Toll-Free Text: Let Your Customers’ Thumbs do the Talking

Technology is a lot like the music business. You can be on top of the charts one day and completely irrelevant the next. The public is very fickle, and you must either change with the times or risk falling into the dustbin with yesterday’s news.

How many of you have children between the ages of 14 and 30? If you do, you know that you don’t call them on their cell phones − you text them. In fact, I would venture to guess that voice is the least-used feature on a 20-something’s iPhone or Android device. And don’t get me started on voicemail. I can’t recall the last time any of my three boys ever bothered to listen to the messages I left for them. The best I will get is a text that reads, “Why did you call?” If I am lucky, one of them might put a smiley face at the end, but it doesn’t get any better than that.

You can’t blame them, though. Young people today grew up in a world where the onscreen keyboard was more prominent than the dial pad. They are so good at typing with their thumbs that many don’t even need to look at the screen while they text their 100 or so BFFs (Best Friends Forever) – all at the same time.

It’s more than simply chatting with their friends and family. They expect to take this propensity to type to all aspects of communication. In other words, they don’t want to call businesses with questions or customer support issues. They want to text them, and they will often make buying decisions based on who is willing to text them back.

A Black Eye

Unfortunately, some businesses have given text a bad name. Are you aware of “cramming”? Cramming was the very questionable business practice of charging exorbitantly high text rates that billed consumers millions of dollars for services they didn’t buy. Charges of up to $9.99 would mysteriously show up on monthly statements with no clear explanation as to why they were there.

Thankfully, the FCC stepped in and since January 2014, these premium text services have been prohibited by law. No longer can large telecommunications companies foist these charges on unsuspecting consumers.

Toll-Free Text

Direct-dial 800 numbers have been around since the mid-1960s and consumers have come to expect free calls day and night. This winning strategy essentially gives a company an “Open for Business” sign that extends across the country.

What do you do with this new generation of consumers who are ready, willing and able to spend money on products and services, but have no desire to call someone to buy them? You could, of course, ignore them, but that’s not much of a business strategy. Instead, you wholeheartedly embrace their communication choice and wrap that “Open for Business” sign around SMS texting.

This is where toll-free text comes in. Like those direct-dial 800 numbers, toll-free texting takes cost out of the connection equation and puts voice and text on an equal footing. Customers no longer have to worry about unknown or hidden fees and can choose how they want to transact their business.

Now, some of you might be sitting back and thinking to yourself, “I already get unlimited text. Why should I care?”

That’s true. Many of us are on plans that allow us to text until our thumbs turn blue, but I will venture to say that despite its name, toll-free isn’t the most exciting part about toll-free text. Rather, it’s the same reason why cost is less of an issue with toll-free 800 numbers than it once was.

It’s really all about branding. It’s about having an instantly identifiable way to communicate that differentiates a company from its competition. In other words, toll-free text is a marketing tool that extends a company’s brand all the way down to the chat window, by leveraging the investment they’ve made in their existing 800 numbers. Companies advertise one number, and consumers can use it how they wish. I like to think of it as one-stop shopping for the millennial generation.

From an interaction standpoint, toll-free text opens up a world of opportunities. While some text messages might end up on the PCs of live agents, a significant number can be processed programmatically, and simple questions such as “What are your hours on Sunday?” can be automatically handled by computers. Toll-free text also gives companies the ability to convert incoming text messages to outgoing email responses or even (shudder) telephone calls.

For Example

Of course, toll-free text without a delivery mechanism isn’t very useful. Thankfully, a number of carriers and communications companies are stepping up to the plate and providing a variety of attractive solutions. One such company is ATL Communications and their Textify offering. With Textify, text messages can be processed manually with customer service representatives or through automatic processing. Customers receive the level of service they require, and organizations are able to use SMS text messages as another branding tool.

ATL isn’t alone in providing toll-free text. IP carriers such as Twilio and Flowroute both offer exciting and flexible solutions, and I expect that many others will soon be delivering their own products.

Avaya Can Help

Having your customers send toll-free text messages doesn’t do you a lot of good unless you have ways to receive and process them. Thankfully, both Avaya Aura Contact Center and Avaya Aura Elite Multichannel equip contact center agents with the tools to do just that. Not only does this extend the reach of an enterprise’s customer service arm, but these solutions turn voice-only agents into multichannel, multimedia powerhouses.

Just Do It

History is littered with the remains of companies that have failed to adapt to the ever-changing needs and expectations of their customers. Toll-free text is simply another tool that recognizes that the old ways are not always the best ways. Relevance extends to products, and a company’s image.

Will toll-free text completely eliminate the need to speak to a real human being? Absolutely not. But when a large part of the population chooses a different way to “talk” to you, you listen … or risk having them “talk” to someone else.

Andrew Prokop is the Director of Vertical Industries at Arrow Systems Integration. Andrew is an active blogger and his widely-read blog, SIP Adventures, discusses every imaginable topic in the world of unified communications. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ajprokop, and read his blog, SIP Adventures.