a customer via text messaging to a phone number. 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.

What are the biggest opportunities for SMS Customer Service?

In addition to reaching customers through a vehicle they are using repeatedly throughout the day, messages sent through SMS chatbots offer two incredible opportunities to transform customer service: offering proactive support and eliminating hold times from other channels.

1. SMS opens the door for proactive, predictive and preventative support

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 through an sms bot. 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. 

2. SMS chatbots improve response times

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. 


AI can accelerate a digital support organization to a customer relationship powerhouse. Learn how here.


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. SMS is an effective natural language customer service platform that has the ability to create a great deal of customer satisfaction, but only when implemented with careful consideration.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 creating an SMS campaign for telecom customer service with customers, they can send and receive messages in a two-way conversation.
  5. Text the right use cases: Use your SMS platform 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 be handled through an automated conversation. Creating SMS conversation strings for complex use cases is not ideal. If a complex question arises, suggest the customer reach out on a different channel (or offer a call-back). 

Access all of the customer service stats you need to know this year here.


The growing customer appetite for SMS chatbots and 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! 📲

References 

  1. https://www.asktelemarketing.com/blog/2018/3/15/4-reasons-your-customer-service-should-include-sms 
  2. https://www.destinationcrm.com/Articles/Web-Exclusives/Viewpoints/Why-You-Should-Not-Overlook-SMS-as-a-Customer-Care-Tool-133666.aspx 
  3. https://www.zipwhip.com/state-of-texting-2020/ 
  4. https://www.slicktext.com/blog/2018/11/44-mind-blowing-sms-marketing-and-texting-statistics/ 
  5. https://www.eztexting.com/blog/2019-mobile-usage-statistics 
  6. https://mobilemarketingmagazine.com/best-practices-in-sms-customer-care 
  7. https://www.reviews.org/mobile/cell-phone-addiction/ 
  8. https://bagby.co/blogs/digital-wellbeing-pills/smartphone-addiction-facts-statistics-updated-2020 
  9. https://www.datapine.com/blog/call-center-metrics-and-kpis/ 
  10. https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/study-only-65-percent-us-households-have-landline-135212

Everything You Need To Know About Omnichannel Customer Experiences in 2021

Written by Emily Cummins  on   Jul 27, 2021

Today’s digital world is littered with companies providing omnichannel experience scenarios for their customers.

Here’s a real-life example of an omnichannel experience: While looking through photos, you see an ad on Instagram for an all-inclusive tropical getaway from an online travel agency. You click on the ad and start researching the property. You open your laptop to read reviews before you complete your booking. On the OTA’s app, you book activities to do while you’re there and receive restaurant recommendations via email (did we just describe your Thursday?) You get an email alert when it’s time to check in for your flight and SMS customer service updates when your flight is delayed. Your itinerary of booked activities and restaurants is printed off for you when you check in at the hotel, and you ask the concierge to change your evening’s dinner reservation as you arrive later than expected.

This is a true omnichannel experience. 

Today’s customer journey is complicated. Every customer has their own preferences of when and how to research and purchase, and follow up with questions and issues on their channel of choice. There is a growing expectation from consumers to have a truly seamless omnichannel experience: being able to start something on one channel and pick it up on another at a different time. 

Having a fluid omnichannel experience is critical to satisfying customers, driving loyalty and building long-term relationships. Customer expectations and what companies are providing, though, are not aligning:  71% of consumers want a consistent experience across all channels, but only 29% say they actually get it1.

In this post, we’re diving deep into everything companies need to know about omnichannel experiences in 2021. We’re answering these questions:

  • What is an omnichannel experience?
  • What’s the difference between multichannel and omnichannel?
  • Why is an omnichannel customer experience important?
  • What’s a good omnichannel strategy?
  • What makes an omnichannel experience great?
  • What are examples of great omnichannel experiences?

What is an omnichannel experience?

