September 1, 2014
Drop the Megaphone: Customer-Centered Text Messaging
I spent a lot of time in Ghana, and Ioved it there. However, whenever I went into the bustling city markets many of the shop-keepers hustled and pushed me like their life depended on it. I’m sure for some of them their life did depend on it, but like most other visitors, this annoyed me to no end, often ruining any chance I had of enjoying a leisurely market stroll.
One day, I became so irritated that I stopped at one of the stalls and began debating with the salesman about sales practices. (I know, I know…who’s the annoying one now?) After initially being taken aback, the man invited me to share some tea in his shop, where we talked about my passion, customer experience. I told him that it felt pushy and invasive when he shoved an item in my face while shouting at me. Couldn’t he try dialogue instead? Maybe ask passers-by if there was anything they were looking for and if he could answer any questions? He humored me and gave it a try on his next few customers. Maybe it was my imagination and/or ego, but it seemed people were more receptive to his new technique and he got more foot traffic into his shop.
Since my last visit, I can’t help but draw a connection between my friend in the market, his hustling sales approach, and the pushy one-directional text-message marketing attempts that companies make. Invasive and in-your-face, these messages are often viewed with contempt by the general population.
Let’s explore how to solve this problem.
Where Texting Is Now
In the United States, SMS texting became possible in mid-90s, but usage has increased exponentially in the last few years. In fact, of the 91% of American adults who own cell phones, 81% use text messaging, making it by far the most popular cell phone function. Also, the sheer number of texts being sent is staggering. American adults in the18-24-year-old bracket alone send and receive 3,853 text messages per month.
So…since this is the most popular way for customers to communicate with each other, we can assume that businesses are now making their SMS text strategy a top priority, right? Um, not exactly. Most businesses seem weirdly out of touch with how people typically use texting on their phones. Customers expect text messages to be part of a two-way, personal dialogue; over 40% of texters would prefer to text chat an agent rather than wait on hold. However, when customers do receive text messages from companies, the messages are often impersonal and blasted at them with no chance to respond—i.e., the megaphone effect. Charming. No wonder these invasive texts are despised. When customers want to respond to these texts or ask questions, they are forced to go to a different channel like voice or email that may be awkward or inconvenient for them. This is especially sucky when 81% of us hate being tied to our phone or computer to wait for customer service help.
The Customer-Centered Approach
We are now officially in the Age of the Customer. Not only is the customer always right, but they also have more control over which marketing messages they receive and what channel they receive them in. Plus, their opinion has more power than ever before. One influential customer with a bad review can do severe damage to a company’s brand. (Remember United Airlines’ Broken Guitars debacle?) Companies who want to succeed are using a customer-centered approach, which has more to do with relationship than with direct selling.
A customer wants what every human wants—someone who really knows them and takes the time to figure out what they need so they can have a great experience. Part of really knowing customers is understanding their fears and frustrations so we can solve problems they aren’t aware they have. It also means treating them with respect.
The pathway to this respect is found through empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and identify with what someone else is feeling or experiencing. That’s a big deal for us humans. Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, wrote: “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.” Structuring our business model around the desires of feeling humans helps to create delighted (and loyal!) customers.
What Texting Could Be
Now let’s look at what texting could be for a business that has adopted a customer-centered approach. Their texting strategy would:
- Communicate with customers in a familiar, comfortable channel (a Harris study found 64% of consumers would prefer text message over voice for getting customer support)
- Include a Response Strategy: Allow customers to respond back by text, creating a two-way dialogue for live support.
- Create intelligent and personalized automation by integrating with customer care software (such as Salesforce).
- Provide an easy and seamless way for customers to pivot between communication channels.
I recently received a text-marketing message from my car dealership. They were trying to sell me a service—a discounted application of a protective coat. Even though I usually ignore those messages, I was actually interested this time. In fact, I was interested enough to ask for more details, so I replied to the message. I never heard from them again, ever. Sale lost.
Just like with my friend in Ghana, there’s something going on here that companies just aren’t getting. Text messaging is a fantastic communication tool, but companies are choosing to use it as a megaphone instead of as a channel for dialogue. And in the process, they are missing an opportunity to develop a unique relationship with their customers.
Photo by Flickr user Garry Knight.
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