SMS is the new black

A review of mass market mobile apps

Text is more – by Peter Tanner, TMC

Posted by Admin on December 3, 2008

Peter Tanner is the MD of TMC (Text Messaging Centre), a company which ‘provides controlled and managed autonomous web-based text messaging solutions for business’.

Below, Peter has written about his view of how text messaging can be used by businesses.

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peter-tanner_approved1Effective communication with employees, customers and partners has become the cornerstone of the service-led organisation. Owners and managers are now reliant upon email, PDAs and Blackberries to support the new, ‘always available’ business model. Yet just how effective are these tools? How quickly do individuals read and respond to emails? And, in the current climate, can any business really justify the expensive deployment of PDAs and BlackBerries to all but the most senior staff?

As the financial crisis deepens, UK businesses are looking for an opportunity to maximise existing investment without risk to gain competitive advantage. So why do the majority continue to overlook a key communication tool that is already used by 95% of the population? Texting is incredibly reliable; experiences no spam; and its immediacy provokes a rapid response from the recipient.

From one-to-one messages to field services engineers to one-to-many customer offers and updates or free inbound messages to the customer service centre, texting is a low cost, low risk killer application that will drive serious value without any capital investment.

Managed SMS

What is the business cost today of inefficient communication? From the over-reliance on ubiquitous email that all too often gets overlooked in a crowded inbox, to expensive mobile phone calls and, in the case of customers, posted appointment letters that often remain unopened. Despite a massive investment organisations are still failing to achieve effective real time and cost effective communication.

And while the mobile email facility has been hyped, especially following the iPhone launch, in reality only a small percentage of employees, customers and partners can access email via the mobile phone. As a result, urgent communications require an expensive mobile call – risking interrupting the recipient mid meeting or, in the case of field engineers, in the middle of a complex repair job.

The ‘always available’ economy is, in reality, anything but. Organisations are missing business opportunities and jeopardising customer relationships because critical, time sensitive information is consistently overlooked as individuals endure the email deluge and miss essential telephone calls.

Reliable Alternative

Very few organisations are using the highly reliable text message to support real time communications. Has SMS been overlooked in the rush to embrace the more glamorous Blackberry or iPhone, or is text’s anarchic, youth-centric perception deterring businesses from embracing this key business tool?

While businesses may not wish to be associated with a young cultural social tool, it is the success of texting in a social sense which has proved the extraordinary depth of this technology. Texting is in fact perfect as a business application, demonstrating resilience, immediacy and popularity across networks, handsets, countries, languages and age groups.

Of course, ad hoc, one-to-one texts cannot be used to deliver a compliant business communication. Using a managed text service, organisations can deliver one-to-one and one-to-many texts with a full audit trail and complete compliance.

Texts can be automated to respond to specific events – such as an emergency call-out for field service engineers or to respond to incoming texts from customers. Text can also be used to drive down the administrative burden, for example, linking in to the council tax system enables a council to automatically send payment reminders on overdue accounts – with no manual intervention and far lower cost than a letter or phone call.

Furthermore, unlike email which requires the recipient to agree to the required response message, SMS can demand an immediate, automated response from the receiving phone. This enables organisations to verify that work orders have been received on site, that customer service queries have been addressed and that internal company messages have been disseminated.

Changing Behaviour

From the small business marketing to a targeted customer list or the dentist delivering automated appointment reminders, to the corporate offering an efficient, low-cost route to customer services, SMS offers the opportunity to fundamentally transform communications.

But this technology has been around for nearly a decade – so why have more organisations not exploited the potential? One of the major constraints has been an insistence by vendors on long-term contracts, monthly license fees and a commitment to a large number of texts each month. This approach has, understandably, deterred organisations unsure just how much use and value texting can deliver.

The alternative is to look for a vendor that eschews any lengthy contract, license fee or minimum text number and simply charges on a per text basis. That enables organisations to leverage the existing mobile phone commitment without any significant investment – at around 6 pence per text, the potential benefits can be rapidly assessed.

Serious Message

The perception of the always connected society is not just a delusion; it is a dangerous delusion. Organisations are blithely assuming that staff are available; that customers are receiving the information required; and that new business opportunities are maximised. The reality is somewhat different: time sensitive communications are simply not achieving the required, real-time response.

And, as the economic downturn continues, the effects will be felt throughout the business: from the reduced investment in expensive mobile technologies to customer service where predicted staff cuts will create longer call centre queues, further reducing customer satisfaction.

Yet the simple strategy of allowing customers to use a free inbound text system, with a brief outline of the problem, can transform costs and service levels. An automated text reply ensures customers know the problem is being handled and how long the response should take. The query can then be hived off to customer services staff – often working from home – to address the issue. The approach is cost-effective and responsive.

Today over 6 billion texts are sent every month, according to the latest figures. Yet the vast majority of these are sent for purely social purposes. It is time that business took control and tapped into this free, under-utilised messaging bandwidth to deliver serious commercial benefit.

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