How To Get Started with SMS Customer Service – Tips, Tools & Examples
We all take it for granted now, but SMS (Short Messaging Service) has had a tremendous impact on our society. All of a sudden, we could easily reach one another wherever we were.
In many countries, it's been pushed out by internet-based offspring technologies like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. But in other countries , such as the USA and Canada, SMS became close to free before these messaging apps took over and are still dominant today.
Regardless of your location as a business, offering SMS as a customer service channel offers various benefits:
It’s instantaneous. Typing an SMS takes seconds. Writing an email minutes. And calling even longer – especially if we’re placed on hold.
We love hearing our phones vibrate to let us know we’ve got a new message, so no wonder SMS messages have an open rate of 98% . Compared with other communication channels, SMS offers quicker case resolutions because of the speed.
It’s available to everyone. Practically everyone owns a mobile phone these days. Even the most basic of phones can receive and send SMS. Most plans also come with unlimited or hundreds of messages which makes SMS practically free. Throw in a decent phone signal and SMS can reach customers in a way other channels can't.
It’s personal. The formality of emails or phone calls sometimes holds us back from having our say. The interaction feels forced because it often follows a script.
In contrast, SMS messaging feels more personal. Our phones are an extension of us – we’re on them all the time to chat with our friends and family. When contacting customer service via SMS, we often don’t worry about the niceties or grammar which makes us less inhibited in explaining our issues.
It’s convenient. Any links we receive can be directly opened in the browser, and if a phone call is required, all it takes is a few buttons. Shortcodes also enable billing via the mobile carrier which means we can make impulse purchases without having to enter our credit card details.
7 use cases of SMS customer service
Customer support. How handy would it be if you could text customer support to check why your bill is so high or why your Internet connection is down, without enduring the agony of automated menus or hold times?
Hi [customer name],
Sorry to hear your Internet connection is down. We can get a technician out to you between [available times].
Your bill is higher this month because you used [x times] more data.
Ride services. One popular use of SMS is booking a cab or a ride. We can request a ride via the mobile app and connect with a driver in the same time it takes to make a cup of coffee.
If the driver is delayed or around the corner, a quick SMS update tames our impatience:
Hi [customer name]
Thanks for booking with us today.
We aim to get to you in [xxx] minutes.
Sorry to keep you waiting. There’s a lot of traffic on the roads today. Hopefully, we won’t be much longer.
Logistical questions. We’ve all experienced the inconvenience of waiting in for a parcel or a technician. The 4-hour delivery window which can’t be narrowed down because "we don’t know where the driver is".
An SMS update can remove this frustration, so that your customer can arrange their day around the appointment:
Hi [customer name]
Thanks for your patience.
We’re on [name of street] and aim to reach you by [estimated time].
Let us know if you need to cancel or reschedule [offer dates/times].
Appointment reminders. In a hectic world where we’re all juggling multiple priorities, we appreciate appointment reminders. We don’t have to have to rack our brains for the date of that dentist or doctor’s appointment, on top of our weekly to-do-list.
An SMS reminder not only cuts the cost of no-shows, but also to avoid frustrating your customer if they miss an appointment because you didn’t remind them:
Hi [customer name],
Just a reminder about your appointment on [date].
We understand things might come up, so let us know if you need to cancel or reschedule.
To go the extra mile, a calendar link with alternative dates and times could be included.
Progress updates. We’ve all faced the headache of placing an order online, only for our browser to crash just after we’ve clicked ‘Confirm’. Or called up to request a refund, only to hear nothing but crickets long after our call.
Keep your customer in the loop to reassure them that their order/refund is indeed being processed:
Hi [customer name],
Your order went through and will be with you on [date].
Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about you. We’ve issued you a refund. The money should reach your account by [date].
Unusual activity alerts. Identity theft and fraud is a real threat . We’re used to receiving messages from our banks when they’ve noticed unusual activity on our accounts. Although these may be inconvenient when trying to pay by card, we’re grateful if they stop fraudsters in their tracks.
Inform customers of concerns in real-time to comply with text messaging laws and gain your customers’ trust:
We’ve noticed you’ve logged in from another location / placed this order on [date/time].
We want to make sure it’s really you.
Let us know by replying ‘YES’ or ‘NO’.
Out-of-office replies. In our 24-7 culture, we want everything yesterday . We receive an instant confirmation from Amazon if we place an order or can use telephone banking any time of day or night, to carry out transactions.
If you’re not a company that operates around the clock, let your customer know that their SMS message hasn’t disappeared into the ether by automating out-of-replies when you’re not able to handle their texts right away.
