SMS vs. In-App Service: Which is Right for You?

sms in app

Mobile experiences are eating the world.  Today, more than half of all web traffic comes from mobile devices. Customers increasingly turn to mobile apps, mobile messaging channels, and mobile web experiences to interact with brands.  Many customer service organizations have struggled to keep up with customer’s desire for a digital first experience.

However, mobile customer service isn’t one size fits all.  Organizations need to give thought to channel choices for serving their mobile customers.  The place to start is understanding your customers and their respective relationships with your brand.

Highly Loyal Customers and Repeat Purchases

The first and most valuable group of customers are those who are either highly loyal to your brand, make repeat purchases, or both.  Consider a frequent flyer or loyal hotel patron, these customers are likely to interact regularly with your brand and engage in multiple transactions over time.  However, some customers may not feel that same sense of loyalty but still may make repeat purchases.  For example, a user of a rideshare app or food delivery app may make repeat purchases even if they use competing services as well.  In both cases, these customers are likely to interact regularly with your brand and engage in multiple transactions over time.  For that reason, most had to download a mobile app and are likely to engage with your brand via this mobile channel.

Providing a rich in-app customer service experience for this group of customers is key. These customers primarily engage with your brand via the use of your mobile app and more than likely will expect to pursue support within the context of your in-app experience. For example, for the loyal hotel patron who is checking a hotel reservation and subsequently seeking to arrange for a late checkout, the experience needs to feel seamless and native to the app experience.  Forcing a customer to a different channel will lead to a disjointed experience and customer confusion or frustration.  Therefore, native in-app customer service delivered through an integrated SDK will deliver the best experience.  Ideally, the customer should be able to ask their respective question directly in the app and receive an immediate response or have the flexibility to do something else while waiting for a response.

Mobile apps have substantial advantages for supporting these types of customers.  It’s easy to integrate picklists and other ways to make choices in a way that makes the service experience faster and more enjoyable for your customers.  The capability also exists for brands to pull in context about their customers seeking support, including their recent engagement activity or what they have been looking at in the app. This customer understanding empowers the brand to deliver superior support without having to prompt the customer for this information.  In-app support offers a richness and ease of experience that can’t be found in more traditional support channels.

Occasional or Transactional Customers

The experience for non-loyal or transactional customers may be quite different.  For example, an e-commerce brand that sells infrequently-purchased high value items such as high-end electronics, cookware, or furniture are very unlikely to have customers who already have an accompanying app on their phone.  Even customers of fashion or clothing retail, with the exception of box-based subscription services, are less ideal for support via mobile apps.

For these customers, rather than a fully native experience, delivering a low barrier to entry for support is key.  This is where SMS is an ideal way to offer customer service.  As everyone with a mobile device has access to and familiarity with SMS, you can quickly support these customers even if they don’t already have your app and aren’t willing to install it.  For this reason, SMS is an ideal channel for maximizing the reach of your customer service.

However, SMS as a support channel has some disadvantages as well.  An SMS experience, while widely available, will never offer the richness of an in-app experience.  Customers will have to reply in text for choices and lose some of the rich experience provided by the mobile device.  Additionally, SMS does not have the capability of providing context on the customers most recent engagements with your brand and thus can’t offer the same degree of customer understanding that an app can. Consequently, the agents or bots tasked with providing support will more than likely have to ask additional questions of the customer to solve their problems.  

It’s Not Always an Either-Or

The reality for brands, however, is that they may not always fall neatly into one category or the other.  Brands may have a combination of loyal and occasional customers and need to meet the needs of both.  The good news is there are common techniques and technologies that can be used for both.

Regardless, if a customer is interacting via a mobile in-app experience or SMS, in order to both save costs and deliver a better customer experience, organizations should attempt to automate their service experience. These are some common steps and best practices to do this:

  1. Always Respect Your Customers’ Time:  Both in-app messaging and SMS empower customers to type a message, move on to something else, and get a notification when there is a response waiting for them.  Employ the use of these modern experiences —that are not possible via the traditional support channels of live chat or phone conversations—as a centerpiece of your service experience.
  1. Focus on Customer Intent:  In both in-app messaging and SMS, customers will type an initial question or issue.  The most important aspect of delivering good service is to accurately understand what is needed.  Technology can identify and classify customer intent with high accuracy.  Use this as the heart of your service automation.
  1. Employ Bots to Automate Customer Workflows:  Regardless of mobile channel, once you have determined the customer’s intent, most issues are simple workflows.  You need to collect customer data, give customers a few choices, access backend systems, and walk customers to issue resolution. The exact feel of the experience may differ–clicking on a button vs. typing something–but the same bots should be able to address the same issues in both channels.

Introducing Helpshift for SMS 

For years Helpshift has been the leader in Digital Customer Service.  Hundreds of brands use Helpshift to support their customers via in-app messaging.  Recently, we added support for SMS to Helpshift.  With Helpshift for SMS, brands can deliver the same level of service and high degree of automation to their occasional customers that they already deliver to their most loyal.  Best yet, because it is built on the same foundation of mobile-first messaging, intent classification and purpose-built micro-bots, Helpshift can support the same interactions on either channel, giving organizations maximum flexibility to transform their customer support experience and close their customer service capacity gap across these interaction models.


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Published June 12, 2020
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