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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Who is the Clutch Player on your Team?

January 17, 2013 1 comment

In sports, a “clutch” athlete is one who performs well in pivotal or in a high-pressure situation. This includes many instances where a good performance means the difference between a win and a loss. There is a bit of debate as to whether the player is acting above what they can normally achieve, but we can skip that for the moment. Whether it is a penalty kick, a three pointer, the winning putt or a diving save, the situation presents itself.

JW

In the business world, this is the master presenter, the sales person you bring in to close the deal, the cool, calm and collected, person who does not sweat and is able to withstand the most hostile beat-down and walk away with the the deal and their pride intact. The common thread is that given the chance, does an individual seize upon the opportunity of a pressure situation and ‘kill it’.

Now, here is where I take a little poetic license and change gears, literally. The mechanical use of a clutch is to match the transmission and power or motion needs between a power source and something spinning. Most of us know this as the 3rd foot pedal in a car (which if you are in the US, your parents or your younger self, drive). The key here is that there are two things moving at different that need some help to match speeds. If done properly,  the car does not feel like a bucking Bronco.

You need a Person who can do both

The pace of change in technology is moving faster than the pace of change of your teams ability to manage or adapt to it. Technology is moving so fast that Enterprises are struggling, culturally, to keep up. Often, it is a rough ride.  Your customers are also moving fast, their expectations are outpacing your ability to deliver. ClutchWho can bridge the gap?

This person will understand both the technology and your customers, they can make the diving save (think customer service and disaster avoidance).  This person can also help to match the speed between the technology and the culture, soften the blow. In the corporate world, matching speed is not easy, it takes a lot of patience. The gears will grind every once in a while, but we all need this person, and it may not always be the person you expect.

No one like to ride a bucking Bronco – well almost no one.

(First Image: http://www.nba.com/history/legends/jerry-west/index.html)
(Second Image: http://wannaspeed.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=83_97)

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Simplicity

March 12, 2012 4 comments

Without a doubt, I am a fan of Albert Einstein. Beyond his scientific genius, his logic based approach and his stylish hair, he had a way with words.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”

If you take out the ‘violence’ bit, what is left is that reducing complexity to simplicity is…well, not so simple. As I look around the technology landscape, the obvious examples of this jump out, Apple is the poster child, but that is too easy. Let’s consider your customers:

  • What are you doing to simplify the lives (work or personal) of your customers?
  • Do you have a good grasp on what they want? Need? (There is a difference).

Do One Thing Really Well

An example most people can easily relate to is ‘storing stuff’. Here is the physical metaphor; As a traveler, I am looking forward to the day that when I open up my closet in my hotel room, there are my clothes for the day, exactly as they appear in my closet at home. I did not pack a suitcase, I did not drag a roller-thingy across 1000 yards from Terminal F to Terminal C at Chicago’s O’Hare.

The technology example is the storage and retrieval of my work files. Fair to say that a 8GB USB key would probably do the job, but that has become a pain. Why? Well, I work on a desktop, laptop and iPad – only 2 of 3 actually have a USB port. You could also say this is a problem of my own creation (yes, but hold that thought). A few companies have started to address this problem (Apple is, again, one). Many are doing this one thing really really well. Where companies get into trouble is trying to do too much – a place they will struggle to hide the complexity.

“Excellence is the sum of 100 or 1,000 of <these> little details.” Drew Houston, DropBox

Do you Hide Complexity?

Providing a great experience (user or otherwise) is really hard, there is no doubt. The secret sauce of your offering, whatever it is, it is what you need to do better than anyone and provide great value. In general, there are at least two parts of a great experience. The remembered experience, you know the part we love, brag about (Facebook share) and thoroughly enjoy; think 2 feet of fresh powder on the slopes. Then there are parts which enabled that great experience but are meant to be forgotten; think parking lot shuttle or the high-speed chairlift.

The technological version is that when I am actively using an application, buttons, and user interface are important. I want fewer mouse clicks (or none), I want simplicity, when possible, but control of my own experience, when I want it. How about the other bits, the hard things; integrated spell check, auto-save, notifications, etc.,… In theory, gone are the days that I need to worry about these things, right? But, it took a long time to hide this complexity and we all complained pretty loudly when our file was lost, or an important document went to press with a spelling error. I only remember those things, when they don’t work.

