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Text is one of the most popular forms of communication. When you think about it, there are many reasons why. It doesn’t require an internet connection like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. It doesn’t even require a smartphone, most any kind of cell phone has the ability to send and receive texts. Even when cell phone reception is weak, texts can still get through. And once they do get through, they’re usually opened within 3 minutes.
All of these reasons also make text an excellent channel for customer service. Businesses can reach a wider range of customers more quickly and efficiently, and they can offer clients the luxury of instant customer support via a preferred communication channel.
That being said, there are good ways and bad ways to use text for customer support. Time zone snafus, messaging clients who haven’t opted in, giving long-winded explanations via text and other no-no’s can all lead to frustrating customer experiences – rather than successful resolution of issues and inquiries.
Here are the top 7 mistakes to avoid when using SMS for customer support:
Mistake #1: Messaging customers who haven’t opted in
Remember that just because you have a customer’s phone number, that doesn’t mean you automatically have the right to text them. Some companies have misused SMS capabilities in the past (essentially spamming customers with unwanted messages). Consumers fought back, leading to lawsuits and strict FCC regulations. In short, you need a customer to opt in before you can text them.
Try this: If you’re in the middle of solving a customer service issue through another channel and want to introduce text as an option, a simple message such as “To continue this conversation via text, dial XYZ and text 123 to opt in” can solve it. Keep in mind that customers have the right to opt out of your texting program at any time.
Mistake #2: Using SMS to address the wrong kind of problem
SMS can be great for urgent issues such as hospital hotlines or insurance agencies. The lightning fast response rates and high open rates make it ideal with this type of situation. Text is also perfect for things like appointment reminders and quick tips. However, it’s not always the best way to offer support to a customer.
If the situation requires a complex, technical explanation right now, trying to fit all that information into an SMS message is going to be a nightmare, especially for the customer who is receiving it. For cases like that, live chat would work better.
Also, if it’s an escalated or emotionally charged customer service issue, text may feel too impersonal and casual for the customer and they may get the impression that you’re not taking their issue seriously.
Try this: Do your best to determine whether the current situation calls for a text response, or whether it’s best to jump to another channel. The ability to make these decisions is an important part of providing superior customer service, and is something that gets easier with experience.
Mistake #3: Making the customer wait for a response
The thing about SMS is that people are used to receiving quick responses. Unlike email (or even social media), customers expect someone to respond to their text right away. If you don’t have a 24/7 customer service staff to attend to your clients, then at least send an automated response letting them know when they can expect a customer service representative to get back to them.
Try this: A simple, “Hi Karen! Thanks for getting in touch with us about your service issue. A customer service representative will contact you by 8am EST tomorrow” will do the trick.
Mistake #4: Sending responses at unacceptable times
Text is universal and you may have clients from all over the world contacting your business with support and/or sales inquiries. Keep in mind that a text isn’t like an email, which can sit quietly in your client’s inbox until they decide to check it. Depending on user settings, incoming text messages will light up the phone and may include sound and/or vibration alerts.
Make sure you respect your customers’ “offline hours” and sense of privacy by avoiding sending them replies outside of standard business hours (so that 2am text is probably a no go). Get those pesky time zones straight and send clients texts during regular working hours whenever possible (generally 8am-6pm are acceptable times, though this can vary based on the region).
Try this: Just as you can automate messages for when your customer service reps are off-duty, type out a response message and then schedule the text to go through at the appropriate time.
(Of course, if your business provides 24/7 customer support and your client has requested support outside of standard business hours, then by all means feel free to fire off those 2am texts!)
Mistake #5: Using SMS as an excuse to act too casual/familiar
Everyone texts. We’re used to texting our friends and families and inserting abbreviations and emoticons. The language of text messaging is very casual and more personal than many other forms of communication. However, remember that the person on the other end is not your best friend or your sibling; they are your client. Always maintain a professional demeanor when returning a text in a customer support scenario.
Don’t try to be cute or cool (we know it’s tempting). Even if the client uses abbreviations, slang or emoticons, it’s best to avoid using them as they can be seen as unprofessional.
Try this: Show off your personality during the interaction (this helps to establish good rapport with the client), but always strive to do so in a professional manner.
Mistake #6: Not allowing customers to text you back
Text support needs to go both ways. Sometimes businesses will text a client but not enable them to send responses to those messages, which only ends in frustration on the part of the client. It’s clear that customers want the ability to text businesses: 64 percent of consumers would rather text with a business than engage in a voice call.
Try this: Make sure that the channels are open in both directions. This gives customers another way to contact you and allows them to message you when it’s most convenient for them.
Mistake #7: Not making use of SMS as a feedback channel
Customers need a place to submit feedback, especially when that feedback is negative. If you don’t provide proper avenues for feedback, unhappy clients end up spreading those negative comments on social media, business review sites, and through bad word of mouth.
Try this: Send an SMS poll to a customer to follow-up on a service issue. This is a great way to find out if you’re doing a good job (and if not, find out what you need to fix). Polls sent via SMS can be answered anywhere and at any time, and this convenience leads to higher response rates.
Avoiding these common mistakes will help you integrate SMS as a valuable customer service channel within your business. Strive to keep the customer experience, efficiency, and professionalism top of mind, and you’ll be able to make text messaging a successful customer support platform for your business.
Alexa Lemzy is a Customer Support & Content Manager based in Cambridge, United Kingdom. She is passionate about technology and customer success, and focuses on how mobile technologies impact all facets of business growth.