June 12, 2014, 4:15 PM

A text message customer service tool helps retailers forgo many calls

Technology provider In The Chat today launches the new tool, which can be combined with its social media customer service platform. Retailers can save as much as 25% on their call center costs by adding text messages to their arsenal, the vendor’s CEO says.

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Customer service technology provider In The Chat today launched a new text message tool that routes text message queries from customers to an appropriate agent within one second of a text being sent, according to the vendor’s founder and CEO John Huehn. Not only does that allow a retailer to take advantage of one of the most ubiquitous communication channels among mobile phone owners, it will speed call center response times enough to cut costs by 25%, Huehn predicts.

The tool can especially help customers in stores. For example, someone in a home improvement store looking for a power washer could text a number posted in the aisle to ask where the product is and in seconds receive a response to head to aisle 7, Huehn says. The text message tool uses geolocation technology to provide a shopper’s location to a call center agent, who can look up the store floor plan. Or a shopper in a clothing store might want to inquire where she can find a pair of jeans in a different size—rather than waiting through the whole checkout line to ask and have the cashier call a nearby store, she can text to learn the jeans in the customer’s size are available down the street at another location as well as online.

Text messaging is roughly the offline equivalent of live chat, so far as convenience and response time are concerned, Huehn says, although an online shopper could also use text messaging to get help. “Customer service went from phone to e-mail to chat and jumped over text messaging—something everyone uses—right to social media,” he says. “But there are trillions of text messages sent in North America alone.”

In 2012, U.S. mobile phone owners sent 171.3 billion text messages each month, according to the industry trade group CTIA-The Wireless Association. And, based on In The Chat surveys, Huehn says many consumers in the United States and Canada say they’d rather text than call for service.

Several retailers are launching the tool today, though Huehn declines to name the clients. They will advertise the text message number in signs in their stores and on their web sites, anywhere contact information would normally be found, he says. In preliminary testing of the service, 84% of customers said they would have called if they weren’t able to text a retailer their question, and 86% said a text message was able to resolve their problem, Huehn says.

In The Chat’s text messaging service is available as a standalone product or as an add-on to the company’s web-based social media customer service platform, which allows agents to mine text from various social networks for comments and questions related to the retailer. If a business is using both products, the technology can begin to build a single customer profile for interactions with someone via phone, text message and social media as it collects data connecting her identity across each channel. For instance, if a customer tweets to a retailer to call her at a particular number, In The Chat can in the future determine when she calls or texts that she is the same person who tweeted and posted earlier.

All a retailer must do to start using the technology is sign up to obtain a login name and secure a phone number, Huehn says. While he declines to give the exact price, he says there is a small charge per text message and a monthly fee for the Internet-hosted software.

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