Are You Texting Your Customers?

In the last year I’ve found all sorts of my outside interactions now involve texting. I get texts from the dentist affirming an appointment, texts from a furniture company making sure I was home during a delivery, and texts from AT&T wireless for my cellular billing. All these various businesses have found that texting saves them money. Yet I have only a few ISP clients that make wide use of texting. I find that a bit surprising because I can think of a number of ways that texting can be a big money saver for an ISP.

The most obvious one is that it can save from making unneeded truck rolls. Every ISP I know says that truck rolls are expensive, and there is nothing more wasteful than making a truck roll to a customer who is not at home. I’m sure that is why the furniture company made the text and they would not have tried to deliver if I wasn’t at home. Better yet, texting puts a technician into direct contact with the customer and allows them to work out a plan if a customer isn’t home.

But there is probably even a bigger savings in the way that AT&T uses texting. They send me a text each month when they bill me and invite me to view my bill online. This saves them from having to mail a paper bill – something that makes no sense to somebody like me that uses autopay to pay my cellular bill. I can’t imagine I would ever open an AT&T paper bill and they would be spending money and margin to send me one. Many of my clients tell me that today that over half of their customers pay by bank debit or credit card and there is a huge savings from not mailing paper bills to these customers.

I do have a few clients that use texting and they report some other significant savings. For example, they say that texting has greatly reduced their uncollectible billing. They say that it’s far more effective to prompt customers immediately if they are late in paying their bills, and that most customers promptly pay when reminded. That’s particularly effective if you give them an immediate opportunity to pay the bill by credit card.

But the savings that surprised me a bit is the fact that companies that allow interactive texting with customers report that they have significantly reduced the number of calls to customer service. There are a two primary issues that prompt the majority of calls to customer service – outages and billing inquiries.

I have a client who uses texts to inform customers about outages. Customers can get quickly frustrated if they don’t know what’s happening and when service will be restored. This client has tied texting into their OSS and network mapping system and can send texts to only those customers that have outages. And they can inform customers proactively of planned maintenance outages. They say this largely eliminates calls about outages and particularly works great after hours when they are not answering the phones.

Texting can also be a good way to answer a lot of billing inquiries. Texting can be a great tool for answering simple customer questions like their outstanding balance or the due date of their payment. It takes a lot less time for both the customer and the company to answer a simple question by text. This is a great way to communicate with customers (like me) who would always choose an option other than making a call and getting into a customer service queue.

There are a few issues with texting to be aware of. There are some archaic FCC rules that define requirements for when customers text you. This harkens back to the day when many people paid for each text message – something that barely exists any longer. But the rules are still in place and are something to be aware of. There are also rules about using texting as a form of marketing – again, something that can be done in a way that doesn’t violate the FCC rules.

There are a wide range of texting solutions. At one end of the spectrum your technicians can text customers from their cellphones. But in order to get all of the advantages listed above you will want a fully interactive texting platform that’s integrated into your OSS/BSS. Feel free to contact me and I can describe the best solutions on the market.

Can You Really Multitask?

jugglingThis blog is a bit off my normal beat, but I’ve read several articles lately about the effects of technology on our brains. I think the findings of these studies are things that you will find interesting.

I think most people will agree that we are busier today than we have ever been before. Not only do we lead hectic lives, but we have compounded our lives with connections through our smartphones and computers to coworkers, family and friends all throughout the day and night.

I meet people all of the time who say that they are good multitaskers and who say they that they are good at handling the new clutter in our modern personal and  work lives. There are days when I feel I am good at it and days when I definitely am not.

Researchers at MIT say that multitasking is an illusion. Earl Miller, a neuroscientist there says that our brains are not wired to multitask. What you think of as multitasking is really the brain doing only one thing at a time and switching quickly between tasks. He says there is a price to pay for doing this because what we call multitasking leads to the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as adrenaline. Multitasking creates a dopamine feedback loop which rewards the brain for losing focus and searching for the next stimulation. The bottom line is that multitasking leads to less focus and makes us less efficient.

Miller says that multitasking is a diabolical illusion that makes us feel like we are getting things done, when instead we are just keeping the brain busy. When we multitask we don’t do any of the tasks as well as if we stopped and concentrated on them one at a time. And it’s addictive. Those of us old enough can remember back to a simpler time when we often made choices not to do things. If we were reading a book or watching a TV show we chose not to let ourselves get easily distracted. But since multitasking rewards the brain for getting distracted, we now routinely will break into everything we are doing to read an email, look to see who texted, see who commented on something we said on Facebook or Twitter.

I decided to test myself and I decided to watch a one-hour show on Netflix to see if I could watch it end-to-end without distraction. I was amazed at how poorly I did. Every few minutes I found myself wanting to go do something else. And a few times I almost automatically clicked on a different application on the computer. And I wanted to stop a lot more than I did and it was a real effort to stay focused on the show I was watching. I thought this would be easy, but apparently I am now addicted to multitasking. I wonder how many of you can do better?

One of the reasons we have gotten pulled into multitasking is a new expectation that we are always available. It used to be easy to drop out of sight by simply walking out of range of the telephone. People were not surprised to miss you when they called and leaving voice messages was a big deal. But today the expectation is that we have our smart phone with us and turned on at all times, and through that we can be called, texted, emailed and reached on demand.

Research shows that multitasking kills our concentration and is more detrimental to our short-term memory than smoking marijuana. Cannabinol, a chief ingredient of pot interferes directly with memory brain receptors and directly interferes with our ability to concentrate on several things at one. But research have shown that if you break off concentrating on a task to answer an email that your IQ temporarily drops ten points. And cumulative multitasking degrades your brain’s performance more than smoking pot.

Researchers at Stanford have shown that if you learn something new while multitasking that the information goes to the wrong part of the brain. For instance, if you read work emails while doing something else like watching TV that the information from the emails goes to the striatum, the place where we normally store skills and physical memories and not where we store ideas and data memory. If not interrupted, the same emails would be stored in the hippocampus, which is essentially our brain’s hard drive that is good at retrieving data when we need it.

Multitasking comes at a big cost. Asking the brain to constantly shift tasks burns up a lot of glucose in the brain which we need to stay focused. So multitasking can lead to feeling tired and disoriented after even a short time. I used to believe that deep thinking caused your brain to get tired, but staying on one task actually uses far less energy that constantly shifting from one task to another.

This makes me worry about what we are doing to our children who now multitask at an early age. Perhaps there is some hope since one of the new trends among many teenagers is a rebellion against technology, and that is probably a healthy thing. If the pressure to be always connected is hard on adults, one can only imagine the peer pressure it creates among teens. People of my age use email as our primary method of communication while teens almost exclusively use text. The biggest problem with texting, according to the researchers is that it demands hyper-immediacy and you are expected to return a response as soon as you get a text.

I have started my own little rebellion against multitasking. I am not checking emails more than a few times a day and I rarely check to see if somebody has texted me. After all, I need to save some time for Twitter!