business messaging blog
Airlines are beginning to experiment with two-way SMS customer service
Scott Navratil

When it comes to texting, there’s an interesting dynamic: while we constantly text our friends, relatives, and co-workers back and forth, we never send text messages to businesses. In recent years text message marketing has become popular so businesses are texting us, but we’re not texting back. And even if we did, there wouldn’t be a human on the other end to read it and respond. About the only two-way texting that bulk SMS marketing platforms handle are one-word or one-number responses like “STOP” for opting out or a number between one and ten for the purposes of SMS-based surveys. There’s a disconnect here between what people want and what businesses are offering because people love texting. We now spend more time texting than speaking on the phone and many would prefer to be able to resolve a complaint via text instead of having to speak with a customer service representative over the phone. Well the airline industry–one not known for it’s great customer service track record–is looking to change that with two-way SMS customer service.

How it works

Airlines have long used one-way SMS to conveniently inform customers of gate chances, flight status changes, etc… but if you need any follow up information or if you want to log a complaint or to try and get some flyer miles for your trouble, you’ll have to call their customer service line. Currently, two airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue, are investing in a software upstart that will add SMS capabilities to their customer service centers. What this means is that customers can either choose to call or reply to a text sent by the airline. One team of customer service agents can handle inbound calls while the other can read and respond to texts. Since the team that’s texting can balance several conversations at once–they can respond to one text while another person is formulating a response to another text–it can free up resources for the inbound call time, reducing wait times for those who prefer to call and overall improving the customer service experience.

Better for customers and companies

Adding SMS to customer service teams makes sense all around. For customers, just having the option to text instead of call makes the entire experience easier. When a customer calls and is put on hold, they have to navigate a convoluted system of options and responses to try and get connected to the right person. Often, they will still need to wait on hold until a person can assist them which means walking around awkwardly with the phone pressed against their ear or putting the phone on speaker and staying within a few feet of it for however long it takes. With SMS, they can send a text and go about their day and their phone will alert them when the company has responded. Then can text back at their convenience and continue about their day again until they get another response.

Because of the immediacy of texts, customers have an outlet to vent frustrations that doesn’t require them to wait. It’s during the waiting that many customers turn to Social Media to air dirty laundry and damage a company’s image online. SMS customer service can help reduce this.

What about chatbots?

Two-way customer service and chatbots go perfectly hand-in-hand and while there aren’t any airlines investing in chatbots yet, it’s a natural extension to their plan of two-way SMS. Chatbots can further free up the resource of human customer service agents by automating some of the texting back and forth. Through machine learning and natural language processing, a chatbot can determine the nature of the person’s complain, pull up pertinent account info and route the customer to a live agent who can continue the texting conversation from there.

Chantel Fullilove

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