Engaging the customer in less than 160 words

“Hello! Welcome to Mumbai. The UK embassy can be reached at +91xxx . For any assistance call +91xxx. Happy to help.” This is the text message from Vodafone that I was greeted with when I switched on my UK mobile phone while stepping off a plane in Mumbai this Dec. During my travels, I am prone to get text messages from roaming operators, but what differentiates this message is the fact that it provides a very useful bit of info i.e. the phone number of the UK embassy in India.

In the space of 160 characters, Vodafone has been able to engage with me and ensured that we start off our brief relationship on the right note. When a roaming phone joins a network, the operator is aware of the owner’s home network – this is basic data. Going from data to insight needs a bit of thought around customer needs. When I am in a different country, I would want to know how I can reach the UK embassy in case of an emergency – this is insight. Vodafone (and some other operators in India) have married data and insight with SMS technology to deliver a perfect customer touch in 160 characters.

During my stay in India, I realised that a lot of companies in India are now using SMS to engage their customers. For example: As soon as you withdraw money from an ATM, you are likely to get a text saying ‘Rs xx has been withdrawn from Account 123xx via ATM at 12pm’. Similarly credit card companies allow customers to set limits, wherein customers get a text message as soon as a credit card is swiped – great if you are worried about credit card theft. Airlines, Train, Courier and Taxi companies now provide status updates via SMS. The best part of this deal is that it’s free!!

The west has been a bit slow in adopting SMS for customer service as well as a sales engine. Emerging economies like India and China have the advantage of seeing ‘new generation’ banks where the core banking systems are integrated with SMS and other social media tools, while banks in the West have legacy core banking systems that are difficult to re-engineer for the newer channels. But, we are starting to see Western businesses take SMS more seriously.

Using SMS is a good idea since text messaging has the ability to immediately reach a customer anywhere and is fairly low cost. It can also help save money. In the UK, NHS Trusts loose an estimated £614 m each year due to patient no-shows. Some NHS trusts are now using SMS based appointment reminder service to help cut no-shows. Considering the fact that according to the NHS, young men in their early 20s are the worst offenders for no-shows, the use of SMS and other mobile phone based reminder service is a very good idea.

In conclusion, it is not very difficult to craft a bland sales or service message in less than 160 words based on basic data. But companies like Vodafone India, that use insight rather than just data will be able to engage customers better than simple data churners

(This blog appeared in Capgemini’s Customer Experience Blog in Jan 2010)


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