SMS (text messaging) has been around since the early nineties. Available on smartphones and old feature phones alike, it is the most widespread communication channel besides voice. According to a study by Informa, commented on by Netsize in an April post here, 9.4 trillion SMS text messages are to be sent in 2016, representing an increase of 19% year-on-year since 2011. “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 over, it has clear advantages, particularly over voice and IVR:
- It is asynchronous: it does not take the user’s entire attention, i.e. they can pursue other tasks while interacting via SMS
- It is more user-friendly: it lets the user 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
- It is less intrusive: an SMS dialog can be conducted silently, during meetings, in presence of others, while travelling (though not while driving), etc. It also allows for breaks, 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 predominant in some regions of the world
- It is personal: a mobile phone belongs to one person, it is not shared typically
- 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. primarily as a one-way street. The channel, however, lends itself nicely to other usages as well, including interactive dialogs, also called 2-way SMS. 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 even shows that participants of text-based surveys answer more honestly, 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 have a look at an example:
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 accomodation 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. 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.
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 VoiceObjects addresses all these needs and provides a consolidated application lifecycle environment for both voice, SMS, mobile Web, and Twitter applications. Time to engage!