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Six reasons SMS should be at the heart of customer service strategies

31st May 2016
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Sometimes, in the rush to constantly innovate and maintain the pace of change, we lose some of the things that made us great in the first place. In a world that’s increasingly over complicated, it’s reassuring to find havens of simplicity. Design classics are always simple and yet embody incredible power to move you. This is especially true of technology, where there is an enormous stock of good will for classic, simple, safe systems that do exactly what you expect of them.

The Short Message Service (SMS) could be considered a true classic: it’s a simple system that was designed to do one job – and has fulfilled it beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. It was devised by telco engineers to send messages on signalling paths when no connection existed. That was back in 1982, but the system they created was so simple yet practical, it eventually went ‘viral’ in a way that no other system of communication has.

Today SMS is still one of the most widely used data applications, with an estimated 3.5 billion active users. In September 2014, global SMS messaging business still accounted for almost 50 percent of all the revenue generated by mobile messaging. As an ‘over the top’ application it still offers the mobile industry unexploited new seams of value. As we shall see below, text messaging offers far more than the sum of its parts.

The same attributes that made it a success with consumer-to-consumer conversations – its safety, simplicity and synergy – help to make it an incredibly cost-efficient and powerful tool for business-to-consumer conversations. As we shall see, SMS manages to be both widely understood and highly intimate.

Here are six reasons SMS should be in any customer service strategy:

1. Simple

The simplicity of SMS is what makes it so powerful. It gets straight to the point. If customers want a conversation, they want to get it started quickly! That’s why SMS has been so successful. It saves time.  It’s also why SMS is vital in a customer service strategy; it is immediate and gets straight to the heart of customers who like to have one-on-one communication. Anyone can use it, therefore texting, rather than calling, has become second nature to most.

2. Universal

SMS is on every mobile phone; customers don’t need the latest smartphone or the strongest signal quality to use it. Plus, almost everybody today knows how to text, and we all know the rules of engagement. This makes it easy for companies to adopt and cuts the burden of training staff. It means that users and agents alike will take to it straight away.

It’s equally versatile at the server end too, working with every server, operating system and customer relationship management package going.

Today, it is possible for organisations to implement SMS communications within the existing contact centre to deliver a seamless experience for users – no extra staff are needed as chat agents handle the contact. Furthermore, if the conversation is linked to an omni-channel interface, the history of the customer’s contact can be tracked, regardless of whether they are liaising with the brand via SMS, an app or online.

3. Personal

Unlike some forms of customer communication, SMS feels personal. This is because it maintains a continuity and consistency of tone. One of the most off-putting aspects of calling into a contact centre, for example, is that the customer often feels as if they are re-starting their engagement and explaining themselves all over again to every new person or department they get transferred to. 

An SMS feels more like a single conversation. In a conversation, each person listens to the other.

Forrester Research, found that three quarters (77 percent) of US online consumers with mobile devices will send or receive text messages at least monthly. Of that same US sample group, half will make direct purchases after receiving an SMS from a brand.

4. Unforgettable (in your hand and in your mind)

Real-time communication is the key for today’s always-on consumer. It is reported that 90% of all text messages are read within three minutes of receipt. Handsets go everywhere with the user, so they can always find a spare moment to dash off a query. Given the offline nature of the system, users can work around the availability of the network. For example, if you’re on an underground train, out of signal for your mobile operator, you can compose a message and post it later. Hence, SMS becomes a more thoughtful medium because there is no rush to write a response before you lose the signal or the attention of the help desk operator.

5. Adaptable

The immediacy of SMS is exemplified in how people use it for getting need-to-know information when they travel. For example, when you are on the way to the airport, you are most likely to rely on text messages (be they from TripAdvisor, the AA or Transport for London) - the only guaranteed way to get up-to-the-minute information about flight changes and road holdups. Similarly, in times of any crisis, you will notice that SMS is the trusted medium. It is like the BBC World Service of the mobile communications world.

6. Sophisticated  

The text message was invented in the days when handheld devices were relatively dumb. Today, a smartphone is like a portable broadcasting studio, so powerful are the options for filming, editing and broadcasting. SMS beckons the customer in with a simple intro, then leads them into a world of sophisticated customer service options.

Text is a brilliant editor because it lowers the computing load on the handheld device. If any sophisticated applications are to run on the SMS-based system, they will be run centrally. All the phone user has to give is their unique ID, which, for simplicity’s sake, is almost always their phone number. That ID opens doors to all kinds of interactive responses, automated support and customer service. It allows us to know everything about the customer, where they are going, what they like and what they need.


When it comes to text messaging it is still the method of communications that every mobile user has access to, regardless of device, operating system, telco provider or tariff.  However, SMS technology is still untapped by some businesses when it comes to engaging with customers.

We believe that those brands that fail to enable text as part of the customer service and engagement strategy are missing a prime opportunity.  SMS should be at the very heart of a customer service strategy because it is a great communicator. It’s a great listener, it doesn’t overpower the other user and it is easily one of the best means of a one-to-one conversation. SMS is the helpful assistant you would always seek out in a shop because it knows everything and everyone, but never forgets you.

George Skaff, CMO, TouchCommerce

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