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When Will Businesses Get the Message About Unlocking the Power of Texting?


Presented By: CrmXchange

Featuring interviews with Mike Myer, CEO and Founder of Quiq,  Matt Tumbleson, Founder of Teckst,  and Gary Brandt, CEO and founder of TEN DIGIT Communications   

 If you’ve walked down the aisles of the expo hall at any contact center conference event over the past few years, you couldn’t have helped but notice the growing number of exhibitors demonstrating text messaging solutions. in a world where 23 billion text messages are sent every day, it certainly seems like an idea whose time has come. No matter whether a company provides products or delivers services, its customers are already texting. A recent Forbes article noted that consumers spend five times longer texting each day than they do making voice calls. And it goes across all demographic groups.  Millennials are famous for their texting prowess, exchanging an average of 67 messages per day with friends but they are only slightly more active in pounding out communications than older consumers.

Using text messages to communicate with companies feels natural to today’s customers. As far back as 2012, a study found that text was the highest rated contact method for customer satisfaction out of all other customer communication channels, earning 90 out of 100 while voice calls earned 77 out of 100. According to a recent Contact Babel analysis, SMS text chat can transform a live agent service call that costs $12 into a session that costs pennies. Text messages have a 98% open rate, while email has only a 20% open rate, according to Mobile Marketing Watch and a 45% response rate, while email only has a 6% response rate. A 2014 ICMI Study showed that 79% of companies believed that customers wanted SMS/text support.   

Adapting messaging offers businesses the opportunity to provide customers with engagement that is every bit as real-time as a voice call but with far more flexibility in how that time is doled out. With all the evidence and the growing number of suppliers offering SMS solutions, it should be among the fastest growing market sectors. But the reality is that it’s been a slow slog up until this point. A 2016 eMarketer report showed that in retail, one of the prime verticals where it could make a significant difference, only 29% of companies were using SMS/texting to communicate with customers. And while 52% thought they could make a business case for it, they didn’t consider it a high enough priority.

How…and why… will this change over the next few years? Mike Myer, CEO and Founder of Montana-based messaging startup, Quiq, feels that the groundswell is now reaching a tipping point. “Technology investment leader Marc Andreessen famously said that ‘software is eating the world,’ back in 2011,” he said. “I think a similar statement applies here: that messaging is going to eat the contact center. Over the next 3 to 5 years, I believe that the majority of inquiries that come into contact centers will no longer be voice or email, but some form of messaging. SMS is only one form of messaging: it encompasses a broad swath of methods including iMessage, Kik, WhatsApp, and more.”  

Myer sees the enhanced capabilities of these platforms and others as key to growth. “Unless the carriers get together and drastically improve SMS. I think that other networks are where the richer experiences will occur. Many people are following WeChat (a Chinese mobile media  app for instant messaging, commerce and  payment developed by Tencent) which is now one of the largest standalone messaging apps with over 963 million monthly active users. Part of the reason that is has been so successful is that you can do more than just send messages. Apple is moving down the path with the announcement of its Business Chat messaging solution which is an extension of iMessage and will include some ApplePay capabilities.  “The emerging combination of technologies will be what drives contact center interactions,” he said. Quiq initially focused on the US market but as they expand their footprint, they are interested in adding WeChat and Japan’s Line to their list of supported platforms.  

Matt Tumbleson, Founder of Teckst, which is helping to bring two-way, human-to-human text messaging platforms such as Zendesk, Salesforce, Oracle, SAP, and more, believes that the one of the main obstacles to implementing messaging is simple inertia. “A year ago, I was talking to an industry leader…an early adaptor from a major on-demand ridesharing start-up…who said to me that ‘within three years this will be everywhere.’ I aked ‘why so long?’ and he replied that companies are just slow to adapt. There are still businesses that are first looking at social media service and even some still just exploring web chat.”

Tumbleson’s take is that there has been a hesitance because companies consider it to be an investment in software, in time and in another communication channel.  They are thus reluctant to pull the trigger even though they know it can help shape both their brand and their customer experience. “Everyone wants to be part of the leading edge, but not necessarily leading edge.”  

Gary Brandt, CEO and founder of Connecticut-based TEN DIGIT Communications takes a different approach to messaging. He sees it as what they call “the Modern Call Model,” a game-changing improvement to how businesses have communicated since the mid-1980s.  “The last PBX updates were in about 1987and all of the functionality that’s embedded in business communications and contact centers was designed in that era…before the web, before the initial stages of SMS which came in 1992, before the cloud in 2001, before the advent of smartphones in 2007 and before the widespread use of artificial intelligence in 2015. Even Excel, the first database, came in 1987. All of this progress has come and the smartphone can take advantage of all of them, yet most businesses still limit themselves to voice communications as though everyone is still wired to a kitchen phone.”

