SMS Reloaded: An Old Technology, but a New Business Communication Channel

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It’s hard to believe that SMS (text messaging) is actually older than today’s teenagers, having passed its 20th anniversary in December 2012. Available on smart phones and old feature phones alike, it is the most widespread communication channel aside from voice. A study by Informa predicts that 9.4 trillion SMS text messages will be sent in 2016, representing an increase of 19% year-on-year since 2011. According to the article, “If we zoom in on Application-to-Person and Person-to-Application SMS traffic, which according to Informa represents some 4.5 percent of the total SMS messaging volume in 2011, we see a healthy average year-on-year growth of close to 18 percent, to 6 percent of total SMS volume. This comes as no surprise. Enterprises know that the only way they can reach 100% of the population is through SMS.”

When looking at texting as a means to provide automated customer service, it has clear advantages, particularly over voice and IVR:

  • It can be asynchronous. SMS dialogs are typically conducted over a longer period of time; periods of “silence” are in the nature of SMS conversations.
  • It is more user-friendly. It lets users advance in a dialog at their own pace. Compared to voice self-service, it does not struggle with speech recognition (i.e. user input) challenges.
  • It is persistent. Dialogs are archived on a phone automatically, allowing the user to check back on things like confirmation numbers or other data otherwise hard to remember (addresses, names of medication, etc.).
  • It is more tolerant to network coverage issues than, e.g., data.
  • It is less intrusive. An SMS dialog can be conducted silently, during meetings, in the presence of others, while travelling (though not while driving), etc. It also allows for breaks and interruptions, at least of reasonable duration, before a new session would be started.
  • It is ubiquitous. It works on ANY cell-phone, and older feature phones are still predominant in some regions of the world.
  • It is personal. A mobile phone belongs to one person, it is not typically shared like a landline phone at home is in a family.
  • It is cheaper to provide than IVR technology.

As a customer service tool, automated text messages are mostly used for reminders, notifications, or confirmations today, i.e. communication is primarily one-way. The channel, however, lends itself nicely to other usages as well, including interactive dialogs, also called two-way SMS, or Interactive Text Response. As an example, consider surveys:

  • Post-call surveys to inquire about satisfaction with a customer service representative
  • Product surveys to understand preferences and usage of products
  • Hospitality surveys to get feedback on room and service quality, etc.

SMS proves an ideal medium for surveys, mainly for the reasons stated above. Research shows that participants of text-based surveys answer more honestly and accurately and find the medium less intrusive.

As surveys are something a business usually imposes on a user/customer, they better make sure they are as convenient to fill out as possible. Let’s look at an example:

 SMS-1

At a hotel, the receptionist asks the guest at check-in whether they would be willing to receive a text message with a short survey. If they agree, an automated system schedules the first message such that the guest has had a chance to evaluate the quality of accommodation first, but not too late. The idea being that if it turns out that the guest gave one or more items bad ratings, the hotel manager or staff on duty is alerted, e.g. via another text message to their phone. That way, they can immediately respond and try to resolve the issue.

The SMS channel can also be used to provide self-service, e.g. for account management order tracking, car rental, etc.

 SMS-2

For providers, SMS turns out to be a lot cheaper than traditional IVR solutions, as it requires far less sophisticated technology as, e.g., automatic speech recognition. However, dialog management, backend integration, and reporting usually remain a necessity. Voxeo CXP addresses all these needs and provides a consolidated application lifecycle environment for voice, SMS, mobile Web, and Twitter applications.

With Aspect’s recent announcement of its new Proactive Engagement Suite, businesses can now quickly run outbound campaigns that make best use of the SMS channel.

Time to engage!

Tobias Goebel

Tobias is Director of Emerging Technologies at Aspect. He has over 14 years of experience in customer care technology and the contact center industry with roles spanning engineering, consulting, pre-sales engineering, program and product management, and product marketing. As part of Aspect's product management and marketing team today, he works on defining the future of the mobile customer experience, bringing together channels such as mobile apps, messaging, voice, and social. He is a frequent speaker and blogger on topics around customer service and, more recently, the (re-)emerging chatbot, NLP, and AI technologies. Tobias holds degrees in Computational Linguistics, Phonetics, and Computer Science from the universities of Bonn, Germany and Edinburgh, UK.
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