Omnichannel experience definition: An omnichannel customer experience enables a customer to interchange devices and move fluidly between channels, carrying context forward with every interaction. Omnichannel experiences merge and integrate the online, offline and physical (in-store, on-flight, on-property, etc.) worlds together, creating a truly seamless and consistent experience regardless of channel. Omnichannel experiences span sales, marketing and support and align messaging across platforms and internal business groups. 

Are omnichannel and multichannel experiences the same? 

“Omnichannel” and “multichannel” experiences are often used interchangeably, but there are a few key differences. Multichannel solutions offer customers the ability to perform tasks on many channels, but the channels are not integrated. Customer context is not carried forward. Communication is fragmented and disconnected. This compares to omnichannel experiences which create a cohesive, synchronized journey as a person moves between channels. A person does not have to repeat themselves, or restart a task. Most brands have implemented a solid multichannel strategy, but as expectations from customers increase for effortless and frictionless cross-channel interactions, there will be a significant shift towards truly omnichannel interactions. 

Why is omnichannel customer experience important?

Customer expectations for great experiences have never been higher: half of all customers say that Customer Experience (CX) is more important to them now than it was a year ago2. A big part of providing a good CX is being omnichannel. Here are the top five reasons why providing an omnichannel customer experience is important for brands in 2021. 

  1. Omnichannel is what your customers expect: The mindset shift of customers has accelerated significantly in recent years. Today, nine out of 10 consumers want an omnichannel experience with seamless service between communication methods3and approximately 60% of millennials expect consistent brand experiences—whether in-store, online or by phone4
  2. Omnichannel is how your customers are shopping and receiving support: It’s not just what people expect in some far-flung reality, it’s actually the behavior of the modern customer. Numerous studies have revealed the underlying shift in customer behavior. Two of the most well-regarded studies reveal that 73% of consumers use more than one channel on their shopping journey5 and as many as 85% of digital consumers start the purchasing workflow on one device yet finish it on another6. When we drill down into travel as one example, an Amadeus study found that the average accommodation purchase journey involves as many as 45 touchpoints across different devices and websites7. Customer behavior has shifted, and companies need to shift their marketing, sales and support strategies to accommodate this evolving behavior. 
  3. Omnichannel drives relationships: Investing in omnichannel experiences is a key ingredient in keeping customers loyal. Businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies see 91% higher year-over-year customer retention rates compared to businesses that don’t8
  4. Omnichannel unlocks new revenue: Companies will see revenue payoffs from long-term relationships, but also in the short-term. A study in the Harvard Business Journal finds that omnichannel customers spend 4% more in-store and 10% more online than single-channel customers. For every additional channel they use, customers spend more money5. Another study finds that shoppers who used three or more channels to interact with brands had a purchasing frequency rate that was 250% higher than single-channel users9
  5. Your competitors are omnichannel: Sometimes, even businesses need to keep up with the Joneses. Companies no longer compete just with competitors in their space. When it comes to customer experience, companies have to rise to the standards set by Amazon, Netflix and other customer-obsessed brands. As a result, investment in omnichannel experiences is on the rise:  the number of companies investing in this has jumped from 20% to more than 80% since 201210

To learn how Netomi is a one-stop, self-service solution for delivering omnichannel experiences, read this.


What makes an omnichannel experience great?

Now that we’ve covered why an omnichannel strategy is important, let’s discuss what exactly makes an omnichannel experience superior. 

First and foremost, companies need to be available on a variety of channels, empowering customers to complete tasks at each touchpoint – including email, chat, web, mobile app, SMS, etc. Being omnichannel doesn’t necessarily mean having all functionality available on each channel, but rather unlocking features and functionality on the channels that make sense, would provide value and offer a good experience. Take advantage of what makes each channel unique. Invite a person to ask friends for feedback on outfits on Messenger or vote on your next trip destination, for instance. Even when the same task might be available on multiple channels – like interacting with customer service, browsing or purchasing – the experience needs to be optimized for the particular channel. 

