In 2017 we’re used to mobile app UI that sparkles and UX that seems like it just gets us. But let’s take a step back and remember mobile’s humble beginnings.
Do you remember the days of bulky Nokias and a Snake score your friends were envious of? There are several things that the trendy smartphones of today still have in common with their predecessors. One of them is SMS.
Everyone toots the WhatsApp horn because as of 2015, it accounted for 30 billion messages per day, totally eclipsing the 20 billion messages sent via SMS. But Intercom recently summed it up perfectly, “Of all the messaging interfaces, SMS is the most direct. No custom UI, no learning curve.”
I’ll go out on a limb here and say that SMS, at its core, gets messaging right. It doesn’t complicate the process with extraneous features. It’s easy to use — my septuagenarian parents even get it.
Messaging was previously reserved for personal use, but with Messenger connecting you to support teams at businesses, it’s easy to see that the personal and the professional are merging. With a smartphone, or other SMS capable device, within arm’s reach at all times, it’s time for businesses to get serious about SMS.
After all, not everyone wants to add yet another app to their phone. And even if they download it, chances are they won’t use it, since 49% of smartphone owners who use apps only use six to ten each week. Why not use a feature already deeply ingrained in all phones to serve the same purpose? Effective technology is simple, it doesn’t leave first time users scratching their heads. It’s not about cramming as much as you can into a product, but instead presenting the public with the most essential version. Just because you can add a feature, it doesn’t mean that you should.
What This Means for Technology Companies
In many ways, technology companies are doing a 180. Minimalism is making a comeback. When it comes to messaging to communicate with customers, SMS does the trick. WeChat in China took notice of this and incorporated work communication, bill pay, and more integrations into their popular app, effectively meeting mobile users where they already are.
It might not be as catchy, but maybe we should transition from “there’s an app for that” to “there’s a solution for that.”
Is it such a wild idea to solve a pain point in the market with lower barriers to entry? With a number of banks, personal finance products, concierge services, and more already running with this idea, it might not be so crazy after all.
Let’s be clear, not every company is the right candidate for using SMS. What the right ones have in common is a sense of urgency. If a product is centered around something that customers need to know about right away, then SMS will work.
Breaking SMS Down
I see two different uses for SMS in technology. First, there are alerts. Let’s take a credit card company for example. Fraud alerts are helpful and when you receive them via SMS, it’s a lot faster to respond back with a “yes” or “no” about whether a transaction was you or not. If that communication came as an in-app notification, you might have them turned off and not be aware until someone maxes out your card buying TVs at Best Buy. That’s to say, timing matters and for time sensitive communications, SMS is the way to go.
The second form of SMS that is useful for businesses is conversational messaging. There are many cases in which you want to be able to ask questions and have a response other than “we have received your email and will get back to you in 24–48 hours.”
Chatbots are all the rage recently and with the help of automation, they can provide helpful information quickly. They are very effective for a number of industries, but there are certainly cases in which a person needs to be on the other end. Such as times when a customer needs an opinion or some other personalized service.
Whether there is a person or a machine at the other end, SMS is an easy way to communicate with the vast majority of the population. Businesses that adopt this early will be poised to reach their customers on a channel that has proven to be more that just a fad.