Positive experiences are as much about the stuff that is memorable, as the stuff that is not. If I remember the ski-lift it is because it was a long line, a cold ride or it broke.

Balance

The relationship among complexity, simplicity and transparency is an interesting dynamic. Is it important to know the mechanics of the ‘detachable’ part of the chair or the size of the counterweight, on the ski lift? How many of you have asked to see the elevator certification (which is in the management office)? Do your users really want to know the actual protocol used to read and write data to and from your Dropbox files locally and how they are synchronized to the network? (Maybe)

Within the organizations you are doing business with, some people will want all the details and some really do not care. What most people really do care about is the following:

  • You know the details,
  • You are willing to share them if asked; Transparency
  • For whatever you sell, it does what it says it does.

Finally, Is it Simple to Use, Simple to Understand and Simple to Explain?

I believe more people would prefer to think about the ride down in 2 feet of fresh powder, but that is just me.

(Image source)

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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Device Explosion – Just Deal with It

January 25, 2012 3 comments

<Circa 2000>

  • “DVD Player, Check”
  • “LeapPad, Check”
  • “Discman, Check”
  • “Laptop, Check”
  • “Car Chargers, Check”

“Ok, the kids are ready for the car ride!”

<Circa 2012>

  • “iPhone 4S, Check”
  • “iPad 2, Check”
  • “KindleFire, Check”
  • “Macbook Air, Check”
  • (Batteries last all day)

“Ok, I am ready to go to work now”

The Back Story

For those of you who can remember way back in the day; you know, when your work computer was faster than your personal one and you had a 17″ monitor in the office, but only a 14″ at home. The download speed at the office rocked (work had this thing called a “T1”). The Ink-Jet printer at home did not hold a candle the color laser printer at work, and you were on the list to get a company mobile phone. ‘Cyber Monday’ actually can trace its roots back to different time as well, because we had to go to work to shop online. Then Bubble 1.0 happened and the real benefit to us is that we got buy the better computer at home, pay for the better bandwidth, and buy our own mobile phone – no, wait, this was better? The result: your own devices are better, faster and bit of a status symbol (or fashion statement, as my daughter would suggest) and best of all – The IT guy cannot get his grubby hands on your device!

Fast forward to the current landscape and these personal devices are even more valuable, why? Between Dropbox, Box.net, Gmail, GoogleDocs, Office365; iPads, iPhones, Galaxy and Samsung (Thumb drives are so 2000), all my data is in the cloud and I can get to it from any and all devices. Unfortunately, as a business, you have no idea where all the documents are located, where information is stored and how to cut access if needed (much less avoid copies). The funny thing is that the critical files still go missing while the Christmas party video of the boss has gone viral and will never disappear. This might not be the “Big Data” problem everyone is talking about, but it is a data problem and it is big. It is easy to send files to my Kindle email, synchronize my files across between my Desktop, iPad and iPhone using DropBox, Box.net is plan B (but still good) and when I want to make sure I have a presentation available I upload it to three different clouds and still email it to Gmail simply to make sure it lives on 2 mail servers. My description is not without hyperbole,  as most standard business users do not need to go to such lengths, but how far off am I, really?

Is this a Data Problem or a Device Problem?

Among the most interesting aspects of this entire conversation is that people are more productive, if they are happy. If you told them to do all of the above, there would be a revolt for sure, but since it was their idea, their choice, you are best to just deal with it (Anyone with kids, gets this concept without question). I have recently begun an experiment, where I gave up my laptop, exchanged for an iPad (still have a desktop at home). It has not been without struggles, but so far so good. I am trying out the KindleFire, and I will eventually decide which device I like best and I will stick with it, until I change my mind.

What is the relevance here, and how and why do businesses care? In order to move forward, it might be a good idea to think about what IBM thinks on the topic.  (I will give the source in a moment):

“Part of the beauty of pervasive computing is that we will not even realize that it is here, once it has become a necessary part of our lives. In the future it will often be invisible, and the user interface will be intuitive. The other important part of the story is that it will all be networked. Data, once entered, will never have to be entered again, but will be readily available whenever and wherever needed.”

The source: “A look at human interaction with pervasive computers” Ark and Selker, IBM Systems Journal (PDF). What is most interesting to me is the date of the publication, July 29, 1999. Look around and many people are saying/talking/writing about this just now, but it has been top of mine for many years. The paper goes on to share the following:

“Computers will not only be increasingly mobile, but information will be accessible from any mobile position. We should not have to carry around devices containing our information. Rather, devices will recognize who we are and obtain information about us, through “remembrance agents” or adaptive user models, Internet information storage, or other means.

