Global brands are increasingly taking advantage of a Short Message Service (SMS) to connect to customers and improve customer communication and engagement.
This trend is taking root amongst small companies too, as they grasp the potential to not only communicate effectively in real-time but use SMS to save time and money in their customer relations procedures.
Too distant and “robotic”?
Anyone with lingering concerns that creating customer service systems based on text messages is somehow “cold” – and likely to meet with customer disapproval – may need to re-evaluate their understanding of just how comfortable millennials are with mobile technology.
And how simplistic systems need to be to earn their attention and loyalty.
Research has shown that a high proportion of consumers are happy with a push button connection with customer services, rather than having to actually speak to a real person. Increasing numbers have a positive view of companies who use SMS in their communications. It can make companies look cutting-edge and highly responsive.
There are exceptions, which we will come back to.
Travel and hospitality sectors embrace SMS
Airlines are among the first worldwide operators who are appreciating how instant and easy-to-access SMS customer information can make them seem highly responsive and add a personal touch to airport experiences.
For example, on some Delta flights, passengers receive an SMS to notify them that their luggage has been loaded on the plane, and another to say it is ready and waiting in their destination.
Hotel chains are also realising that SMS is not just a great marketing tool. It also has numerous customer service applications too.
A welcome message to guests just after check-in can be a much-appreciated touch. Better still is if guests can also be given access to a response system – inviting them to text any issues, concerns or special requests to the concierge or room service.
Then when guests check out, while their experience is still fresh in their minds, they can be sent a text thanking them for their custom and requesting that all-important feedback about their stay. Not only does this gather data for improvement, it flatters guests into feeling important – their opinions matter.
Negative ratings? Well, they may just text back to you instead of complaining on TripAdvisor!
When you need immediate customer responses
There are other types of organisations beginning to fully appreciate how text messaging services can improve customer relations and consumer experiences. This is particularly true if you need to connect with customers with some immediacy, as SMS is so instant.
Text message open rates are pretty much 100%. They are also usually opened within three minutes of being received. Customer communications by any other channel can’t even come close to that success rate or quick response.
And leaving messages on voicemails is no longer as effective as it once was, as increasing numbers of consumers are admitting they don’t check message inboxes as often as they should. Or they listen and don’t necessarily action a response. This is another example of the fast pace of modern communications and the shortening attention span of consumers.
So what type of organisations need to get responses that are time-tied? Healthcare bodies are a prime example.
Increasing numbers of providers are using SMS to remind patients of appointments. This is viewed as a customer service by patients, but also reduces DNA (did not attend) rates drastically and therefore improves efficiency.
Other applications of SMS in customer service
SMS is also being used by other companies to remind customers about appointments, from hair salons to vets.
One of the reasons for its increasing popularity for business communications like this is that it saves time, compared to ringing round or sending letters. As mentioned earlier, customers can greatly appreciate appointment reminders received in this way. They have more chance of spotting the nudge and can sometimes transfer it straight into their digital calendars.
Car repair shops are using SMS to inform customers when vehicles are ready for collection. But they are also issuing text message reminders that MOTs and services are due. The latter can appear like a friendly reminder but clearly serves a marketing purpose too in ensuring a regular flow of repeat visits from customers.
The exception – customer complaints
There are few things in life more likely to get steam coming out of our ears than automated processes when we have an axe to grind.
SMS as a customer complaints device is rarely well received. When someone has a negative issue or provides damning feedback, expecting them to complete SMS surveys or text back may actually push their buttons in all the wrong ways. On those occasions, a human voice is far better.
Putting systems in place to support SMS customer service
By now you may be excited about the many applications and benefits of real-time communications with customers via SMS services. However, you now need to take a long hard look at whether your organisation is geared up to support this interactive customer service process.
For example, customers using text messages may well expect some form of response 24/7, even if it is just a holding text. Make sure your business SMS provider works with you to create well-worded responses to customer interaction out of office hours.
A good example of how a lack of planning can seriously devalue SMS customer service initiatives comes from hotels. If you invite guests to communicate issues about their accommodation or make room service requests via text messaging, you can score massive merit points. If, however, those text messages go unanswered overnight or during busy times, the system is an equally massive turnoff for guests.
A simple response asking for patience at busy times or the wee small hours of the night can mitigate disappointment and keep the guests on your side.
Customer service SMS and GDPR
When using SMS for customer service applications, strategic planning is required. Too many messages from different departments of the company can become intrusive and irritating.
Perhaps more crucially, you need to work closely with your SMS provider in the UK to prepare for the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations. The GDPR will come into effect in 2018. Britain’s exit from the EU is not hugely significant, as the GDPR covers all databases that include EU citizens – so impacts on most major companies.
Some organisations – even high street names – are still struggling with compliance to the Data Protection Act. But in 2018, customer interaction is going to get a great deal more complex under the new regulations.
The GDPR provides consumers with far greater control over how their data is collected, stored, used, transferred and ultimately disposed of.
Consumers rights are going to be much stronger, making it easier than ever to step over the line between good customer service and intrusive marketing.
To talk to an SMS provider in the UK who knows the potential and the pitfalls of using text messaging in customer service systems, contact Fastsms today.