The unexpected new customer service channel


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I’ll bet we’ve all received ‘outbound’ text/SMS messages from various businesses to keep us updated as to the status of our parcel delivery, to confirm an appointment or to ask us for feedback once something has been completed.

However, have you ever wondered why text messaging hasn’t really been developed as an ‘inbound’ customer service channel?

That’s something I found myself wondering when reflecting on my recent and positive experience with my bank.

As I understand it, with the rise of the internet, VoIP and mobile phone services, most local phone numbers have been converted so that they now have the same capabilities as mobile phone numbers, including the ability to send and receive SMS/text messages.

However, this is not the case for free phone or toll-free phone numbers as there are no standards or agreements, across networks, on how to configure existing toll-free phone numbers so that they can send and receive SMS/text messages.

Until now.

Recently, I was speaking to Jason Sommerset of Bandwidth, the SMS and VoIP provider for companies such as Skype and Google Voice, and he told me that things are changing and that they have just announced that the toll-free numbers they manage now have the ability to send and receive text messages.

That doesn’t mean that you can start texting away your queries to a business’ toll-free number and expect a response. For this to happen, the toll-free number has to be managed by Bandwidth and it’s also up to the company to decide if they want to add this capability to their customer service mix and then offer it to their customers.

I think this could potentially be an interesting and exciting development for many firms as well as their customers. Why?

Well, imagine having the ability, instead of calling and having to navigate an IVR system or having to find an address to email or filling in a web form or searching a knowledge base or downloading an app, to just being able to send a text message to the company’s toll-free number in the knowledge that they would get it and then respond.

What’s even more interesting, I believe,  is the fact that text messaging is both familiar and ubiquitous and, so, texting toll-free numbers would require little or no education to encourage adoption.

Moreover, there will be many customers that will appreciate the ease of being able to text a business’ toll-free number to get an answer to their questions and experience shows that making things easy for customers only has a positive effect on satisfaction and experience.

In the light of this, I think bosses need to be asking themselves, and their customers, whether text messaging to their toll-free/freephone number should be their next inbound customer service channel.

This post was originally published on my Forbes column here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


  1. I love this…Information often leads to more questions, right? So why would companies expect that anything different would happen when sending text-notifications, etc?

    So the question for businesses using text-marketing is ‘what’s your Response Strategy’? Figure out how to offer automated self-service, via text, when customers reply to your marketing texts. And try offering text-chat, wherein agents respond via web to text-messages from customers. It will save you money and customer will love you – your agents will too:).

    If you don’t have the resources to code such solutions yourself, is a great drag and drop tool for creating your own SMS applications that can easily be integrated with other systems, like your salesforce or web-chat.

    I totally back the sentiments of this article – it’s time to use SMS for all it’s worth!
    Start delighting customers and reducing cost. Extend your text-message marketing to meet customer expectations around the text-message channel, via self-service and live text-chat. Your team, customer and your brand will thank you.


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