Today I got to thinking about the tremendous growth of a little thing that we call SMS. It seems like I receive a text message nowadays for everything ranging from my dentist’s office confirming an upcoming appointment to the airline company alerting me of a change in my flight status. And yet the reality is that only seven percent of consumers use SMS to communicate with businesses, far behind email, and voice calls (source: Statista.com). But they want to. Nearly 80 percent of people wish they could contact businesses via text (source: Textrequest.com). So why don’t they? They just might not know they can. And the same is true for many small business owners. They too may not realize that you can easily make and receive business phone and SMS communications through an office number. Here are some considerations for leveraging texting for customer communications:
- Use your office line to send and receive text messages – Many small business owners may not know that, thanks to cloud telephony, there are cost efficient services that allow routing your business number to your cell phone to send and receive text messages. Within many organizations you may find that owners and employees alike are using their personal cell phone numbers for business communications, but there are pitfalls to this approach, such as not conveying the professional image you want for your company or interfering with work/life balance (source: cloudphone.com blog). Many cloud phone providers offer SMS-enabled virtual numbers that you can use as the main number for your business. These numbers can be routed to multiple phones during the work day — desk phones, cell phones, etc. — and can be managed online. Some providers also offer virtual numbers capable of handling extensions for businesses that have a need to route callers to different customer-facing departments (e.g., press 1 for sales, 2 for billing, 3 for support, etc.)
(Source: iTunes.com – Cloud Phone app)
- Give customers the ability to reply – There is a clear connection between reminding your customers of an upcoming meeting or appointment and the likelihood of them actually showing up. But where some companies fall short is in not allowing a two-way communication. Allow customers to actually respond via text if they need to change their appointment or would like a call back to reschedule their appointment or if they have questions about their service. For example, Zipcar uses texts to confirm booking and send out reminders (source: gigaom). But it also alerts users when their reservation is about to end and if the car is available for extension. If it is, users can then extend their booking by sending a text back. Look for services that include two way SMS capabilities as part of your plan.
- Let your customers initiate the SMS dialogue — As I mentioned earlier, customers want the ability to send text messages to companies. Sometimes it may just be a convenience factor but it also may be because they are tired of being placed on hold. Shockingly only 14 percent of calls are answered before being placed on hold (source: Businesstime.com). If you haven’t tried letting customers reach out to you via text it may sound scary but the reality is that if you set up the program by dedicating a business phone number for this purpose you can easily monitor its use. And who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised at what the new level of customer service does for your bottom line. Happy customers come back, and hopefully spend more. Start small by only giving the number to your VIP customers so you can respond to their texts in a timely manner. Once you’re comfortable, grow the program from there.
- Glean valuable feedback – This can be an informal effort by allowing your team to send individual text messages to a specific customer following a recent interaction. For example, say a customer has called your business number and spoken with your customer service team. Following the call, your employee could send the customer a text message to thank them for their time and ask for simple feedback. Any service business, whether you own an Italian restaurant, a hair salon, or a real estate brokerage, can benefit by simply asking the question “How did we do? How could we do better? On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rank your recent experience?” Of course it’s up to you how you leverage this data, but your customers will value being asked and as long as the text message is relevant and sent immediately following the service so the request is timely.
- Share carefully planned tips and advice aligned to customer life cycle – Customers that give you the authorization to send them text messages have an expectation that you will honor that privilege by only sending them appropriate content that won’t liter their message queue but rather enriches the dialogue that they have with you. So take heed to only send appropriate content that has been carefully thought out. Some content might be best reserved for other communication channels such as email if there isn’t a level of urgency or if the content isn’t highly relevant. For example, if you are simply trying to stay in touch with customers with monthly newsletters sending a link via a text might feel obtrusive. However, let’s say you have a promotion about to kick off in an hour and you want to give your best customers an hour jump on the sale or event, a text is great way to get their attention quickly and the text message channel will feel appropriate to them as well given the sense of urgency. This gives you or your team members the ability to personally reach out to customers in a meaningful way.
So while the idea of opening up the SMS communication channel may feel daunting, it really can be as simple as stopping to rethink what’s possible by simply putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. What would make you want to use text messaging versus email? Is it the level of urgency? Perhaps you simply don’t have time to type an email but firing off a simple text message is completely doable. Whatever the motivation there are instances when text messaging is appropriate. And thanks to advances in communication technology the power is in the hands of every business, small to large, thanks to a growing number of cloud phone providers. And your customers are likely to get the message. That’s because SMS doesn’t need the latest smartphone; it works on older mobile phones just as well.
Most importantly, let your customers know that this communication channel is open to them. Consider using one number specifically for this purpose that connects to your main line. List the number in your app or on your website where it’s relevant. And as always make sure you follow the rules by gaining customers’ permission and making it clear how their number will be used. Follow the regulations in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act to keep on the right track.