Two years ago my daughter, Anna, sent me her first text message. She borrowed her older brother’s mobile phone and composed this question, “Where R U” When the message arrived I was happy to know that she was thinking about me. My initial thought was to reply, “@ wrk”.
Before sending a response, however, I considered the real meaning of my daughter’s question. I knew that my daughter was not actually interested in my physical location. She did not care if I was at my office, a client’s office, or a restaurant. She really wanted to know when I would be home. She wanted to know when she would see me. She cared about timing, not location. I replied, “@ wrk, b home in 30.”
As I meet with people in large enterprises throughout the U.S., I often ask the same question, “Where R U?” My question, like my daughter’s, is context sensitive. The broader meaning of the question is “Where is your text message strategy?” Or more pointedly, when will your organization begin using text messaging and other mobile messaging services in your marketing, customer care, and collections processes? Like my daughter, I am not asking about geography or political positioning, rather I am asking about timing? And, I have found that very few organizations in 2008 can answer this basic text messaging question.
No longer do American consumers lag the rest of the world in text message adoption. Text messaging has become the preferred communications channel for millions of people, and not just teenagers. For many people in America text messaging is considered indispensable.
The rise of mobile messaging
80 percent of all Americans currently carry mobile phones. There are more mobile-only households than landline-only households.
The volume of text messages sent in America doubles each year. As of mid 2007, Americans send over 1 billion text messages per day.
While U.S. consumers are fully embracing text messaging, very few enterprises have followed suit. It is true that some organizations have begun adoption, but there are others who continue to overlook the mobile data phenomenon entirely. If enterprises do not adapt to this channel they will, eventually and certainly, suffer a disadvantage to those organizations that catch the vision of mobile data communications and take full advantage of the channel.
I’ve spent many years working with large enterprises to help them define and implement their text messaging strategy. I believe there are five critical considerations an enterprise should consider when implementing mobile data communications:
Text Consideration #1: Get started.
Establish a presence in the text messaging channel. It would be foolish for any company to operate without an internet site. Similarly, the time will soon come when consumers expect basic text messaging services from the companies they know and trust. Consumers will expect visibility into account information, order status, store locators, FAQs, and more. Far too many companies do not support text messaging at all. The key ingredient for most companies is simply to get started.
Text Consideration #2: Demonstrate proficiency early.
Text messaging can be effective at all stages of the customer life cycle, such as marketing, customer care, and collections. By demonstrating to consumers that your organization has text messaging proficiency early in the customer relationship it is possible to fully leverage the channel throughout all the sub-processes of customer acquisition, support, and retention.
It is important that customers understand early on that your organization speaks the language of text messaging. This will increase the opt-in rate that your organization needs for the channel. Early proficiency enhances the usefulness and value of the channel in all downstream processes.
Text Consideration #3: Keep it short.
Text messaging is well suited for sending and receiving information that is relevant, timely, and brief. Consumers expect text messages to be highly relevant to their needs and interests. Unwanted or unnecessary text messages will damage customer relationships.
Timely delivery of information increases the value of information. No other communication channel can elicit an immediate response like text messaging. Consequently people expect information in the text channel to be timely.
By definition, text messages must be short and concise. If you cannot convey the message in 160 characters then the message is probably not well suited for text messaging.
Text Consideration #4: No need to remember.
Text messages are often stored for an extended period on the mobile device. So, when you send a text messaging containing detailed information it is easy to retain and easy to forward to another person. In contrast, detailed voice messages are cumbersome and time consuming. Consider, for example, the benefits of a text message I received from a friend a few months ago regarding the birth of a new child: “Announcing the birth of David Jason Bay, May 4, 10:38am, 8lb 5oz, 20inch, brn hair, brn eyes. Mom and baby healthy.” All the details were automatically retained on my phone. Furthermore, it was a snap to forward the message to another friend.
Text Consideration #5: Integrate all channels.
Text messaging rarely stands on its own. There are situations where a text messaging program may produce revenue or reduce costs independent of other communications channels but those programs are rare. In most cases text messaging is used to augment other communications. A great example of blended and integrated channels can be found on cellular 411 calls. When directory assistance finds the telephone number you requested it provides the option of receiving the information as a text message. The text message allows you to record detailed information without writing it down, it is automatically stored in the memory of the mobile phone.
Soon consumers will ask your organization, “Where R U?” When that time comes it will be important that you have fully considered the positioning of this important new channel in your organization. Text messaging will provide many profound benefits in marketing, customer care, collections and more.
I welcome your questions and comments on text messaging strategies. Please contact me if you require additional information or would like to engage in a deeper dialog. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alan Berrey is Vice President, Market Development, Text & Mobile Messaging for SoundBite Communications, a leading provider of integrated multi-channel communications.