The core of omnichannel experiences is carrying context forward. Remove silos of customer data that live on different channels and within different departments to have a single view of the customer. This way, a customer is able to start a task on one channel and pick it up where they left off on another device or at another time. Customers don’t have to start a conversation over or repeat themselves. 

On its website, Zendesk talks about customer service agents who use its help desk platform have the power to “easily transfer the conversation from a chat app to a web chat, from an email to SMS, from social media to the phone—or any other combination that makes sense.11” For instance, if a customer reaches out on live chat with an issue, and the customer ends the chat thinking they have all of the answers they need, only to realize later there is one thing they forgot to ask. Away from her computer, she calls customer service instead. The agent quickly pulls up her profile and sees the interaction she previously had on chat and has all of the context to quickly resolve her issue.  

What is an omnichannel strategy?  

Creating an omnichannel experience requires sales, marketing, product and support teams to come together to align on messaging, functionality and strategy. Here’s the core components of an omnichannel strategy: 

  • Map your customer journey: Understand exactly when, why and where customers are interacting with your brand, and understand what context and data is needed to personalize each touchpoint. 
  • Continuously scale to new and emerging interaction channels: A few short years ago, WhatsApp was not on the radar as a channel for consumer and brand interaction. Today, there are over 5 million business users on the popular messaging app12. The channels that are on your radar today, may not account for what’s going to be important for your customers and business five, three or even one year from now. Ensure your technology stack is flexible to scale to new channels. 
  • Optimize the experience on every channel: As you scale to new channels, remove sources of friction. Be obsessive about finding ways to make tasks simpler or removing steps. 
  • Leverage the right technology: You can’t have a true omnichannel experience without the right tech stack. Have a single view of the customer in a cross-channel CRM platform. Leverage AI chatbots to manage some of the interactions autonomously, or pull data from back-end systems to arm human sales or support agents with digestible, relevant customer info in real-time. 
  • Apply predictive and machine learning: Identify patterns in behavior and opportunities to surprise and delight customers with new experiences or proactive care at key points along the customer journey. 

To find out what over 700 US consumers think about customer service,check out The State of Customer Service: 2021 Edition.


What are examples of great omnichannel experiences?

There are a few companies that have truly nailed the omnichannel customer experience. 

Starbucks is one of them. It’s mobile app, loyalty program and order-ahead functionality merges the digital and physical worlds effortlessly. On the app, you easily place your order. Payments are completed with the tap of a button.  You walk into the store, and your order is waiting for you. Your loyalty points are tallied up and stored on your account. Truly seamless. 

Another famous example of a great omnichannel experience is Walt Disney World. Nearly 21 million people visited its Florida park alone13. These visitors can plan their trip in advance, book shows and restaurants, reserve and manage fast passes, and more using the My Disney Experience tool. The Disney’s Magicbands enables visitors to unlock hotel rooms, check in at FastPass+ entrances, get directions and charge food and drink purchases to their hotel room…. all from a device on their wrist. 

To learn more about improving customer experience, visit:

References 

  1. https://go.gladly.com/customer-expectations-report-2020 
  2. https://www.zendesk.com/customer-experience-trends/ 
  3. https://www.uctoday.com/contact-centre/delivering-an-excellent-omni-channel-experience/
  4. https://www.sdl.com/about/news-media/press/2014/sdl-study-reveals-channels-are-irrelevant-to-consumers.html
  5. https://hbr.org/2017/01/a-study-of-46000-shoppers-shows-that-omnichannel-retailing-works
  6. https://www.tallysoft.com/5-omnichannel-retail-trends-2019/
  7. https://amadeus.com/en/insights/blog/omnichannel-vision-for-new-world-of-travel
  8. https://loyalty360.org/content-gallery/daily-news/survey-businesses-that-use-omni-channel-strategies-have-far-better-customer 
  9. https://www.clickz.com/onmichannel-marketing-automation-statistics-for-2019/231381-2/231381/
  10. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/retail-consumer/publications/assets/pwc-retailing-2020.pdf 
  11. https://www.zendesk.com/blog/omnichannel-really-means/
  12. https://www.pymnts.com/mobile-applications/2019/whatsapp-business-messaging-app-users/ 
  13. https://www.statista.com/statistics/232966/attendance-at-the-walt-disney-world-magic-kingdom-theme-park/ 

