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Why SMS is the ultimate customer service channel

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By Kristen Pimpini, Managing Director, Aspect ANZ

Customer service can be a complicated area, but there's one channel that stands above the rest: SMS. Although SMS, or short messaging service, doesn't get much love in the face of alternatives that seem higher tech, it's also the one channel that just about everyone has access to. But doing it right requires some fore-thought.

When you take a look at SMS, its attractions are clear. It's still the biggest medium across all demographics and geographies, and that's because although not everyone has a smartphone, just about everyone has a mobile of some sort. And all mobiles, smartphones, feature phones or otherwise, have access to SMS.

Where companies are doing SMS well is in terms of using it for reminders. Say you have a dental appointment coming up; the surgery can send a simple text to remind you of the fact.

Where companies aren’t doing well is in using SMS as a full-service channel. What happens if you get the SMS reminder about the dentist's appointment, and realise there's now a clash on your calendar because something else has come up? Or what happens when you get a text reminding you that a credit card payment is due, or that there's been some other transaction on your account? Most companies are not set up to take an SMS in reply from the customer.

This means that SMS isn’t really saving the customer time, because they have to get out their phone and make a call to change that dental appointment, or to let the bank know that a payment has been made on the credit card.

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In other words, the company isn't making life any easier for me—instead, it is putting most of the work in terms of an interaction with the company back on the customer's shoulders.

The company is also making the customer use a channel—voice and IVR (interactive voice response)—that many customers hate, and takes more time than is necessary.

So what is the answer? The solution to the SMS problem is to realise that text messaging is inherently a two-way medium, and companies striving to be customer service leaders need to use it as such. It doesn't even require expensive staff.

Interactive text response systems, that is, IVR scripts that happen to use text as the medium rather than audio prompts, are flexible, more tolerant to user errors and are also cheaper than IVR. They also don't struggle with speech recognition challenges or any of the other symptoms of poorly thought-out and implemented IVR.

It's time to embrace text messaging to its fullest, and realise it is an effective two-way communications channel, and a channel your customers love. Implementing a two-way text channel will simplify your customer relations, and increase customer loyalty. What's not to love about it?