There have been many a lively conversation between Ushur and external companies who are replacing their aging person-to-person texting solution or contemplating introducing one for the first time, and we decided to turn it into a piece on digital transformation and the channels enterprises choose to support and why.
Digital transformation has only been part of the enterprise's daily vocabulary for the past decade or so, but it has been underway for more than half a century. That is because the age of the digital consumer driving that change is new, and yet digital solutions for business and government are somewhat older. As proof, the precursor to Internet, ARPANET, was created back in 1969 by the US Department of Defense and businesses have spent just as long adopting digital systems to facilitate their day-to-day operations. Today, our mobile-first moment we live in has left companies who have spent the last 50 years adopting other technology trying to catch up with today's mobile-first and text-first customer expectations. We've come to learn that their strategies for mobile-based customer engagement must be proactive and automated.
A digital history
Email became a mainstream channel of business communication in the mid-1990s—a huge leap forward from postal mail in speed, and far more convenient (and legible) than faxing. While the first text message "Merry Christmas" was sent (from a computer) in 1994, it was not until 2000 that Americans were sending 35 text messages monthly. Just two years later, there were 250 billion SMS messages being sent worldwide. By 2007, texting became more popular than calling.
One look at these statistics, and it becomes no surprise why automated text messaging is popular for business communications, too. However, before a company explores introducing an SMS automation platform, or even replacing a texting solution that may be reaching its end of life, some due diligence is warranted.
An argument for texting
Text is the digital channel, but thinking about the process as strictly person-to-person (i.e. manual) won't achieve an organization's objectives for improved customer experience, operational expense, and employee engagement. Texting needs to be bi-directional and can be automated and still satisfy the demands of a digital-native enterprise customer base and employees.
From this perspective, it's also a big miss to think about texting as strictly an inbound conversation that your customers initiate. Look at your own personal text message app - you likely see a range of proactive, automated communications and reminders separate from your contacts list, be it an alert of a power outage in your area, a shipping notification, or a nudge to confirm your restaurant reservation. Many enterprises have figured out that their customers prefer this as a channel and have begun reaching out via automated text messages.
Proactivity in texting customers is a departure from many peoples' understanding of the value that automated text messaging provides—and is a new best practice to have to incorporate. By comparison, most automated text messaging services will focus on the benefits of a preset schedule for marketing campaigns, and the ability to reach out to contact lists on a specific date with a link to new sales resources to expand the business. Our point of view is that expanded text message marketing is not actually the primary motivation. Rather, we believe that text automation and having the phone number of your customer represents a fair chance to engage in real-time two-way customer service thanks to the flexibility of AI-driven SMS workflows. Businesses can expand and enrich their customer journey in new and different ways.
Digital transformation and procurement
The goal with an SMS solution (new or replacement) should be a transformation (a complete change), but it is easy to get boxed into a tactical shift or even worse, no meaningful change at all. With today's elevated pace of change, sustaining the status quo is losing ground. Businesses must learn the behavior of adopting and adapting at a new, if not uncomfortable rate.
Introducing a new digital channel and selecting a technology solution begins with some internal scrutiny to fully understand both the current and target state. That target state must consider not only the desired customer experience, but the needed speed to value, and the intended operating model across your business and IT teams to deploy and develop your texting service and capabilities.
A checklist looks like:
- Scrutinize competitor approaches carefully because they may be tactical and less a source of customer satisfaction than an expensive and slow attempt to simply check a box. No company can afford to fake it, and your customers, who are also consumers in their daily lives, will quickly recognize it.
- Hold any prospective solution provider accountable for sharing customer experience and operational expense outcomes.
- Optimize for text message automation partners who have experience in SMS but can support the various channels your customer experience goals require via integrations or otherwise.
- Review the specific conversations where SMS is needed for customer engagement. Data to source includes your call center logs and interviewing your front-line employees.
- Look for the highest volume of questions coming into your organization - odds are, many involve requesting the status of something—like a payment, a claim, or an account change. You may discover that 20% of the inquiry types drive 80% of the activity.
When thinking about making the change from responsive to proactive, status inquiries are a great problem to start with. Pivoting to proactive and automated outreach removes the urgency and potential frustration of customers wanting to know something inherently relevant to the service a business provides them for which the service provider already has the information handy. After all—the best question is the one that is answered before the customer has to ask.
Proactivity as a practice can be as simple as an automated SMS reminder of a payment due date. Or a progress alert with a missing action step or task as an application is moving through the internal review process. As work is being processed within an internal system, there are opportunities to automatically trigger a complete and consistent message, say, when their claim payment will be issued and the amount.
If you're skeptical that proactive, automatic text messages can be a win-win - let me share just one example of our customer's success stories—Offering proactive claim status updates quickly resulted in a 35% reduction in inbound phone calls.
Users are constantly looking for the easiest way to interact with enterprises, and small businesses and business users are desperate to find an optimal process for using software to help their customers. That could be day of appointment reminders, pre-written messages, or keyword-triggered workflows with auto-replies to help a support team as a start.
When implemented correctly, customer experience automation supports inbound and outbound automation journeys across all channels—not only SMS. Engaging customers will help you get closer to them, better address their needs, and establish a loyal relationship. A partner who can help you think about digital transformation comprehensively will look at the channels you support and offer recommendations and opportunities for optimizing that relationship with the right tools at the right time.
If you're curious about the benefits of introducing SMS or other channels into your customer experience and want to learn more, reach out to consult with an expert!