Choice Matters: The Importance of Multi-channel Customer Service

Written by Can Ozdoruk  on   Jun 23, 2020

In order to meet customer expectations, companies must provide multi channel customer service 

We live in an on-demand society. We expect anything delivered any time, anywhere. Receiving resolutions to our customer service issues is no different than getting caught up on the daily news. The expectation is for 24/7 access to multi channel customer service.

Multi-channel support has emerged as a major point of differentiation for companies of all sizes. The payoff for great customer satisfaction is huge. Good support pays in terms of revenue, retention, and reputation. The following customer service statistics will give you an idea of just how important it is for companies to invest in customer support:

  • 16%: Premium people will pay when accompanied by good customer experiences
  • 95%: Say customer service plays into brand loyalty
  • 33%: Switch companies after 1 instance of poor customer service

Core to a good experience is offering your customers a choice. Customers want choice for the channels on which they receive support. They also want a choice about when they are able to get problems resolved.  There are a growing number of futuristic (hello, Alexa) channels where people expect to be able to get a question answered or a problem resolved. Providing quick, convenient support experiences on the channels your customers prefer is key to great support. 

It’s no longer enough to be readily available on one or two channels, staffing agents to answer phones during limited business hours. The expectation is for 24/7, low-effort support on the channels of choice. Companies are not doing this today: Less than half of consumers find any customer service channel easy to use.  

How to offer multi-channel customer support 

Focus on making your customers happy by making them feel appreciated and listened to. Your customers expect customer support on these primary channels: 


Check out The Ultimate Guide to Delivering Exceptional Customer Support in 2022.


Circumstances change, and channel preferences are fluid 

Customers don’t usually have a single channel that they prefer 100% of the time. A person might prefer a customer self service website portal for a question about a return policy. While a more urgent matter is better suited for live chat. Some customers might prefer sending a refund request in a customer support email, while others might want to submit a complaint in between chats with friends on social media.

For every customer, the situation, their situational context, the urgency of a resolution and the nature of the issue directly changes their preferences for how they get in touch with service reps. It’s not just younger consumers who seamlessly flow between channels. There is an undeniable shift across age groups adopting more channels. The omnichannel experience is here to stay. 

Bring Humans and AI together, in union, across every channel 

It’s not just enough to offer a support team on these channels, you also have to provide personal support instantaneously. Consider this: 32% of people expect a response within 30 minutes on messaging platforms, and  57% expect the same response time at night and on weekends as during normal business hours. [To learn about specific response time expectations by channel, check out Hubspot’s blog here]. 

Most companies cannot afford to staff human agents round-the-clock, across every channel. It’s simply cost-prohibitive. Companies need to deploy AI across channels to act as the first line of defense. AI can solve repeatable queries autonomously, while escalating complex issues to human agents. While some companies are wary about AI, “45% of consumers don’t care who they interact with — live agent or chatbot — as long as the service is effective, accurate, and handled quickly.

A human and machine team effort is the only way to scale personal support across multiple channels without multiplying the current resource allocation to customer service. With customer service now directly impacting buying decisions and building loyalty, it’s essential that companies meet demands for convenient, cross-channel support. 

Celebrate each channel’s differences, and adapt your service accordingly 

Your interaction needs to be adapted to fit each channel. Messaging and chat are less formal, more conversational and expected to be immediate. Long-form sentences are hard to read in a chat environment. Short-form and abbreviations, on the other hand, don’t usually work on email.  

Choice matters. Let your customers decide how they want to resolve an issue and be a hero in their eyes. 

Interested in learning how we can increase your knowledge base and empower your company to scale multi channel customer service? Get in touch today.