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"Thumbs On" Done Right Gets A "Thumbs Up"

SMS Customers

Did you know that there’s a fair chance you can tell someone’s age by the way they ring a door bell? Sounds weird? Not at all! Research indicates that whilst most adults over 20 will use their index finger to ring a doorbell, the majority of people under 20 will actually use their thumb. Why? Because mobile devices have become so ubiquitous that they’re actually changing the way we’re using our hands. We use our thumbs when texting and shopping on our mobiles and tablets – making the well-trained thumb the “finger of choice” in the doorbell situation for Gen Y’ers and younger.

This trend is reflected in a recent study conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of inContact. The study set out to gather insights directly from consumers about their online and phone purchases and related service experiences. This research confirmed two facts that are important to keep in mind when looking into SMS or text as a channel in your contact center. Firstly, about one third of U.S. adults surveyed would use SMS/text messaging with companies more often if it were available. Not surprisingly, those ages 18-54 are almost twice as likely to agree with this statement as those ages 55+ (42% compared to 24%). And secondly, American consumers have high expectations. The vast majority of them (86%) expect companies to let them choose options for follow-up or proactive communications from channels such as email or SMS / text.

Where does that leave us for SMS / text in the contact center? We believe that this channel deserves focus. Customer expectations to support it are certainly on the rise, and will continue to grow as Generation X, and even more so Millennials and Generation Z start playing the leading role in the economy.
From theory to practice: when looking for a solution to deploy the channel in your contact center, you should carefully consider both inbound and outbound usage scenarios, because both are desirable and often equally important from a customer perspective.

Let’s look at inbound SMS handling first. To state the obvious: there is a lot of value in handling SMS / text as another one of your contact center channels, as opposed to in a separate part of your organization. Why? Because your contact center agents are already trained and up to date on what customer service means for your company. They already have the skills and interact with your customers, day in, day out. They know the ropes, and understand how to represent your business.

That being said, does that mean that they can just “hop on” and start handling SMS? Some of them might, the younger ones will likely adapt to the new channel with ease. Some unique traits of the channel to keep in mind for the transition are: an SMS is short, requires fast turn-around (an SLA of one hour is actually considered long for SMS / text) and may have a slightly different communication “tone”.  Remember to clearly determine and communicate the SMS persona to present to the agents that will handle SMS / text.  The SMS persona defines what type of abbreviations and acronyms are allowable and helps ensure that your Millennials don’t use casual text speak that is acceptable in their personal texts when sending a message to a customer.
Using a consolidated interface enabling agents to handle SMS / text together with other channels (in particular text-based ones, like email) will help streamlining the introduction.

Also pay attention to whether your solution of choice gives you the option to route follow-up SMS interactions to the agent that handled the initial contact. And do make sure that the context from previous interactions is available with every new SMS / text interaction – your customers expect your agents to “be in the know”, and won’t take kindly to having to repeat what was already addressed in a previous text.

The place where inbound and outbound interactions meet is also an interesting area to keep in mind when looking into SMS / text as a channel. There are lots of scenarios where combining SMS / text to another channel such as voice can be very beneficial, so make sure you look into whether that is an option with your chosen solution. Just consider the following use case: Let’s say a customer calls your contact center asking for the status of their order. They are on the road and calling in from their cell. Now, chances are your customer will not have pen and paper handy to write down any data you might want to pass on to them – be it their order number for later follow up, or the time and date of delivery. In such a situation it can be very valuable to enable your agents to send a quick SMS to the customer that provides them with a written record of the information. Problem solved, First Contact Resolution accomplished.

Lastly, for outbound SMS you should ensure that the solution you choose offers the breadth and scope of functionality you might require – now and in the future. You might want to start out with using a simple broadcast of an alert or a notification to some or all of your customers.  Or you might at some point want to deploy a whole SMS / text solution, including self-service functionality and access to account information or knowledge bases. Whichever approach you take, make sure that where appropriate you offer your customers the option to interact with a live person – be it via SMS / text, or via another channel such as chat or even the good old phone. And then prepare your contact center to handle those interactions.

Sounds like a lot. But with the right solution it is absolutely doable. And in a time where seven in ten customers say that they would even pay more for a product or service that has a good service reputation, offering another channel such as SMS / text may well tip the scales in your favor. So grease your thumbs, and start texting!