Share this content

Texters Are Standing By: The Rise of the SMS Customer Experience

4th Mar 2016
Share this content

Want to book the cheapest flight to the Bahamas this winter? Schedule a house cleaner? Snag Rihanna tickets for your daughter? Just send a text.

At least, that’s what a group of SMS centred start-ups want us to do. Simply text them any request and a customer service agent (CSA) will make it happen. Virtually anything is fair game, according to Mike Chen, cofounder of an SMS-based start-up called Magic that launched last spring: “As long as it’s legal and possible we can do [it],” Chen told TechCrunch. “It may be expensive, you may want a helicopter to Vegas, but if it’s possible, we will do it.”

Magic is joined by two similar “conversational” services: Operator, “an iPhone app that connects you to experts to help you find what you want,” and the forthcoming Cloe, “a text message concierge.” These three apps could be viewed as merely the latest round of on-demand services to join Uber, Handy, Deliveroo et al but these are “apps” of a very different kind.

By combining an SMS customer experience with SMS-based customer service, these companies represent a fascinating next step in the development of mobile-based business. They may also represent the evolution of customer service itself. First, Magic and Cloe don’t even have an app. They use any existing SMS messaging client, which means their new-user learning curve is almost non-existent. (Operator is a bit different in that it uses its own native application, but it still relies on ordinary text-messaging as its main user interface.) Customers simply send texts to a phone number as they normally would, which makes interacting with an online business as intuitive and effortless as communicating with a friend. To use these app-less apps, one’s phone doesn’t even need to be “smart.”

Second, Magic, Cloe, and Operator are businesses built entirely around customer service agents. On-demand services like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Deliveroo rely on computers to process customer requests and use their partners in the field to interact with customers directly, live and in person. Their CSAs typically only get involved if a customer needs additional help. But when customers contact a service like Magic, their experience begins with a text message to customer service. There’s no store or menu to browse, no shopping cart, no checkout process, and no one to deal with or complain to other than the versatile texter you’re engaging with. It’s CX minimalism at its finest.

Cloe is a service of a different order. Billing itself as “Siri’s smarter sister” and using a basic form of artificial intelligence (A.I.), Cloe relies on customer data including users’ location, habits, interests, and preferences to deliver answers and fulfil requests, keeping human-agent involvement to a minimum.

“How it works is exactly like a friend,” Cloe cofounder Chase Hildebrand told Fast Company. “The more you’re communicating with her, the more she’s going to know”. For the foreseeable future, Cloe will still require human agents to operate effectively and ensure that all data-driven personalisation efforts are actually helpful. But one can imagine what will happen as advanced cognitive computing platforms such as IBM Watson continue to develop in the ways of SMS-based CX.

But for now, maybe the growing popularity of SMS as a customer interaction channel presents a new possibility for the CSAs of enterprise contact centres, many of whom would probably prefer to work from home or a coffee shop if the opportunity presented itself. Currently, VOIP phone connections and cloud-based Omni-channel software enable agents to work remotely, but with SMS as the engagement channel there may be even less need to keep agents cloistered in a corporate box all day long. All an agent needs is a laptop, a smartphone, and maybe a favourite smiley emoji. Maybe agents could be paid per engagement rather than set hours? Will we soon see the rise of the SMS-based freelance CSA, with agents chosen by businesses, based on skillsets and performance rankings, from a database of CSA profiles? Will someone create the “Uber of CX,” enabling enterprises to enlist customer service agents on demand, perhaps using the on-call agents to easily scale “virtual contact centres” as needed for the holiday shopping season?

Whatever happens, as these new SMS services demonstrate, the old-school art of texting remains one of the most pervasive and important communication channels there is. Not everyone in the world has a smartphone, but the vast majority of people, six billion by some estimates, have the ability to text and thanks to Internet-based messaging clients like WhatsApp, WeChat and Skype, it’s now easier than ever to send a text message anywhere in the world for free. So why not see if you can Magic up those Rhianna tickets?

Replies (0)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

There are currently no replies, be the first to post a reply.