Happy 25th Birthday, Text Messaging!

In the wake of upheavals in global affairs last week, an anniversary of sorts went largely unnoticed.  However, savvy contact center players will have noted the quarter-century milestone of the humble SMS message.  Notwithstanding the legacy of text technology globally, it is safe to say that this text messaging still poses challenges for many firms in regard to both best practices and technologies.  However, without at least some expertise in how best to engage end-users using this evolving medium, enterprises place themselves at risk of losing consumer loyalty.

For many, twenty-five years may not seem like so long ago.  It only seems like yesterday that Mario Lemieux was leading The Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup, Will Smith was more well-known as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Whitney Houston was topping the charts.  But, conceptually, that the typical contact center of the day was running on voice alone seems almost Jurassic.  In fact, when engineer Neil Papworth texted “merry christmas” to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis on December 3, 1992, it kicked off a quiet revolution in how end-users would seek to interact with enterprises from which they buy products and services.

Consider today’s current customer experience environment and the role that SMS plays.  Text messaging has achieved strong levels of penetration among enterprise contact channels across major demand markets.  The most recent Ryan Strategic Advisory Front-Office Omnibus Survey identified that in 2017 just over 40% of American firms were deploying SMS as a channel, with similar levels of scale in the UK, Australia and Canada.  As demand for the commercial use of texting rises among consumers, enterprises need to get smart in how they deploy this medium in a customer-facing fashion.

The days of exclusively using SMS for outbound notification are over.  Today, enterprises need to engage customers who want to interact via text in a more conversational manner.  This will involve investments in analytics, artificial intelligence and automation.  Without access to this trifecta of technologies, enterprises will be unable to seamlessly interact with their end-users through text messaging. Nor will they be able to incorporate customer buying patterns or position prospective offers in query responses.

Further, this is no longer simply an SMS discussion.  With more consumers adopting digital messaging services such as WhatsApp, texting technologies will need to be multifaceted in terms of engagement platform.  But so many enterprises face major pressure around their captive contact center budgets: the Front Office Omnibus Survey indicates that in 2018 roughly 60% will see their investment capacity shrink or flatten. In short, spending on new technologies and processes will be limited.

Thus, third-party providers need to aggressively market their own text message capabilities to enterprise prospects.  With a still-strong base of SMS users, and the advent of instant messaging a reality, being able to support consumers using this medium is a major advantage.  This means that outsourcers will need to have made the right investments in the technologies and processes that drive consumer loyalty via texting.  Half-baked solutions will quickly find themselves thrown to the side.  However, vendors that bring on board the right text-based inputs and market them effectively will be in a very competitive position.