When It Comes to Texting, Companies Need to Strike a Balance

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Providing an omnichannel customer service center is certainly a challenge, but it also has great benefits. The biggest is the potential boost in agent productivity. Integrating applications can reduce the steps agents need to take to reconcile customer problems. Businesses can hone their application user interfaces so that accessing billing systems or knowledge repositories requires only one or two clicks.

Companies can also automate routine tasks. They can build up a library of prebuilt messages so that agents can use shortcuts to quickly respond to common questions such as order status inquiries, queue time requests, and store hour requests.

Texting still might not be useful for all inquiries, so companies need to be careful with the types of interactions where it is used. “Some calls are complex—say, a person installing a new printer who has never done it before,” O’Flahavan says, noting that in such cases, a voice conversation is probably called for.

Texting also does not mesh with disgruntled customers. “Studies by suppliers like Sky in the United Kingdom found that customers are much more willing to sever their relationship with a vendor via text than by talking to an agent,” says Genesys’s Connolly.

Tone is another area where companies sometimes struggle, and it becomes especially challenging with texting because the customer does not experience any changes in pitch or tone in the agent’s voice. “I was texting with a bank that had sent my new credit card to my old address,” Verint’s Koelliker recalls. “Their tone was very casual, which made me feel uncomfortable because I considered the issue to be very serious.”

Striking the proper tone depends on the typical customer profile. If a company sells video game accessories, then an informal tone is a good fit. When a business markets cybersecurity software to the military, a more formal tone is needed.

Modern texting has extended beyond words, so companies also need to develop policies for the use of items like emojis. “Some brands have had success experimenting with more expressive punctuation and emojis over formal tone (using an exclamation point or smiley face rather than a period),” says Vit Horky senior director of digital experience at NICE inContact. “This keeps the tone more personal rather than stiff.”

With texting, time is an ongoing concern for other reasons. Nowadays, employees are under pressure to produce more, so they multitask during the day. Agents need to make sure that they are paying sufficient attention to each text. They must read messages carefully to fully understand what customers need. Frustration arises when customers ask for help and get totally irrelevant responses.

On a related note, autocorrect can be a blessing and a curse. While it catches many common errors, on occasion, it inserts the wrong words into conversations—which is humorous when it happens in daily life, but much less so when customers need a problem solved. Agents, therefore, would be well-advised to make sure that they proofread each response before hitting send.

Additional tools are available to help companies ensure that agent messages are effective. Companies sometimes offer training classes and online tools to help employees brush up on their spelling and grammar. To improve texting quality, agents can perform peer reviews of customer communications before they are sent. Managers can also monitor conversations unobtrusively and offer coaching if situations warrant it.

Texting shortcodes are another way to speed up the problem resolution process. These typically involve five- or six-digit numbers specifically set up for commercial texting. These codes are shorter than phone numbers, so they are easier for customers to remember and quicker to type. And they are less likely to be blocked by wireless carriers when used to send outgoing messages.

Texting has definitively emerged as a popular form of communication, one that a growing number of consumers have adopted. Consequently, businesses need to extend their customer contact options to this channel. When they do, they must understand that there are significant differences between it and legacy customer support channels and then adjust their business processes accordingly. 

Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who specializes in technology issues. He has been covering CRM issues for more than two decades, is based in Andover, Mass., and can be reached at paulkorzen@aol.com or on Twitter at #PaulKorzeniowski.

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