He believes that the Modern Call Model requires businesses to communicate with their customers the way customers communicate with their friends. “While we are a text-based company, it has more to do with the way you set up a call. From there, you can do both translation and encryption, which are proprietary functionalities which we provide, you can escalate to voice or video, you can do authentication, including biometrics. It completely inverts the experience by allowing you to communicate without jumping through the identification hoops so many companies expect and helps facilitate one-text resolution.”

As a result of the company’s market assessment, Brandt has a different perspective on why messaging adaption has been progressing slowly. “The web-based world introduced chat to a web environment first. A phone call with a human is your most expensive channel and web self-help is the least. When vendors introduced chat, it was taking away from web self-help. So instead of figuring an issue out themselves on the web, consumers were being escalated to chat. In our opinion, chat didn’t do anything to take customers away from the expense of voice engagement …and that’s been the struggle. So many companies that have implemented chat are pulling it back now and said ‘wow, this is costing us more now because we have to put agents on the website as well. We never intended to do that, so let’s kill it.’  That’s been a negative factor with which we’ve been dealing,” he said. “Our solution does not interfere with web activity: we intercept the voice traffic. Someone phones in and they get an IVR prompt asking if they’d like to text instead and 68% will do so. That’s one way we encourage text engagement and we don’t think anyone else does it in quite that fashion”  

Brandt also believes that the key to acceptance is more than just adding on messaging but providing a mechanism to control the experience through messaging. Done properly, texting enables agents to use voice and photo sharing. It eliminates frustrating “on hold” delays, reduces dropped or missed calls and handling time as well as minimizing transfers. It solves BYOD issues since agents can use their own phones or tablets anywhere to respond. “The text interaction will set up the context for a call…and in many cases, the call will not be necessary since the issue will already be resolved,” he said.

The other factor that Brandt sees as makes texting a superior response vehicle is the ability to conduct multiple interactions simultaneously. “There are many things you can do only one of at time, such as riding a bike or handling a phone call. But if you look at any young adult’s phone, you’ll see that they are often juggling 8 or more text conversations at a time…and agents can conduct several ongoing conversations with customers.”  While he predicts that in the future there will be more machine-to-machine or machine-to-human messages, he thinks  the quality of text will improve on person-to-person or person-to-business basis.”

Quiq’s Myer sees the beginning of a greater consumer awareness curve. “A year ago, when I described what we were doing, consumers said ‘that’s great, I’d love to be able to communicate with businesses that way and companies said it would be something they’d put in their plans for the coming year.’ Now the innovators…the early adapters…are rolling out the solution and there are more consumers who have had interactions inside of messaging. We’ve turned on messaging for some large brands on their 800 numbers and even though they don’t publicize it on their sites, consumers start to try texting them on these numbers. As more and more customers learn that messaging is available, that will be the first way they try and contact companies. which will create a bidirectional domino effect. Because if a company’s competitor has messaging, they’re going to want it as well.”

Tumbleson of Teckst noted that JetBlue, which had been partnering with messaging supplier Gladly, was the first internationally recognizable US company to promote that their customers could text with them.  “That type of public acknowledgment was what suppliers in our space had been so long to hear,” he said. It really opened up the doors that messaging to customers is coming out of the shadows as something cool and now we’re working with just about every airline you can think of to move forward with this.”  He thinks that the rate of adaption over the next 12 months will be “incredible,” citing his pipeline of major companies that go across the full spectrum of industries. “Customers will get what they want: if your business doesn’t provide messaging, your competition will,” he said. “Companies who have become aware of the business value of providing better service to high-value customers are the clients looking to get on board.”

What developments will tilt the scales toward messaging? Myer thinks that the broader introduction of Apple Business Chat will make the market sit up and take notice and the added capabilities that it and WhatsApp offer will drive demand. In addition, the ROI of messaging will become more and more apparent. “One company told us that if they could just divert 1 of every five calls to text, it would save half of their contact center costs,” he said. Brandt opines that TEN DIGIT’s creation of a messaging PBX where calls can be routed, pinned to specific departments, escalated to video or voice and translated from other languages and have texting managed as sessions—which he considers the heart of business communication-- will make the difference.

As for Tumbleson, he sees the ability to reply to provide answers faster as the key reason that will cause companies to adapt. “Customers just want help fast and on their timeframe. Every second that they’re staring at a screen is time you’re taking from them. Texting allows the business to give back to the customer: an agent can say ‘let me check on that for you: I’ll message you in ten minutes.’ The agent can then do the work on the back end and get back to the customer without taking up their time. Messaging takes the pressure off both the customer and the agent.” He also considers China’s WeChat to be the future of messaging. If you want to see where US businesses are going to be in five to ten years, just check out WeChat …it allows businesses to do everything with customers from collect payments to booking a hair appointments.”