Information appliances have human-computer interfaces. An information appliance should be easy for anyone to use and the interaction with the device should be intuitive. Careful design is critical for an intuitive interaction with the device. Although the desktop computer can do many things, this functionality can be separated into more appropriate devices. Some examples of successful popular devices are cellular phones, pagers, televisions, wristwatches, and toasters. Of course, there can be times when these devices become difficult to use, but in their basic form, they meet the criteria for information appliances.”

I suppose that the question above, in bold, is actually incorrect. It is neither a data, nor a device problem, it is an interface problem. With a focus on jobs to be done; I have a job to do, I know what I need to get it done. Every organization simply needs to facilitate my ability and capability. Gone are the days that we can simply sit someone down at a desk and say: “Here is your PC, there is the printer, here is your password for the domain, have a good day”. In order to be productive, the workforce of today and tomorrow has very specific preferences, and we would be wise to consider those preferences. Will it be as exciting when work gives me an iPad?…

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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The Evolution of Customer Service

October 7, 2011 6 comments

Customer expectations are evolving and customers are more vocal and willing to share both when something is good and something is bad. Customer service is also evolving, frankly, in order to keep pace with customers; but is the pace fast enough? The pace of the change; driven by customers, is accelerating because the social web (commerce and network) has enabled and empowered customers. Try and think back 10-15 years ago; did you make purchases online? Other than ask friends, did you read online reviews? What levels of service were tolerable, did you accept?  When you needed to contact a company did you consider sending a text? You might have sent an email, but when something really needed to happen, you picked up the phone. You might have even sent a letter, you know, the kind requiring a stamp.

In the chart below, I worked to encapsulate and share my view of the top-level changes within customer service. I intentionally did not assign dates to the past, nor the future; the past could be yesterday or last year, the future tomorrow or 2015. This is a not an all or nothing phenomenon, your organization may have certain elements well within the futures bucket and others stuck in the past.  The chart is a refinement of my Evolution of CRM chart, published about a month ago. I am looking forward to sharing these thoughts and more at the Contact Center Expo next week in London

Element One – People

The people involved in customer service, historically, had been the people with customer service somewhere in their title, yes that simple. Organizations need to change this, if they want to grow and prosper (survive?). Products and services are becoming more complex, other parts of the organization absolutely need to become part of the customer engagement process. I am not simply talking about transferring phone calls; it is much bigger than that. I am talking about collaboration and knowledge sharing. You might even call it social business, but I do not want to get ahead of myself.

Element Two – Process

Gone are the days of a paper manual with defined processes for as many scenarios as management can think up. Actually, for some those days are not actually gone. Customers are no longer interested in listening to the script, following the guided path nor being pushed towards the efficient route . If the ‘people’ part of the evolution is accurate, then organizations will also need a way to coordinate activities with other parts of the organization. Yelling over the cubicle does not count as collaboration and sticky notes do not count as knowledge management.

Element Three – Technology

A technical discussion could be approached from many different directions. With respect to this conversation, the more interesting technical element has to do with the channel match which needs to occur between the desire of the organization and the needs of the customer; i.e. the channels of communication used by each. Not only do organizations need to adapt to the changing channel usage by their customers, they need to realize that customer ‘channel hop’ – changing their mode of communication even mid-stream within an interaction happens. Organizations need to consider active pull, versus push to optimize their channel strategy. Active pull means that the value offered on channels you would like people to use is valuable to them, not just you. Real-time, synchronous channels are more expensive, but studies show that satisfaction rates are also higher on these channels.

Element Four – Duration

Historically, the length of time spent by either side of an interaction was limited to the specific activity performed, or issue discussed. Customer Service metrics are often tied to duration, like average handle time. While not every interaction will take on a life of its own, interactions will create a string of communications and form the basis of an ongoing relationship between customer and organization. Enhanced, more sophisticated activities like co-creation and ideation will now take place as well, during product use when it can be most beneficial. This is not about creating life-long friendships, your customer does not want to be your BFF either, this is about working together to mutual benefit. Take the time required to solve the problem, and make sure the customer’s concerns are heard.