We’re sorry you’re not able to reach us right now.
Like you, we need to sleep :) But we’ll be up and running again between [days / time frame].
Request feedback. Only 1 in 26 customers submit a formal complaint. While we’re quick to complain about poor customer service to our friends or on social media, we’re loath to direct our complaint to the company.
Texting a quick follow-up with a link to a short survey or a poll is an easy way to find out how (dis)satisfied your customer is with your service.
Product or stock availability. Flicking through catalogues or browsing through online inventories is time-consuming and disheartening if after all that effort, your desired product is not available. Nordstrom , for example, uses SMS to update its customers about product arrivals.
We’ve looked at why you would text your customers, but how do you start? Here are some tips:
Tips for communicating via SMS
Reply quickly. The first things we’d rescue in a fire alarm, our mobile phones are glued to our hands. Even at night, most of us keep our phones by our bed.
Text messaging mimics real-life conversation, so we expect immediate replies and get impatient if we don’t. In our instant gratification culture, waiting more than 20 minutes for a reply is seen as rude .
If you’re unable to reply quickly, send an auto-reply to your customer to manage their waiting time expectations.
Refrain from sending links. SMS phising is a polular type of cyber crime, which makes a large portion of your customers wary of clicking on links in SMS messages.
Do not disturb. Sending unwanted texts is not only spam, it’s illegal in many countries.
Collecting numbers in signup and web contact forms is not the same as requesting express consent : You need to explicitly include a clear opt-in.
Text messaging laws worldwide prescribe when and how companies can message their customers. But what they boil down to is this: get your customers’ permission first and don’t text them at unsociable hours.
No one wants to be woken up by a survey in the middle of the night.
Talk like a human. Text messages are more personal than emails or calls because they’re shorter and less formal.
When we contact customer support, we want a real interaction with them and not a scripted monologue.
Use emojis where appropriate, but maybe leave them out if your customer is complaining about their billing. They also don’t belong in two-factor authentication texts.
Avoid sensitive information. While it might be convenient to confirm changes to personal information via SMS, most of us don’t feel comfortable because of the risk of identity fraud.
Never ask the customer to confirm password or banking details via SMS - escalate to phone for identity verifications.
SMS tools are a way for you to send messages to your customers without the manual work. They let you send messages directly from a web app or connect them to your scheduling or booking system, so that reminders and receipts can be automated.
Business SMS platforms have a couple of benefits. Firstly, they protect your customers’ numbers which is a must with the introduction of the GDPR in 2018. Secondly, they boost brand visibility as the sender ID can be enabled to display your business name. This lets your customers know your message is not spam or malicious, making it more likely your messages will be opened and for them to trust you.
Some factors to consider when selecting an SMS tool:
- Integration of (messaging) apps. Are you using other communication channels (web chat, WhatsApp, etc.)?
- Ease of use. Will your agents have to wrestle for hours with it or is it intuitive to use without requiring coding knowledge?
- Efficiency. Can messages be handled by multiple agents if one is not available?
- (Multiple) issue tracking. Can issues be tracked to customers if they send multiple messages (not spam!)?
Let’s take a look at some of the tools on the market:
- Userlike :) We offer an all-in-one solution for SMS, your website, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. It’s the only live chat software which ensures all your messages arrive in one area - the Message Center. Takes the hassle out of managing multiple information channels.
- Twilio . While not an SMS platform per se, Twilio’s API (application programming service) connects your messaging solution to your website. So your customers stay on your website when messaging and are less likely to go to a competitor out of frustration.
- Textmagic . If you want a no-fuss, hassle-free solution – enter Textmagic. All you have to do is enter your customer’s phone number, type your message and click ‘Send’. A handy feature is that replies go straight to the API, web app or email when SMS messages are sent from Textmagic’s number.
- Heymarket . Lets you assign an SMS message to a colleague, if you’re not available to handle the customer’s question. Simply enter @\their name] and an explanatory note, and you’re set. Avoid delays and increase customer satisfaction.
- Vonage . This works like email routing. First, your customer sends a brief message with a description of their issue to a support number. Then, a virtual number allows your application to create a support ticket and assign an agent and a case number to facilitate training, et voilà.
If you’re interested in using SMS as a customer service channel, take a look at our omni-messenger solution Userlike .
At Userlike, we regard messaging as the best mode of customer service communication. Userlike merges all the most important messaging channels into one: website chat, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Telegram.
That means that regardless of your customers' preferences, they will be able to reach you through their favorite mode of communication. Get started with a free 14-day trial today !