Why Business SMS Must Be Part Of Your UCaaS Strategy

Introduction

Text messaging (SMS) is the most used data service in the world. (Nielsen, Pew Internet Research.)  Usage is not  limited by age, economics or geographic location. Adults over 55+ are sent and receive 16+ text messages a day (Experian Marketing Services). Texting is as much a part of the consumer market as it is integral to social and personal communications.   The statistics tell the story:

  • 90% of business leads would rather receive a text message than a phone call, according to FranchiseHelp. In short, you could be alienating your audience if you don’t text.
  • More than 50% of consumers would rather text for customer support than call, if given the option between the two. That would seem like a given, considering how much we all hate sitting on hold waiting.
  • Only 30% of consumers report actually receiving texts from the companies they patronize, despite stating that they would be open to receiving them.
  • 64% of consumers are likely to perceive a company contacting them by text in a positive light, according to Harris Interactive. The more positive the impression of your company, the more likely they’ll buy from you, or recommend you to friends and family.  See Customerthink

Business owners know that  SMS is a valuable part of their lead acquisition and customer engagement process.  But today most SMS communication is done with a personal mobile device that is not integrated with their businesses phone system.   This is changing.

Business SMS brings the ability to integrate SMS communications with your PBX and other business communications systems.  In the future, not having the ability to communicate with your customers and prospects using Business SMS will be the equivalent of not having company email or a company website today.

We believe that Business SMS will soon equal the importance of the telephone and email as a critical communications channel between businesses and customers.

Unified Communications (UC) is About Communicating More Effectively

The key driver for implementing technology as part of a business communications strategy has been to improve the effectiveness of communications. While this may seem obvious, overall effectiveness of communication is not a simple topic to define. Effectiveness can be broken down into a number of different addressable points.

Improving the Efficiency Of Communications  with Business SMS

The difference between efficiency and effectiveness is often a point of confusion. Efficiency is a measure of the speed of a task, or the effort it takes to complete that task. The single communications channel of UC is designed to get messages and responses to their intended targets faster. Each user has the ability to select how they want their messages (or notifications of waiting messages). If a person leaves a voicemail message on someone’s “office phone” they can get the notification that there is a message waiting via a text message, email or phone call. The waiting time between when the message is sent and when they “check messages” is reduced. Adding business SMS as a method of sending a message or notification will improve speed and efficiency of communications.

Lowering the Cost of Communications with Business SMS

Cost is lowered as a function of improving the speed of communications. Often times, entire processes have to wait until a key person makes a decision or approves a change. Getting a construction crew back to work or a manufacturing change approved can save a company thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars during a single incident.

Using unified communications to reduce the “human latency” introduced into an overall systemic process can create even greater savings. By reducing approval process times, a petroleum company was able to reduce the amount of oil they kept in inventory. This freed up millions of dollars that could be used in other areas of the business. Business SMS is another channel of communications that can lower costs.

Improving Customer Service and Employee Communications with Business SMS

We live in a time where service is king. This applies to both dealing with customers and employees. Unified Communications can move a process along to get issues resolved faster and with better outcomes by finding the right person to make a decision. When customers have more choices about whom to buy from this can be a key factor in maintaining that relationship. Customers are not just shopping on price anymore.  With more and more customers wanting answers quickly, concisely and at their convenience, business SMS can keep these customers happy.

As the labor market tightens, this same thing can be said about maintaining good relationships and outcomes with employees. As the labor market shifts to a “sellers market” it becomes easier for workers (especially high-cost skilled workers) to change jobs. Addressing questions about benefits, time-off, weather related closures and other company announcements with an integrated business SMS solution can greatly improve employee relations.

Business SMS Must be Part of Corporate Communications

It’s Effective

Whether a business is trying to communicate with existing customers or new prospects, communications are not effective if no one sees the message. Using an integrated business SMS system for these types of communications can be particularly effective.

Studies show that 90% of SMS messages are read within the first three minutes. According to CTIA.org, the average response time for an SMS message is just 90 seconds while the average response time for an email is 90 minutes.   And according to Mobile Marketing Watch 75% of all millennials would rather communicate via text about appointments, deliveries, coupons and the like.

It’s Asynchronous

A phone call is a synchronous mode of communication. Both parties (or all parties in the case of conference calls) must be part of the communication session at the same time. This requires the coordination of time and schedule for all involved parties and can often prove inconvenient. Voicemail tag is a real thing.

Email and texting are asynchronous forms of communication. The sender creates a message and leaves it for the receiver to review at a later time and respond. While this is convenient, messages can be lost in the overwhelming number of emails that are received. They may also be blocked by spam filters or simply set aside to be dealt with later and never addressed.