Element Four – Centricity

As noted above, metrics and KPIs have been driving Contact Centers since the beginning of time <hyperbole>. The truth is handle time and concepts such as first call resolution will continue to be used, but they will not be the only driving force. As a matter of fact, these metrics will move further down, possibly even to tertiary consideration. As opposed to simply figuring out how quickly they are able to get the customer off of the phone, customer service professionals will consider more than just the current case and will be given latitude to do the right thing and stay on the phone to help the customer. Insights towards customer need by the agent will be augmented by business intelligence both real-time and in aggregate.

Element Five – Approach

Few people appreciate being caught off-guard, unprepared or surprised. Customer issues are more often than not identified first by the customer. What if the customer service teams could identify potential issues and do something about them before the small issues become very large issues? This can be accomplished simply with operational metrics made available to agents (insights). Spending a few more minutes on the phone with a customer, to really understand the root cause of an issue is worth the time and effort.  Or, how about proactive notifications of outages, or product issues (positive call deflections)? Further, taking the time to collaborate with the internal organization, providing superior value to customers, will also reap rewards in the form of loyalty and future business.

Is it possible to put it all together?

Yes it is. It is going to take work? Yes it will.  I do not believe you can accomplish it all at once, nor should you try. That said, understanding how all the of the elements are interrelated is an imperative. Some of the elements are within the control of the IT department; some are in Sales and Marketing, while you can control some as well. In the end, it not really about control; Customer Service is about doing what is best for the customer. What do you think? Am I way off base?

Who Leads the Social CRM Market? – An Analysis

April 23, 2011 3 comments

The question was raised on Focus and my answer may have surprised a few people. I started my answer with a disclaimer “I work at Sword Ciboodle” (a technology vendor for those of you who do not know). I then proceeded to state my opinion that no technology vendor currently leads the market, even questioning if there is a “market” for Social CRM, my logic is that technology is only one part of the problem. By the way, the word Social is starting to get in the way:

“The leaders in the market are the consultants and analysts. The reason is simple, I am not convinced that Social CRM is an actual market. Integrating Social Channels into a customer strategy is something that needs to be done, absolutely. Connecting the Social dots is something that does need to be understood and practiced, but a market, not sure yet.

When I was speaking on the topic last year, I was cautious to describe it as ‘CRM in the Age of Social’. Customers have problems to solve, companies need to figure out how to solve those problems – just with a whole lot more channels. My first statement about consultants and analysts was not a knock, it is a recognition of the complexity of the problem, people and process first, not technology.

CRM is often discussed by its 3 core components, Sales, Marketing and Service – when we discuss Social CRM, which one are are talking about? Or are we talking about all 3 and more? Are we talking about Business to Business or Business to Consumer? There are 6 segments at least, where I believe there might be 6 different leaders”

Social CRM does Require Technology, but it is about People

A previous topic also on Focus sheds some light on my answer; “What are the top reasons for integrating Social Media with CRM”. Caty Kobe expands the question/problem statement to facilitate the discussion: “What are the top reasons why an organization should integrate CRM with social media channels” – There is the explanation to my answer, right there, simple. I did not even need to go to the answers (though friend Brian Vellmure has a good one), just the question.

Social CRM, from the technology perspective, is about integration of new channels, Social Media is a channel. Properly, Social Media is dozens of channels, where you need to choose the ones right for your business. The hard part, the real work, is choosing which channels to integrate and then designing the processes around these channels – the people part. Just “being there” because someone told you to is not a reason! Too many industry insiders (Vendors, Analysts and Consultants) are trying to put Social CRM into one simple bucket, it is not simple, and it is not one thing.

We need to find a balance among the new terms, big words and fluffy buzzwords. It is not all new – parts are new, the combinations are new, but in the end, Social Media is just a channel. If you are trying to figure out the Social CRM puzzle and you are doing your research, you might find definitions and descriptions; something like ‘The company’s response to the customers’ control of the conversation’ (@pgreenbe). If you are not comfortable with that one, I am sure you have found one you like. There is only one correct answer to the question of what is Social CRM, yours. Not OK with that, how about focusing on the strategy, not a definition? Looking back to a great post by friend Wim Rampen, who outlined a concise Social CRM Strategy:

“A Social CRM Strategy is all about understanding Who the customer is, through Listening to Engaging with and Collaboration between Customers, Employees and Partners and aimed at Developing Innovations that allow Customers to do What Jobs they need to do, by means of a Personalized Design that empowers Customers, Employees and Partners to influence How well Customers and Companies can meet their Desired Outcomes.”

