Here’s how to use SMS as an IVR alternative to reduce long hold times and improve customer service
- COVID-19 has created an increase in inbound call volume at a time when agent staffing may not be up to par.
- For companies who also handle outbound engagement, this creates an even greater challenge as blended agents may be held up by the increase in inbound calls.
- Customers have been impacted with longer hold times that lead to decreased satisfaction.
Any well-designed IVR system will be optimized to eliminate waiting on hold — by all accounts the most egregious offense to the customer experience — and either present self-service options or define a time when agents will be available to offer their services.
By interacting with menu options in your IVR, customers are presented with the quickest possible route to resolving their issues. You can configure any number of different support SMS messages to be triggered with the click of a button, or use the standard instructional audio snippets to prompt them to self-serve within the IVR or be taken out of the call queue entirely to wait for a callback. Because a traditional IVR lets you configure instructional audio to play in the call flow using automated voice, at any stage where the customer requires choice you can prompt them to receive a text message and continue the conversation mobily.
Adding text message triggers to your IVR menu is the quickest and most cost-effective way to provide mobile service and minimize the pressure on voice agent resources within the contact center. For example, the large number of calls for routine interactions like account balance checks, payments, card replacements, password resets, or suspicious activity could be resolved by triggering an SMS message that includes step-by-step instructions or a link to your knowledge base with more information on how to self-serve.
Understanding IVR and SMS
IVR stands for interactive voice response. It’s the automated voice menu most customers are familiar with reaching when they call a company’s support phone number. Instead of merely pressing buttons, IVR allows customers to interact with the menu using speech.
IVR helps both agents and customers by:
- Gathering more information about the reason for the call, which helps route it to the most appropriate resource
- Offering self-service options, which enables fast resolutions and reduces agent workloads
- Providing basic information and deflecting inbound volume during peak call hours
SMS stands for short messaging service, although most of us just call it text messaging. In a business setting, SMS allows companies to send and receive messages and multimedia content to and from customers.
SMS benefits are similar to those of IVR in that it:
- Gives customers a convenient way to communicate with a company
- Can automate the process of disseminating information
- Helps route customers to the best available resource while deflecting calls away from live agents
When combined, these two tools form an automated customer service machine. Knowing how to use SMS together with IVR gives organizations a major leg up in the fight to provide the best possible customer experience and keep response times low.
Give customers what they want
- 78% of people say text messaging is the fastest way for companies to reach them1
- 98% of SMS alerts are read by customers2
- SMS has 5X the open rate for SMS as compared to the open rate of emails3
SMS can increase the potential and efficiency of remote agents.
On the flip side, from an operational perspective, digital messaging channels afford newly remote contact centers more control over their environment because they mitigate background noise without compromising interaction quality.
Further, supplementing an IVR interaction with digital channels like SMS sets up a win-win situation for your business and your customer insofar as the customer gets to complete a transaction fully with minimal hassle and your contact center gets to convert an expensive, agent-assisted interaction into a self-guided experience driven by the customer which usually means lots of cost (and time) savings. And, if that wasn’t enough:
- Messaging agents do not require as much bandwidth as voice agents, so you can create a wider opportunity for agents to work from home.
- Messaging shifts agent service capacity from a 1-to-1 conversation to a many-to-one conversation as agents can handle numerous asynchronous conversations at once.
- Messaging also allows agents to ramp up quickly for SMS intraday peaks. Like voice campaigns, inbound SMS volume can be directly tied to outreach efforts as shown in Figure 1 of one company’s SMS outbound volume (in green) and inbound SMS volume (in blue). A deeper look at the company’s inbound volume in Figure 2 shows how large the influx can be. This insight can enable managers to schedule messaging agents accordingly.
Overtime, SMS call dispositions can be used to improve IVR strategies and refine auto-responses for both SMS and Voice workflows.
Like voice call resolution reports, SMS resolution reports can also provide insight on ways to improve call strategies and create auto-responses to increase self-service. For example, Figure 3 below shows insight on SMS resolutions for one bank’s contact center. The overwhelming SMS response was for account balance checks followed by payments. The contact center manager can create links in future SMS and voice IVR workflows to offer balance checks and facilitate payments without reaching an agent.
A key to adding SMS strategies and gaining such insight is to effectively integrate any SMS application into the overall contact center application — including the contact center’s other engagement channels, CRM, and performance analytics solution. Accomplishing this can be challenging but is fundamental to successfully evolving to a modern contact center.
How to use SMS
It’s hard to think of a more convenient way to reach customers than by sending text messages. In addition to sending basic text content, today’s messaging platforms can also send multimedia, like images and website links. Here are a few ingenious ways to use SMS as an IVR alternative.
Update customers on the status of their order
One of the most frequent reasons customers call B2C companies is to check in on their orders. Instead of making them go through a phone menu, instantly provide order confirmation messages and delivery updates via text.
Send appointment and bill-pay reminders
In addition to helping busy consumers stay on top of upcoming appointments and payment deadlines, this function has the added benefit of helping companies avoid delinquent accounts and reduce appointment no-shows.
The last thing many customers want to do at the end of a support call is take a feedback survey. SMS makes it easy for them to provide feedback on their own time. You can also automate the process of offering incentives in exchange for feedback, like a discount code after completing a questionnaire.
Offer personalized recommendations
When your SMS platform is integrated with your CRM, you can pull in customer data to deploy all sorts of cool personalizations. Send text alerts when a product the customer was interested in is back in stock or about to go out of stock. Offer early access and high-value discounts to your most valuable customers.