No one can deny that there has been a change in the way people are communicating with each other. Debate is once again surfacing around consumer behaviour shifting away from SMS towards OTT messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber or Facebook Messenger. This shift is accelerated by the continuous development of mobile network speeds and the rise of mobile apps which is causing a storm, with global OTT messaging traffic expectedto jump from 10 trillion in 2013 to 67 trillion by 2018. We are messaging more than ever, but in a new way.
Perhaps the reason for this perceived shift is due to the way we want to engage with each other. The average messaging app user sends 32.6 messages a day, whereas the average SMS user sends just 5 texts. The free nature of messaging apps is allowing mobile users to have an instant dynamic two-way conversation. This change in how consumers want to communicate is sending ripples through the business world. WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum announced in early 2016 that they are finally going to allow enterprises onto the platform, most likely to enable businesses to engage with customers by ‘chatting’ over these channels.
So what about SMS? For businesses, SMS messaging is still seen as push marketing, sending messaging in bulk to grab attention and try to push customers to a call-to-action. However, this approach is a one way street as messages can be sent but the recipient cannot reply to the business (sender) due to a missing reply mechanic. This creates a shouting experience which does not match today’s desired conversational experience. But with the development of two-way interactive SMS the nature of SMS can be transformed. It is no longer just automated and broadcast from a marketing platform; instead it is transformed into a flexible, conversational and personalised contact experience. Explained simply, customer support staff from a business can have a live chat with customers via SMS, just like we use the channel personally every day.
Over the last couple of years IMImobile has helped a number of clients use two-way real-time SMS, otherwise known as IMIchat, to improve how they engage with their clients. Here’s how:
Contact centre & customer service: Customers can send an SMS to immediately get in contact with an agent to have their enquiry answered. Voice is only used when absolutely necessary. There is no waiting on hold or being passed across multiple agents. By integrating SMS live chat into their contact centre strategy, some of our clients are reporting an improvement of customer satisfaction by 65% and a reduction of operational costs by up to 25%.
Outbound sales & customer service calls: Some of our clients who need to get in contact with customers regularly are using SMS live chat to ‘warm up’ their outbound call targets. They are using IMIchat to introduce the call and organise a convenient call time, instead of endlessly ringing just to get through to an answer machine. Using this approach, stats have shown that customers who receive or are engaged in a SMS conversation first, are 50% – 60% more likely to pick up the phone.
Field force management: Other clients, such as utility, road side assistance and government bodies, are using IMIchat to increase the efficiency of their field force employees. They are using SMS live chat to send and receive updates, helping to gather real-time data and ensure their people know exactly what job they are doing.
General engagement: Due to the flexibility of the SMS channel, customers and agents can chat about anything, and it feels like a real conversation. The possibilities are endless. Feedback is easier to gain, complaints easier to answer, and real-time support is easier to provide.
Real-time chat between businesses and customers, whether delivered via SMS or other messaging channels, will become increasingly important for large enterprises and business in the near future. But will we be chatting over SMS, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp channel? SMS is universal, with every mobile device having access to the channel which is a priceless advantage. However, OTT providers are also deploying strategies to win and also make themselves more relevant in the enterprise context; WhatsApp dumped its annual subscription fee to get more people on the platform, helping them to reach 1 billion users at the start of 2016.
I believe that there will be no single winner, but rather a mix of channels will be used depending on audience and purpose. Either way, responses so far to being able to chat with a business over the mobile channel has been positive, with 64% of consumers preferring to use SMS over voice as a customer service and customer content channel.