Wim outlines some great actions, I encourage you to go back and read the original post and the conversation which followed. Notice that Wim only touches upon the technology components. Recognizing that they are there, but not focusing on them first. Some may find this strategy to constraining, some may find it to broad. The beauty of sharing it is that people can take from it and see how it fits within their own organization. It is not only about building new strategies and new frameworks – honestly I think some of the new stuff, without even a hint at looking at the old is pure rubbish. You will need to take this strategy and apply it to your programs of work. If we all spent a little bit more time understanding where we have been, we might be better at figuring out where we need to go.

So, Who is in the Lead?

Finishing off with the Social CRM Market question, which I do not want to leave hanging. There is not ‘a‘ Market, there are many different Markets, including both technology and consultative, there are data questions and process questions. From integrating social channels into your Customer Service operations (where Ciboodle excels) to Socialytics (which Ciboodle does not do, but we have friends who do) – and all the bits in between. For now, it is about how to integrate; technology and process, Social into the programs of work for the foundational components of CRM; Sales Service and Marketing. In the future, we will be able to get rid of the ‘Social’ descriptor and go back to focusing on doing business. The organization or person in the lead is the one who solves the problem you need fixed – not the one with the best marketing department.

Is Twitter a Customer Service Platform, Protocol or Channel?

March 14, 2011 4 comments

Twitter is an interesting beast, that is for sure. I am sure a few (or more) will suggest that it is none of the above. Or, better, that it is a monumental waste of time.

The nature of Twitter is that everything is open for the world to see, that does beg the question of how best does Twitter fit into your Customer Service processes? Some of the challenges are actually a bit technical in nature; Twitter is actually a Service Platform*, which acts like a Protocol, and should be treated like a Channel. In order to get there, maybe a little bit of review is in order. My review is timed for an event, close to home, where JetBlue and Comcast are planning to present to a small group here in Burlington, VT. The interest lies in the fact that by one measure, JetBlue is considered tops in Loyalty, yet are almost 3 times as likely (as the baseline) to see a negative experience show up on Twitter.

Looking Back

The question I began to think about a long time ago is whether by making a channel such as Twitter readily available, companies were ‘creating a monster’ or ‘letting the genie out of the bottle’ and wishing that they had not. This is very Inside Out thinking, and non-customer centric. I first published a post in October 2009 titled “Why do people think Twitter is a good Customer Service platform?” (link). Some parts of the article were a bit tongue in cheek, as Twitter in the support arena was quite new. In that article I suggested the following statement to be a truth:

The need to broadcast a problem to the world would not be necessary if the customer had confidence that their issue would  be solved timely and to their satisfaction.

Almost a year and a half later, I am revisiting the same issue, to see if things have changed, or not. I also suggested that using Twitter for support masks a larger issue. Customer do not have confidence that their issues will be addressed when they contact a company or register a complaint. There was some good discussions regarding the post. No, not everyone was in full agreement either. There have been a lot really smart people (smarter than me) thinking about this issue, now 18 months further along. That said, while people have been thinking about it, data to support or to counter the arguments is hard to find. I am not convinced anyway. Looking at this problem from the more important customer perspective, if your customers are there, then you need to be there to, right? the comment from Parature hits the mark:

Regardless of whether or not it is a good customer service platform, customers are taking their issues social and they can’t be ignored.

Core to this discussion is trying to figure out exactly; what is Twitter? During the recent history that is modern customer service, the channels of communication have been controlled by the organization (for the most part, of course there are exceptions); In-Person, Phone, Letter, Fax, IVR, Email, Website, Chat. These are protocols/channels, which a company decided to offer, or not. Unless something went really wrong, and it made the news, or trade press of some sort, the results of communication were ‘contained’.  With that in mind, Esteban Kolsky had the following to say on the previous post:

Any channel a customer chooses to contact an organization is a channel the organization should be listening on – or have a clearly stated and well-known reason not to (example: you cannot contact your broker about a trade via email due to latencies)…. Despite the novelty behind it Twitter remains a simple channel you add to your lineup of channels to serve customers. If you understand the basic rules of engagement for the channel, and how to deliver value best (e.g. tweeting the answer in 14-consecutive-tweets versus posting a link to somewhere) to your customers, then you should be able to deliver against those expectations – after you set them at the right level.

