Texting is one of the easiest ways to talk to friends, but is it helpful when communicating with customers? If you’re not effectively engaging your clientele with SMS conversations, you’re missing an important piece of the customer experience.
But don’t just pick up your phone and start messaging everyone who’s visited your store or website. Every company has the option to start five different types of SMS conversations. So read through this list to discover which type is right for your business.
What’s the Big Deal with SMS?
According to Pew Research Center, text messaging — most commonly done as SMS messaging — is the most widely used smartphone feature, surpassing phone calls, emails and internet use.
And it continues to grow. Last year, West sent an average of 76.5 million SMS messages per month. This year, we hit more than 131 million in a month, creating an estimated year-to-year increase of 87 percent.
Phone traffic has increased at a much slower pace, growing by only about 5 percent. More and more people simply don’t like calling, so supporting the texting channel has become an important piece of an enjoyable customer experience.
As a lower cost and more convenient option, SMS is growing into its position as channel of choice for the future. And businesses have started taking notice. In our experience, text messaging is the most highly sought-after channel for brands wanting to connect with their customers.
But that doesn’t mean all brands are on equal footing. Many forward-thinking companies have used text messaging since its earliest days and adapted to changes, but others have merely maintained old technology. And for any newcomers to the channel, there may be more to SMS than you’d expect.
The “short message service” has come a long way since the first text was sent in 1992, so here’s everything you need to know about our thumbs’ favorite way to communicate.
1. One-Way SMS
The earliest use of SMS in the corporate sphere was pretty limited. A business had something to say, so they sent out a single text message blast to get the word out.
Much like TV advertisements or highway billboards, it was “I speak, you listen,” and that was the end of the conversation. A pharmacy could send a reminder for someone to refill a prescription, but it would have no idea if the person decided to order the refill or even if he or she received the message.
With a cell phone in 91 percent of American adults’ pockets, one-way SMS is still an effective way to share news and important information. But the market soon realized there was a better way to use the tool to provide greater benefit for both consumers and companies.
2. Two-Way SMS
With two-way SMS, customers respond to messages sent by their favorite brands. A television provider might send a message warning a consumer about a subscription that was about to expire. The recipient can instantly let the provider know he or she wants to renew, and automation will take care of the rest.
That’s convenient for everyone, but it still has its limits. Responses to these types of messages are usually limited to specific keywords. For example, the TV provider might ask if the subscriber wants to renew by responding “SUBSCRIBE” or “CANCEL.”
While that’s easy to understand, it’s hardly conversational. As Americans adapt to new technology with advanced voice recognition systems, they expect more from text recognition, as well. And so a third form of SMS conversation emerged.
3. Conversational SMS
Some text requests become too complicated for automation to handle. So to keep the conversation going in the customer’s channel of choice, some leading-edge companies have initiated conversational SMS using programs that transfer the customer to an agent when necessary.
When a request becomes complicated, there’s nothing more effective than getting help from an actual person. So programs like West’s SMS Assistant brings an agent into SMS conversations.
SMS Assistant is a web-based application that works much like an online chat service. An agent types a message on screen, and the customer reads it on a cell phone. The service also suggests responses and lets the agent communicate with multiple people at once, keeping every conversation moving smoothly.
These types of SMS conversations have been around for about two years and are still evolving. By combining automation and agent support, consumers will frequently exchange 20 messages before ending the conversation. But as new as conversational SMS is, innovators are already at work implementing the next stage in SMS’ evolution.
4. Toll-Free Texting
Toll-free texting, also known as 8XX or 8YY texting, makes connecting with consumers even simpler. Instead of asking your customers to text you via a new five-digit number, why not use the number they already know?
With 8XX texting, a company’s toll-free (1-800, 1-888, etc.) number receives SMS text messages. That’s channel of choice in the simplest form.
While connecting your toll-free number to SMS is currently the cutting edge of SMS conversations for business, it’s not the only new option in the market. Communications companies continue to innovate, and West recently tested a new product that maintains conversational SMS but cuts out the agent completely.
5. SMS Chatbots: The Future of SMS Conversations
West just finished testing a new chatbot for the nation’s largest utility provider. The chatbot allowed customers to start or stop service or ask frequently asked questions.
By reading text, viewing images and understanding context clues, SMS chatbots learn from every interaction with a customer. Chatbots are already being tested in medicine, psychology and customer service, so these new developments in artificial intelligence are clearly the fifth generation in SMS technology.
BONUS: RCS, a New Frontier
There’s one more type of text message to pay attention to. Truth be told, it’s not really a form of SMS conversations at all. It’s called Rich Communication Services, or RCS, and it could replace SMS in the next few years.
RCS provides users with much greater functionality than SMS. RCS makes it possible to include your logo with every message, collect read receipts, view analytics and review delivery reports. In addition, RCS supports a much wider range of content features. For comparison, think about Apple’s iMessage or Google’s soon-to-be-defunct Allo.
RCS isn’t widely available yet, but at least one carrier could make it available in 2019. So be prepared to adopt this new technology into your multichannel messaging strategy.
The Right SMS Conversations for Your Business
From radio to phone calls to web chat, every channel has its best practices. Over the years, SMS has proven to be most effective through conversations. So if you’re new to SMS or are looking to upgrade, make sure your new solution is up to date and gives your customers the best experience.
For more help with SMS, check out this article to discover four ways to reduce call volume with SMS. And feel free to call or text a West expert at 800.841.9000 to learn more about what SMS can do for you.
Be on the lookout for the next stage in SMS’ grand evolution. As its popularity rises, customers will surely be communicating with their thumbs for years to come.