10 tips for brands to make the most of SMS customer service

Russ Garcia

Whether it’s providing package delivery updates, flight change notifications, or alerting customers of fraudulent bank charges, short message service (SMS) is used globally across industries.

In the past few years, retailers have steadily relied on SMS for customer service, with a third using it specifically to communicate with consumers. As technologies such as asynchronous chat rise in popularity, consumers are growing accustomed to stepping away while a customer service interaction is in progress, rather than being glued to their phones or computers. SMS feeds into this convenience, allowing people to go about their daily activities regardless of the status of their inquiry.

According to a study published by eWeek, 89% of consumers said it was important for customer support to be available through various channels, including SMS.

In response to these preferences, customer service teams are adopting messaging via SMS to improve customer satisfaction and efficiency. In this article, we’re breaking down ten tips for brands to make the most of SMS, benefiting customers and service agents alike.

1. Consider a global customer service strategy

If you’re a global brand, your customer service messaging strategy shouldn’t try to be one-size-fits-all-locations. According to a report from the Mobile Ecosystem Forum, WhatsApp is used by just 4% of Chinese users, while WeChat is ubiquitous with 79% usage. The use rate for SMS is 31% in the US and as high as 70% in countries like France.

What these variations show is that your customers’ locations should heavily influence what platforms and technology you use to communicate with them.

2. Use digital platforms to prioritize and manage inquiries from a single hub

No matter the region or channel of choice, what brands need most of all is a way to efficiently offer amazing digital experiences to their customers at the greatest scale.

Invest in a customer engagement management platform that offers the ability to manage most one-to-one social media channels — including SMS, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Twitter DM — alongside one-to-many channels — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, RSS. Preferably one that’s tied with holistic customer profile data so that your customer care agents can respond with context and deliver more personalized experiences.

3. Start a conversation with Google’s message extension

There’s no denying that mobile has taken over paid search with nearly half of all search ad clicks coming from smartphones. If you’re one of the millions of advertisers using Google AdWords, there is now a new and easy way to talk to customers who are call-phobic. “By setting up a message extension, you’ll give users an easy way to text you to start a conversation and continue it whenever is most convenient for them.”

64% of consumers with texting capabilities would prefer to use texting over voice as a customer service channel.

4. Follow your doctor's advice by sending important information via text message

Healthcare providers have embraced texting patients because it’s cheaper and easier to automate than phone calls. Take a page out of this industry’s playbook and consider what types of information your audience would like to receive over SMS. The possibilities are seemingly endless: daily tips, appointment reminders, flash sales, location-based coupons, alerts about an upcoming webinar, to name a few.

We do, however, advise brands to exercise some caution when using push notifications. While sending an automated text message is an efficient way to share information, practice caution as to not overload customers and clients with a seemingly endless stream of messages. Take a tip from your email communication strategy and don’t just blast your entire audience. The more targeted your SMS communication, the more likely your messages will feel personalized and be more useful.

5. Provide a neutral platform for customers to air complaints

The vast majority of your customers will never complain, even if they’ve had a bad experience. It’s more likely that you’ll lose their business and never know why. It turns out, SMS is an ideal way to find out the real opinions of your customers. By conducting SMS polls and follow-up surveys, you’ll give them a neutral platform where they are more likely to tell you how satisfied they were with your service.

6. Take advantage of automated replies

Offering automated replies for the most common technical support questions is just one application of using SMS for customer service. Also, SMS can be used to notify support personnel of a new request and, conversely, notify customers of the status of their inquiry.

77% of consumers with texting capabilities aged 18-34 are likely to have a positive perception of a company that offers text capability.

Automated replies are also better for your customer care team. A platform with AI and ML integrations can help brands customize automated responses to reduce the number of inquiries that require a customer service agent’s time, allowing them to bypass common questions and instead focus on the areas where they’ll make the greatest impact.

7. Text for the win

Customer service isn’t just about responding to complaints, it’s also about improving brand loyalty and creating brand advocates. Text-to-win SMS contests are an excellent way to deepen customer relationships and get your audience to opt-in to future marketing activities. This is also a great way for brands to engage with audiences where remarketing doesn’t necessarily make sense. It’s a low-touch way for people to interact with their favorite brands.

8. Do not disturb

This one should go without saying, but not all marketers know the right way to build a clean, opt-in SMS database. Did you know that sending a text message to someone who hasn’t opted in is not just annoying, it’s illegal?

The Mobile Marketing Association lists the best practices for opt-in in their U.S. Consumer Best Practices for Messaging publication. Also, don’t send promotional texts after 9 pm or before 11 am which means you’ll need to gather preferences at opt-in like time zone and city code.

9. Prioritize incoming messages

With a stronger consumer preference for messaging over phone calls, it’s helpful if brands are prepared to accommodate an influx of messages. AI integrations help brands do this by tagging messages based on type, channel, etc., and even sending messages to the appropriate customer service agent based on specialty or if they’d managed that customer’s past inquiries.

This increases the chances that urgent inquiries are taken up faster, while also making it clear for agents where their attention is needed most.

10. Last but not least

Let your customers know that you offer SMS for customer service, on your website, in your emails, on your print communications (if you still have any!), and on your social media platforms.

Customer service is a crucial part of any business — global or local — that must be of the highest quality if a brand looks to have any success moving forward. If you have the right technology to further improve your customers' customer service experience, then be sure you utilize it in the right way and use the right strategies.

Khoros Care is an industry leading solution that integrates a wide variety of digital channels to help brands offer the best possible support experience to their customers. Click below to learn more.

    Would you like to learn more about Khoros?