An integrated business SMS system strikes a good balance between these two issues. While it is asynchronous, the open and response rates referenced above show that SMS enjoys an immediacy that other types of communications do not.

It’s Personal and Trusted

Because SMS was first used for interpersonal communications it still enjoys the reputation of being personal and trusted. Carriers, Service Providers, and Regulators  are working diligently to maintain this high standard by implementing very strict regulations to prevent text spamming. Properly implemented a business SMS solution can leverage the personal and trusted status that SMS still holds.

Business SMS Enables True 2-Way Conversations

Current Uses of SMS in Business

There are many businesses that currently use texting as a non-integrated, “bolt-on” as part of their operation.

Notifications and Alerts

In most cases, SMS is used only for broadcast or notification purposes. In these cases, SMS is used in exactly the same way as older broadcast technologies like robocalling, automated email notifications, broadcast fax, and email blasts. Many of these techniques have been compared to tying a note to a rock and throwing it through your target’s window. You simply have to hope that your intended target picks up the rock and reads the note. In this case, SMS is used only as “a different rock.”

Current Uses For SMS/Text Messaging are:

  • Bulk SMS Marketing
  • Appointment Reminders
  • Delivery Notices
  • Alerts
  • Two-Factor Authorization (2FA)

Others Use SMS For Limited Inbound Purposes

Some businesses have taken the use of business SMS to the next level, in that they can receive and process  inbound texts for limited purposes. These tend to be “one-and-done” type uses where a user can text a code to a specific number to start a process, cast a vote or confirm an activity.

  • Request For Information
  • Polls/Voting
  • Delivery Confirmation

These are not two-way conversations. When a response is required, there is often a context switch where the response is done via a phone call or an email.

Business SMS is Essential to UC in Smart Phone/Mobile First Society

Integrated Two-Way Conversations That Include SMS/Texting

The future of business SMS lies in using it to create true dialogs with customers in the same way that it is currently used for personal communications. The text message becomes just another endpoint over which a person may choose to communicate with a business in the same way they currently may choose to call or email a business. Most importantly, if the customer chooses to communicate via texting, then the business has to be prepared to respond with a text and continue the conversation. A context switch to voice, email or some other form of communication should only happen if it is necessary to move the conversation (or sale) forward, NOT because the business is incapable of participating in this form of communication because they do not have an integrated business SMS solution available.

Context Switching And Mixed-Mode Communications Are More Common Than Ever Before

A context switch happens when the form of communication needs to change in order to move a conversation forward. You may be talking with someone on the phone when you come to the realization that you need to send them a document or drawing for review. The call is ended and the email is sent. You may then continue the conversation in email, or call the person back to continue the voice conversation now that the email has been reviewed. This conversation was mixed-mode with a context switch.

Adding SMS to this mix of communications alternatives complicates things even more. A conversation may start with a SMS, switch to voice when the conversation becomes complex, send a picture to supplement the conversation, follow-up with an email that requires a signature, and then return to voice. This may all happen on a single device or across multiple devices.

Integration is Necessary for Maintaining Identity, Branding, and Compliance When Switching Context

The context switch detailed above is problematic. Without the SMS component, all the communication is happening over business channels that maintain identity and branding. The calls are made to and come from a business number that is part of a PBX or office phone system. The emails are sent and received from a corporate domain. But when an SMS message is needed, the employee has no choice but to reveal their personal mobile number to the customer.

If  an integrated business SMS was in use, then the text message would come from the same telephone number as the voice call. The text message then becomes a part of the communications record with the client, just like emails and phone calls. This can be very important when multiple sales people are working on the same account and absolutely necessary to maintain regulatory compliance when working in the medical or financial fields.

Having calls and texts come from the same number (either a business DID or a toll free number) has branding benefits as well as improving the convenience for the customer. The customer can recognize this number or have this single number in the contact list, improving the open rate or speed to response.

The Need to Use Existing Telephone Numbers for Business SMS

The ability to carry on a dialog while switching between phone calls and SMS messages relies on the fact that the SMS messages are sent and received from the same business telephone number that is used for the phone calls.  In fact, the use of business landlines (sometimes referred to as long codes) is the hallmark of Business SMS and the key to its success as a tool for unifying business communications.