We have not Answered the Question

As noted above, Twitter is not a Customer Service Platform – it is only part of a Customer Service Platform, maybe. That does not mean people do not use it as such. Coca-Cola is not billed as a rust removal system either, just saying. Some believe that Twitter should be an open protocol, but that is not likely to happen either.  Therefore, a channel of communications is what is left, that is what Twitter is, and how it should be treated. This does not take anything away from it, just calling it like I see it. Your customers are there, and therefore you need to be there as well. Some old rules are broken though, unless I am missing something important. For example, if JetBlue has that many negative issues, then their loyalty number could not be that high if it takes “12 good things for every bad”.

The follow-up question is how well is this (or any) channel is integrated into the rest of your customer service processes? According to some recent research (Brent Leary analysis), 35% of companies surveyed said “Yes” when asked “Is your social media/social networking fully integrated into traditional customer service problem-resolution processes?” I need to be direct and question that particular statistic, as I have yet to run into many (any?) companies at all where the processes are truly integrated from end to end. The simple point is about a technical challenge or limitation, your customers will know if they systems are integrated, or not.  Even so, 65% of companies recognize that social is not integrated, therefore each is an island of process and of information. Your customers deserve better than this, no? I spend a lot of time thinking rhough these types of issues for Sword Ciboodle and our customers.

(*For the technical minded in the group, Twitter seems to be tending towards a service, offered by a private company, as a 3rd parties can typically build on top of a platform, but those rules seemed to be changing as well (who can and will make changes)).

Where Does SMS Fit in the [Social] World?

February 27, 2011 6 comments

I wanted to see if I could write an entire post using an iPhone, for some reason, it seemed an interesting way to think about SMS, (the protocol behind text messaging) as a channel communication.  I did get the first 250 words ‘penned’ on the device, but failed to complete the task. I wanted to learn more about SMS, both technically and culturally. SMS/texting is a bit Jekyll and Hyde, as it seems to be among the most private form of communication available, yet, at the same time it is extremely social (ask a teenager), there in lies the intrigue. During my journey, the most consistent thing I found, was inconsistency! In my current role with Sword Ciboodle, spending time thinking about intelligence in the contact center consumes a lot of my time – Where does SMS fit? Do you have the answer?

I started my exploration with a query on Twitter. My simple question was “If someone hands you a business card, there is implied permission to call/email. What about texting? Why?” As some responses began to come in, my curiosity was piqued and I began to wonder about  the broader SMS topic as well as where this peculiar channel fits into the customer service as well as the Social CRM realm. I then began to think about forms (requests for data online and off) and wondered if by giving a mobile number, there is an implied permission to use SMS. I expanded my research to the usual places (Google and Wikipedia) as well as to request the assistance of a few good friends.

SMS is often like ‘phoning from under the table’. Were you ever in a meeting and it was running over time, and you had to SMS your next meeting, or SMS the person chairing the meeting so you could get out? That’s the sort of back channel, back door to the main conversation that SMS enabled. It’s not the main conversation, it augments the main conversation. Kids do this all the time.  Five kids in a huddle are talking to one another face to face, and another ten people via SMS, at the same time, and they are often in the same conversation. –  Paul Sweeney, Friend and Head of Innovation VoiceSage

Paul’s comments really struck a nerve, mostly on the wide and varied use of SMS. His point on ‘augmenting’ the main conversation is a good and important one. In this case, it is like a back channel, with urgency and immediacy attached. I am not sure about your phone, but SMS seems to take priority, popping up and interrupting everything else. That said, I  fear that we are no closer to defining how exactly SMS fits into a channel, social or communication strategy. Still struggling, I decided to reach out to another friend, Barry Dalton, Senior Vice President of Technology, for Telerx. Barry hit on a couple of  excellent points, and finally I can being to see how the pieces fit together:

When I call you, whether you’re a business acquaintance or dear friend, you have the option of picking up or letting the call go to vm [voice mail].  SMS does not afford the receiver the same control.  Have you ever sent a text and not gotten a response?  What was your feeling?  The sender knows the text went through.  The expectation is that it will be responded to, pretty immediately.  Whereas a voice mail left has a lesser expectation of immediate, or any, response.  So, in that sense, with that expectation from the sender, I think it is viewed as more invasive and thus more personal.  As for the person to company, its not so much the intimacy as it is the expectation of immediate response.

