• April 1, 2015
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Text Takes Precedence as a Customer Service Preference

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So why has it taken more than 20 years for texting to catch on as a business channel? In the United States, a lot of it has to do with simple economics. Texting has only recently become much more affordable.

Early on, mobile carriers charged subscribers between 10 cents and 20 cents for every text message they sent or received. Those plans are now giving way to smartphone data plans that offer unlimited texting. "For businesses and consumers, a world of opportunity opens up as subscribers move to unlimited texting plans," says Rebecca Wettemann, vice president at Nucleus Research.

Another hindrance was that consumers were reluctant to share their cell phone numbers with businesses for fear of being bombarded with unsolicited mobile advertising. It was a legitimate concern; in texting's earliest days, mobile marketing was little more than a new form of spam. "Texting got a black eye," Weborg says. "Businesses were sending [consumers] ads that [they] did not want."

New consumer privacy, opt-in, and do-not-call regulations have eliminated much of that fear.

Smartphone technology has also made it easier to send and view text messages. Clunky nine-digit keypads have been replaced by virtual QWERTY keyboards that make it easy to tap out a quick complaint to a business. Predictive text completion and automatic spell check and correction have further simplified the process, and adaptive technology even adjusts the keyboard and screen to the phone's width based on horizontal or vertical orientation.

Also limiting earlier adoption was the fact that, initially, mobile phone users could only send text messages to subscribers on the same carrier network. Verizon subscribers couldn't communicate with AT&T subscribers, and vice versa. Businesses were completely left out in the cold, even after the cell phone industry tore down those barriers in 1999 and allowed subscribers to text across carrier lines.

In 2006, the advent of short message service short codes (five- or six-digit mobile phone numbers that businesses could use to send and receive concise text messages) finally brought businesses into the texting fray. The problem was that messages sent to SMS short codes were often limited to 160 characters and could be billed at a higher rate than standard text messages. With some codes, consumers could be subjected to recurring monthly service fees added to their mobile bills.

SMS short codes also cost businesses $500 or $1,000 a month to lease, depending on whether they use dedicated vanity numbers or random numbers.

"When texting started, it was expensive for businesses to get started, and it was heavily regulated," Weborg says. "What we've been seeing over the last few years is that it's becoming flexible and cheap for businesses to set up. The price is so low now that any business can have access to [text messaging]," he adds.

Push and Pull

Also helping to push texting forward as a customer interaction channel is the ability for messages to be bidirectional. While in the past 

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