Several benefits flow from the fact that a single phone number can be used for SMS messages and phone calls.  These include:

  • All phone calls and SMS messages will be linked to the same phone book contact on the customer’s mobile device.  This means that both SMS messages and phone calls can be more easily identified as coming from your business.
  • It is easy to choose between sending  an SMS message or placing a phone call from the phone book contact record on the mobile device
  • It is easy to switch context from SMS message to phone call at any point in an ongoing dialog, using the mobile device’s Recent Call logs or Recent Message logs   

Business SMS as an Alternative to Voicemail

For years, the use of voice mail has been declining. Companies like JPMorgan Chase & Co. have even gone so far as to drop voicemail service for most of its consumer bank employees. By dropping this service, the company should save about $3.2 Million. (Globe and Mail)

There are many reasons why the use of Voice Mail has been declining.

Unlike a written message, which can be skimmed quickly for relevant information and then saved for later (this is called a “persistent presentation” of information), voicemail is presented in a non-persistent format.

There are many drawbacks to presenting information in a non-persistent format. You can’t skim a voicemail. You have to listen to the entire message to make sure that you have not missed any relevant information. You also have take to notes or remember what said. Also, it is hard to maintain context if you are interrupted when listening to a voicemail message.

These drawbacks of presenting information in a non-persistent format apply even to well formatted, logically structured, and clearly recorded messages. However, the person who is speaking does not always leave such a message. Many people “ramble on” when they speak and the very reason for leaving the message is buried in the recording, or spread throughout the recording in small snippets. Also, social conventions and trying to be polite (adding please, thank you, etc.) can add unnecessary length to the recording, making it more difficult to find meaning in the message and wasting time.

Technology has been used to try and solve some of these problems. Voicemail transcription to email is one such attempt. While this works in many cases, a quick search on “voice transcription fails” show that this is not a 100% reliable solution.

Finally, responding to a voicemail is inconvenient. It often requires a context switch of leaving the voicemail system and dialing the phone or crafting an email response.

Solving these Issues is a Primary Reason for the Rise of Business SMS Solutions

Many users have already organically moved to replacing voicemail with texting. They leave a voicemail, but then text a message to let you know that they have left you a voicemail. Often times, the text message contains a concise summary of the voicemail that they just left.

Business SMS solves many of the problems of voicemail. It is a persistent presentation of the message that can easily be skimmed. A response can be quickly sent without a context switch. The messages can be stored and indexed for later retrieval. This is particularly important for compliance with various regulations for specific industries such as healthcare and financial services. Text messages can also be supplemented with photos and files to make the communication more complete. And finally, most people understand the goal is to be brief and concise in a text message. They get to the important stuff  faster.

The goal now is to drive customers and employees to skip the voicemail message and go directly to texting. Using an integrated business SMS solution that text enables a businesses main telephone number (or even non-mobile personal DIDs), texting can easily be integrated into regular business communications.

Adding “call or text us at NPA-XXX-5555” to all signatures, company collateral, and websites reminds and encourages the use of business SMS over voicemail and email. The same can be done in voicemail greetings, reminding callers “next time, send me a text message to this number so I can address your message even faster.”

Use of Bots/Autoresponders to Speed Communications

Bots/Autoresponders can be used to speed communication even more when implemented as part of a business SMS system. A bot can be programed to monitor business SMS messages and respond automatically to key words in the message. This removes even more “human latency” from the exchange.

For example, if someone texts “What are your store hours today?” to a retail location, a bot can be programmed to spot the keyword “hours” and respond with the message, “We are open today from 10AM to 8PM. Please call or text again if you need more information.”

Simple keyword spotting can be used to improve customer service and answer basic questions about hours, directions, or daily specials and sales. Bots that are driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI) can learn how to respond to much more complex queries.

Conclusion

Texting/Messaging is currently the most used data service in the world. It is fast becoming the prefered method of communications independent of age, wealth, location, or any other demographic. Integration of a business SMS solution with your business communication system is absolutely necessary to maintain convenience and brand identity. Without adding an integrated business SMS solution to your communications strategy, you will not be prepared to do business in the future.

The SkySwitch white label ecosystem enables you to sell Business SMS and Business MMS with the same back-end infrastructure that underlies our advanced business voice platform. Adding Business SMS and Business MMS to your product mix allows you to enhance your hosted PBX or CaaS offerings by empowering business users to send and receive text messages and multimedia files using their business DIDs.  Business SMS and Business MMS services can be activated on virtually any U.S. or Canadian DID or any Toll Free number.  That means that you can give your customers  the opportunity to  maintain their professional identity by using their existing phone numbers.  The SMS activation has no effect on the voice service of a DID, so it is completely transparent to end users.  And, with the SkySwitch DID Management tools, you have complete control over all aspects of the Business SMS service that you offer.