Does SMS Have a Future in Field Service?

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A mobile phone’s Short Messaging Service – that’s SMS or what most people refer to as text messaging – has been in use now since the early 1990s. And since its introduction, it has transformed the way that people keep in touch by providing a virtually instant message that could be read upon receipt or at a later time and kept as an electronic record of the conversation. SMS provided other benefits too by reducing voice calls and the associated costs, something that was beneficial to both personal users and field service businesses.

And this was way before the advent of true social media which has taken communication and collaboration to an even higher level, which is something that we discussed in one of our recent blogs.

But is SMS now a slowly dying service and, if so, what does this mean for field service businesses? According to the latest numbers that the BBC is reporting from Informa, for the first time ever the total number of SMS messages sent each day – 17.6 billion – was surpassed by instant messaging apps for the first time who notched-up a tally totaling a mere 19 billion messages per day!

Obviously this messaging is not all business-related, far from it, but an un-quantified element is related to running a business and telling your customers what’s going on: “Your car is ready to collect”, “Your package has been delivered”, “Your appointment is scheduled for tomorrow at 2pm”, “Your technician will be an hour late as they are stuck in traffic” and so on. The picture is clear: open communication with a customer that’s almost immediate. Now that’s good customer service, right?

Let’s take a moment to give this a little perspective: 17.6 billion SMS messages in one day is still a huge number.  This volume is almost incomprehensible.  It’s so large that we can be assured that SMS messaging isn’t going to disappear anytime soon.  In fact, in some of the emerging and less developed markets there is a reliance still on SMS and if you look at the regional numbers, the volumes there are probably growing each month and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But for a field service business that’s incorporated SMS messaging into its processes, this change simultaneously presents a challenge and an opportunity for the future.

The primary challenge is one of integration: there is the need to integrate with more and more platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Email, Chatter, Yammer (for Enterprise communications), and so on. And as the future becomes clearer, the list of products to integrate with will surely grow creating a potential systems administration headache.

Maybe there’s no need to do anything. Realistically, pretty much everyone now has a mobile phone and as a result, everyone can still receive messages via SMS. So what’s the big deal? Simple: attention. Just because the phone can accept SMS, it doesn’t mean that the user is paying so much attention because instead – in more developed markets – they’re using new social media apps such as What’sApp which, let’s be honest, are far more fun and help the field service business to look trendy and cool!

But the greatest advantage is a potential reduction in costs because there will be no need to send many hundreds or thousands of SMS messages each day.  Despite the unit cost of messaging reducing, this is still not a free service whereas communicating via social media currently is mostly free.  Apart from the cost of developing and maintaining the integration, the service business should see an overall reduction in communications costs, at least for the time-being anyway.

Many field service businesses have built communicating with customers using SMS into their business models. It is an inherent part of what they do and providing updates to customers about estimated times of arrival or schedule changes is no longer a differentiator: it is expected.  Nobody wants to have to sign in online and check for updates or to call the contact center. And field service management software vendors know this.  Just look at TOA Technologies, ClickSoftware, FieldOne, and ServiceMax as examples and you will see that they all provide some kind of solution here.

So there you have it all: SMS is reducing and being replaced by instant messaging but for now, SMS still has a secure future. But watch this space as things change fast in this industry.

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