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The Shift from Voice to SMS-based Customer Interactions

March 26, 2014 by

There is a growing amount of interest among our existing users to be able to interact with their customers via SMS, particularly in the retail space, but I’m seeing examples from other industries as well. Partly it’s a generational thing—younger people tend to use SMS as their primary communications mechanism, preferring it over voice. But more and more enterprise customers are telling me that business interactions are happening over SMS in their environments today. These interactions are mostly ad hoc, point-to-point interactions, but they are growing in number.

The challenge this poses for many enterprises is twofold. First, in a BYOD environment, these SMS messages are being sent from an employee’s underlying mobile phone number. If the employee leaves the company, he may take the customer with him. Second, unlike email, there is no visibility, centralized management, or control over these messages. A number of customers have expressed security and compliance concerns to me, stating that the messages need to be archived and filtered to ensure no credit card or other sensitive data is being transmitted.

Despite these challenges, SMS offers a number of distinct advantages over other approaches. I’ve written elsewhere about the coming wave of communications embedded directly into mobile applications. But this requires end users to install an app, whereas with SMS, no app needs to be installed and customers can use a familiar interface.

I believe that we are just at the beginning of a shift in customer interactions from voice to SMS. There will, of course, continue to be lots of voice interactions, but I’m convinced that some of today’s voice interactions will migrate to managed SMS interactions, driven by cloud-based platforms that address the management, compliance, and control concerns mentioned above. Furthermore, on the business side there are substantial efficiencies to be gained from this shift. To use a contact center example, an agent who can normally handle one voice call can handle multiple messaging-based interactions simultaneously, thus improving the number of customers that can be handled per agent per hour.

Here at TPN, we have been developing SMS and mobility support into our platform for some time now. Customer-driven scenarios that we are working on today include offering callers an option to drop out of voice queues and start an SMS dialog with an agent right away. Another scenario would be to offer SMS-enabled main numbers where users can text or call. An IVR-style menu might greet text-based inquiries, where users are prompted for “sales or support.” The user can select “support” to be routed to the correct department, then placed in a messaging queue to be picked up by the next available agent.

Having native SMS capabilities along with integral contact center functionality means that all existing voice-centric contact center functionality and reporting can be extended to cover a mix of voice and SMS scenarios. I’m excited about the future of SMS-based customer interactions. As millennials become the target customers for businesses, SMS-based interactions can only continue to increase in number and importance.

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