One particular point struck me, and that is that SMS is more invasive, it is not only push, but it is push NOW! As Barry highlights, there is a bit of uncertainty associated with not receiving a reply to a text. With family, the order is; Are they ok? Is the phone off? Am I being ignored, how rude! With business associates, it is the same list, just in reverse. As Paul stated “It retains those characteristics of being “of the moment”, thus the etiquette that has evolved.” Though I am not quite sure what the etiquette has evolved to, that is the question. Barry added some great and important points. As I mentioned in a previous post, I did spend some time on a Skype call with Graham Hill on this topic and Graham was of like mind here – “When you give out your mobile number, there is not an expectation that people will initiate the conversation via text”.

A bit of background and some data

According to Wikipedia, SMS / text messaging is the most widely used data application in the world, with 2.4 billion active users, or 74% of all mobile phone subscribers. Yes, that is both bigger than Facebook, Twitter and YouTube combined and more far reaching. The popularity is greater in emerging markets as well.

Starting with a little compare and contrast:

  • For India: Mobile phone usage is (752 Million as of Feb 2011, with a 65% penetration) larger than the Internet usage which is (100 Million as of December 2010, 8.5% penetration). Various sources suggest that SMS usage in India is about 60% **.
  • For the United States: Mobile phone usage sits at about 293 Million mobile phone users, with a 93% penetration. The number of Internet users is about 240 Million, with about a 77% penetration. Percentage of US subscribers who use SMS (versus number of messages) is unclear to me at this time.
  • Both countries have about 40% Internet usage from their mobile devices, but the raw numbers are obviously quite different.

Getting back to SMS, while mobile phone talk usage use increased 1.8x between June 2005 to June 2010, the number of text messages sent in the US increased 37x in the same time period (CTIA). As I alluded to above, I believe SMS usage is skewed, especially in the US and hard to put percentages around, unless you slice and dice the data across many variables (age, gender, education, location, business…) SMS has an interesting history as well. SMS is sent over the control channel required between the mobile handset & the tower, which is the basis of the 163 character limitation. “SMS is sent over the control channel required between the mobile handset & the tower. This is a channel that the telecom operators need to have, its sine qua non – an inescapable cost thats already written off.” (Prem Kumar) The control channel is something that is needed, existed already, is underutilized bandwidth and did not cost the carriers anything extra – think about that when you consider your bill.

The Task at hand, Where Does SMS Fit?

I am not talking about ‘Social’ everthing , I am talking about communications, protocol and etiquette. When someone hands you a business card, the current standard is phone and email. Often, there are two or more phone numbers, office, mobile and maybe fax. More sophisticated folks may use Google voice, or some such technology, giving only one number. When a business has your mobile number they need explicit permission to use it for marketing purposes. According to Graham, businesses have not fully grasped the potential of SMS. My perspective, is that they are focusing on all of the other applications which sit higher on the stack of the mobile device. SMS is a perfect medium to drive a call to action. The character limitation is a perfect ‘excuse’ not to include details, because you cannot actually do it.

Where and how should SMS fit into the overall customer experience? SMS seems like a powerful yet simplistic communication protocol, which everyone with a mobile device has access to (though in the US there is an extra charge). It is fast, and works through walls (you know, those building where phones barely work, yes SMS works). There are some fantastic uses of SMS:

  • Your car is ready, please come by and pick it up, thank you for your business
  • You are nearing the limit on your <insert many things>, would you like to add to the balance now?
  • We are running a special on double mocha lattes, please stop by, show the attached code
  • Here is your boarding card sir/madam, just use the attached QR code to board your flight.

Notice that the main use is outbound, SMS, in the context of business to consumer does not appear to be (not in the US anyway) a synchronous, by directional form of customer communications. I would like to hear a good example of a customer using an inbound SMS to take action. Send ’em if you got ’em! What are the boundaries of your mobile number? Would you expect a new acquaintance to send you a text message?  What if an online form asks for a mobile number? Say for your kids school, the cable company, the electric company? Is the answer the same?

Yes, I am asking a lot questions in this particular post. Some friends made some interesting comments when I asked the question on Twitter the other night. Barry suggested that Customer Service has skipped SMS, which I’m some industries is true. But, there is value. A special thanks for friends listed below as well as those through Twitter who offered feedback during my exploration. I would like hear your thoughts!