Neil Papworth, a software programmer working for Vodafone, sent the world’s first text message on December 3rd, 1992. In the 30+ years since Papworth sent a “Merry Christmas” to his colleague, SMS has become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to take it for granted.
After all, businesses now have more channels than ever to choose from, and they should have ample customer data to determine exactly how customers want to be reached. Yet in practice, it seems that businesses and their customers are often talking past one another in channels saturated by noise.
In an era of so many options and so much bombardment, how can a business make sure their messages connect with their customers? To answer that question, we’ll share the data on which channels consumers prefer and show you how to build real, two-way conversations with customers to cut through the noise with your message.
A startling disconnect in the lines of communication
Recently, we spoke with business leaders to learn where they’re putting their focus this year. To our surprise, their responses weren’t all about the economy. The two leading concerns leaders identified were “improving the customer experience” and “effectively communicating with customers.”
And just how worried are they? A whopping 49% told us they were “very concerned” about effectively communicating with their customers. When nearly half of business leaders tell us they don’t know how to reach people — and aren’t even sure how to ask customers what they prefer — it’s a big red flag that the lines of communication are in serious trouble.
The result of this disconnect is that companies are making their best guesses on how they ought to reach customers. While newer channels like social media get a fair share of play, the majority of businesses we surveyed chose email as their most important communication platform. It’s not a bad choice. It’s just not what consumers prefer.
SMS is the channel of choice for the majority of consumers
Of course, there are two sides to every conversation. That’s why we also consulted consumers to learn more about their behavior. What they shared was eye-opening.
By far, the channel that most attracts consumer attention turned out to be SMS, according to 50% of respondents. SMS also edged out email as the preferred channel for communication from businesses (and performed three times better than social media — sorry, TikTok).
On reflection, this only makes sense. SMS is a channel that lends itself well to brief, direct messages that quickly connect with consumers. It’s not as intrusive as push notifications, and doesn’t lend itself to the long-windedness associated with email. For consumers who want easy, human touch points, SMS is a great option.
But it’s also a great one for businesses. SMS lends itself well to customer service, appointment reminders, shipment tracking, and other important communications. And for promotions it’s a tough one to beat — our research revealed that an SMS from retailers led more than 80% of consumers to visit their store, either physically or online.
But the biggest benefit of all, the factor that ties all the others together, is that SMS is an easy channel to manage. That’s also what makes it so popular. Consumers like getting a quick answer to their questions, and one they can respond to at their leisure. That easy back-and-forth leads to better, more meaningful engagement with the people you serve, and keeps them coming back for more.
SMS puts you where your customers need you
SMS might be thirty years old, but it’s not ready to be put out to pasture. In fact, its simplicity might just be the secret to its success.
That’s an important thing for company leaders to keep in mind, maybe now more than ever. With so many rapid changes in the market, many businesses feel like they’re struggling just to identify what their customers want.
But while some things may be in flux, we do know what hasn’t changed: Customers still rely on SMS, to the extent that it’s their channel of choice for business communication. That’s great news, too. Few channels are as personal or direct as SMS, and if you understand how to use it you’ll enjoy lasting engagement.
Because when you prioritize SMS, you’re not just giving customers what they want. You’re opening up a powerful line of communication that will make it easier from here on out to know what your customers need — and that’s when you get to deliver.