Trusted Toll-Free with Text Improves Customer Service

Customers today are as diverse as the products they choose and the channels they use for purchasing and support. Keeping pace with those changes is exactly why customer service is evolving so rapidly. Take toll-free customer service platforms, for example, which were architected decades ago to streamline companies' support operations. Toll-free numbers (also referred to as 800 numbers, with variations including 888, 877, 866, etc.) offered free long-distance calling and was a real benefit for a customer in New York to call a Los Angeles-headquartered company without being charged.

Toll-free numbers are typically easier to remember, particularly vanity toll-free numbers such as 1-800-FLOWERS and 1-800-PLUMBER, which studies have found to have a 75 percent higher recall rate than randomly assigned toll-free numbers and a 57 percent higher recall rate than website URLs in advertisements. It's one reason so many realtors, lawyers, government agencies, and nonprofits prefer them and trust them to instill customer confidence and engagement.

Today, there are 42 million toll-free numbers in use. Even during high-call volume periods, when there can be longer hold times, or when there are multiple department transfers, customers trust them for engaging with companies. It's not surprising that companies that always depended on toll-free numbers for their customer service calls are now expanding them with text messaging.

In a recent survey from Helpshift, 83 percent of consumer respondents indicated they are willing to make business text messaging their primary means of contacting customer support if they could be guaranteed an immediate response. Overwhelmingly, 96 percent said it is important to be able to return to and pick up a customer support conversation where it left off.

In addition to expanding the way customer service teams can engage with consumers, business texting can help strengthen customer relationships and improve customer satisfaction by enabling representatives to quickly send updates, confirmations, reminders, and trouble-shoot advice, all of which offer a transparent exchange of information. Seventy-five percent of millennials surveyed  find text reminders helpful, yet only 30 percent receive them from companies with which they do business regularly. With 77 million millennials in the United States—nearly a quarter of the U.S. population—this represents an opportunity for businesses to leverage existing toll-free phone numbers to send text messages for routine communications and to offer discounts or exclusive savings opportunities.

Paving the way for faster communication, business texting also provides consumers with instant gratification, which Salesforce says is a top expectation for superior customer experience. Every mobile phone sold in the past 20 years has a short message service (SMS) application preinstalled, with nearly every mobile service provider in the world supporting it.

Interestingly, even though it is the preferred way for consumers to interact, not every toll-free number is text-enabled. This creates a customer service challenge because, in some instances, customers do not realize that not all toll-free numbers are text-enabled; they text and get no response. This can result in lost revenue or poor brand experience and create a complete blind spot for customer care teams.

Thriving in today's increasingly competitive market is as much about attracting new customers as it is ensuring existing ones know their needs and concerns come first. Considering that consumers are likely already reaching out to businesses via toll-free numbers, there is a real opportunity to increase revenue, brand trust, and customer retention by investing in 1-800-enabled texting. With the highest open rate of all messaging types and only a 3 percent spam rate, 93 percent of consumers trust text. It's no wonder more businesses are using some form of text messaging today and many more expect to adopt it in the coming years.

Business text messaging also puts the consumer in control of the conversation. With texting, customers can easily opt in to receive text messages and customize the types of alerts they  receive. Once opted in, a verification text is sent to the mobile number provided by the customer. Opting out is just as easy by texting STOP.

By expanding the power of voice with text messaging, toll-free numbers become significantly more customer-centric, with the ability to support every customer, every time, anytime and anywhere with the speed and convenience that consumers expect.

Mike Gilbert is a senior account director at iconectiv, an partner of the global communications industry. Gilbert has diverse, progressive experience in telecom sales engineering, software development, project and program management, and new business development. Gilbert has spent his entire carrier in the telecom sector, starting as a software engineer on government communications projects and moving on to integrate VoIP services internationally. Gilbert finally discovered his true expertise in the toll-free industry, where he now sits on three industry standards boards. Gilbert holds a bachelor of science in computer science from the University of Delaware.