When Short Message Service (SMS) is referred to by any of its more recognized given names — text messaging, texting, mobile messaging, etc. — it’s readily seen as a wireless tool for social interactions. Many businesses still aren’t sure where it fits into their enterprise and contact center operations. But the sooner they formulate a plan for SMS, the better. Because as texting volumes threaten to surpass those of email and voice, the value of SMS has become increasingly magnified.
SMS - the new preferred channel?
The pace of texting worldwide has increased immeasurably as service providers have made SMS easier to use, particularly between networks. Among service providers leading the surge, one need only look at Google and its integrated SMS offering for mobile phones (Google SMS is supported on all major mobile providers in the U.S.) Using the service, Google users can text a special number and instantly access the Internet’s considerable resources for businesses and product information anywhere in the world.
More than 3 billion mobile users by 2014
Globally, Gartner, Inc. estimates that by 2014 more than 3 billion of the world's adult population (over age 18) will be able to transact electronically via mobile or Internet technology. Making Gartner’s estimate notable for businesses is its emphasis on the advances in mobile payment, commerce and banking technologies, which will make it easier to electronically transact via mobile Internet access and associated technologies such as SMS. Gartner’s findings indicate a 90% mobile penetration rate and 6.5 billion actual mobile business connections annually by the year 2014.
For any company that already utilizes SMS and media channels such as electronic payment accounts (or that plans to), the same Garter study adds that:
Many adults in emerging economies will have a unique addressable account for the first time, chiefly SMS, e-mail or payment account. The ability for these consumers to engage in consumer-to-consumer commerce with other individuals will also increase.
Most adults who gain the new ability to transact electronically will come from emerging economies, estimated at $1 trillion annually by 2014. These markets will become much more "commerce-ready" as a result, and technically, global companies like Coca-Cola and Carrefour will have the potential to reach and transact with a significant majority of adult mobile users on the planet.
SMS in the multichannel mix
Contact centers led the early business-customer adoption phases of SMS, and essentially treated the technology as an extension of email. SMS technology has progressed to the point today, where it now plugs directly into the corporate network. In place of modems in telecom rooms, there are standard TCP/IP connections to SMS brokers.
In contact centers in particular, unified communications and all-in-one multichannel platforms have made it possible to manage all types of interaction media channels uniformly. By treating SMS as its own media type, such platforms make it easy to apply the same metrics to SMS as applied to voice, email, fax, and other interaction types. The benefit is that a contact center can steer text messages into an Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) queue alongside phone calls and emails for routing to an agent, yet isolate SMS from other interaction types for reporting and customer analytics.
Common SMS business drivers
SMS in large part has already reached “established” status in the business sector. Banks, for instance, have used SMS-based alerts now for years to notify customers of new services, account overdrafts etc. Mobile telco carriers alert their subscribers to service updates. And Google SMS has opened the door to information on thousands of consumer products with its portable FAQs. Perhaps more than any communications media to date, SMS allows companies of any size and shape to converge established business practices with creativity — meaning the possibilities for SMS are limitless. Consider these common SMS business drivers for example.
Goods and services ‘over the Internet’: Inviting customers to make purchases using their mobile phones transforms a business from “over the counter" and normal business hours to “over the Internet” at the customer’s convenience and location. Along with expanding a business’s market reach, providing options such as mobile payment makes the service experience seamless and more accepted by mobile consumers. Two industry findings from 2009 are telling: in a survey of 2,000 SMS subscribers, 67% of survey respondents said they would consider purchasing goods and services such as CDs, books, movie tickets, take-out food and travel tickets (airlines, car rentals, etc.) via their mobile phone, while 61% of mobile commerce revenues were the result of repeat purchases (source: “Mobile and SMS Statistics,” attentiondigital.com).
Mobile marketing: Business still comes down to customer relationships. To a business’ advantage, SMS makes marketing and advertising more personal because contact is made using a customer’s most personal belonging - their mobile phone. Merchants can tailor their marketing messages to the individual, send messages at a specific time and to the person’s location, and respond to questions or comments immediately, thus creating a strong bond with each customer.
Employee collaboration: At a basic level, SMS can drive message delivery to employees and bypass a mobile email system. As an organization sends text messages to staff globally, employees can reply directly via text with two-way communications. At an advanced level, collaboration is more user-specific in that newer SMS applications are introducing features such as integrated presence management. Using SMS, employees can change their presence status, check the status of other employees, set up a meeting or conference call (numbers, date, time), and perform other functions that increase their availability to co-workers as well as customers and business partners.
Transport and logistics: Mobile phones and SMS are a natural fit for logistics. Among the possibilities - notify a field service technician of the time and location of their next call, notify a delivery driver of the address of their next pickup, track shipments internationally etc.
Notifications and data distribution: Using SMS for sending notifications and distributing data is beneficial to virtually any type of business, although the healthcare industry provides a key example. In the hands of doctors, nurses and medical staff, SMS text messaging is far more descriptive, and responsive, than traditional paging processes — especially when critical alerts must be issued.
Remote system monitoring: Remote system monitoring has become a practical solution especially for distributed organizations, and SMS alerts can be useful to notify a system administrator of a certain condition if warranted during the monitoring process. For example, use SMS in conjunction with a program that pings a server at scheduled intervals; the program can send an SMS alert automatically should the server ever malfunction.
All the above makes a strong business case for Middle East businesses to start harnessing the tremendous potential of SMS technology.