On December 3, 1992, an engineer named Neil Papworth made telecommunications history. On that day, he sent the very first text message. It read, “Merry Christmas.” Papworth typed the message on his desktop computer, and Vodafone executive Richard Jarvis received it on his 4.5-lb mobile phone. The technology was so limited that Jarvis couldn’t respond.
Like most new technology, texting took time to take hold with the public. In 1995, the average American sent just 0.4 text messages per month, according to Mobivity, and by 2000, the number still stood at just 35 a month– or about one text a day. This year, however, trillions of text messages are flying around the world, and the average American sends about 94 of them per day. Of course, many of these texts come from businesses or bots, not real people. Still, Americans are defaulting to text as their preferred communication medium more and more often.
Texting is not a uniquely American habit, either. About five billion people, or 65% of the world’s population, enjoy access to texting. Why do people everywhere love to communicate by text message? And why would a customer want to text your small business instead of calling, emailing, or contacting you through social media?
Customers want to be able to send a text message to your business for reasons often similar to the ones that prompt people to text each other outside of business. It all mainly boils down to speed and convenience, but let’s take a closer look at what really motivates consumers to tap out a message with their thumbs– or to endure talk-to-text faux pas– than contact you another way.
Texting Is Fun
People like to text. And while some social commentators say that’s a bad thing for our collective social skills, research from the University of California at Berkeley found that people got a mood booster when they texted. Isolated or lonely people received a particularly big bump in their positive feelings just by sending a text message.
Texting is easy technology to pick up. Many people who don’t have broadband, or even a computer at home, still own a smartphone. For those people, texting may be the technology they feel most comfortable using. Texting is also friendly technology for older people to use.
While it might come as no surprise that Millennials say they prefer texting, many older adults enjoy using it too. They can feel– and be– technologically literate without having to learn the ins and outs of a new communication app every time they want to contact their friends or family.
Texting Mitigates Apprehension
People wanting to get in touch with your customer service team have a problem they need you to solve. These people may feel anxious about bringing up that problem. They fear the representative will think badly of them if they don’t know how to use a product, for example. Or they might worry that they can’t get their problem solved easily. Some people are afraid they will have trouble understanding the representative if that person speaks with a distinctive accent.
Regardless of the reason, talking to an unknown customer service representative raises some people’s anxiety levels. To avoid having to make that call, the customer can pick up the phone and text what they need without feeling like they could get into a difficult situation over the phone.
Texting Is the Default Method of Communication
While texting might feel like new technology to people who remember the 1990s, it has quickly become the go-to communication choice of modern life. Maybe 15 or 20 years ago, when you wanted to get ahold of someone, you said, “I’ll give them a call.” Today it’s, “I’ll shoot them a text.”
According to Zipwhip’s State of the Text report, American consumers send more texts than emails every day. When you consider that many people use email as part of their job rather than as their communication medium of choice, you realize just how important texting has become.
While fewer people than ever are reaching that zen-like state of inbox zero in their email, most texters stay caught up on their messages. Interestingly, Zipwhip found that texters enjoyed getting in touch with companies through their default text system, but a majority said they would not download a new app to communicate with a company. For these folks, it’s not text-first, it’s text-or-nothing.
Texting Boasts a Shorter Perceived Response Time
There is a kind of cognitive bias in our brains that makes us believe someone will respond to us more quickly if we text them than if we leave a voicemail or send an email. It isn’t entirely false. People often do respond to text messages more quickly since it takes just a few seconds to shoot out a text, whereas it can take several minutes to make a call or compose an email. Or at least, it feels that way to us. More accurately, the response time may be quicker because there is no real confrontation when texting someone.
Whatever the reason, most people seem to read and respond to a text within about three minutes of receiving it. So at your small business, you need to have a response ready for your customer within about three minutes if you don’t want them to feel as if you’re ignoring them.
A chatbot can do this for you easily, of course, but most people prefer not to talk to bots unless they sound very much like human beings. You might consider having a bot respond quickly, letting the customer know a follow up is coming soon from a real person.
Texting Provides Easy Reference of Information
What’s the biggest inconvenience of talking on the phone with a business? You have to write down any information you will need to access later.
Although you can probably get a lot more accomplished in a shorter time over the phone, what is great about texting with a business is that all the information being transmitted is automatically recorded and saved. That means you can reference it later, and just copy and paste it when you need to move it around or send it somewhere else.
As people have grown increasingly adept at categorizing, organizing, and using information in digital formats, their desire to write down data on a piece of paper has diminished. It has become more difficult to track scraps of paper while information sent in a text is readily available on the phone. Now that people have grown accustomed to storing and retrieving information digitally, they prefer to do so.
Texting Doesn’t Require Waiting On Hold
Hands up, everyone who likes waiting on hold! No one, right? But call most companies, and what happens? Even if you are lucky enough to get a human being to answer your call, you often have to wait on hold for a long time before getting to speak with a person who can solve your problem. While on hold, you get to listen to music that’s not your choice punctuated by a regular update on your place in the line delivered in a robotic voice.
No customer appreciates a business phone system’s hold experience. Even if the wait seems short to the company, it can seem interminable to the person enduring the hold. Eliminating the dread of waiting on hold can boost customer satisfaction and encourage communication, both important factors for any business owner.
Texting allows you to contact the company with your needs and then go about your daily activities until a customer success team member can call you or text you back.
Texting Makes Communication Less Stressful for Introverts
Introverts are people who draw strength from the quiet of their own thoughts and feelings instead of from interacting with external factors. Often, introverts prefer not to use the phone or talk with people they don’t know. Texting allows them to avoid extraneous interpersonal contact while still taking care of their business. Nadia Hasan, a self-declared introvert, wrote, “Since I identify as a phone-reluctant introvert, I have to rely heavily on ‘texting’ as a means of communication.“
While texting does eliminate the beneficial cues that body language provides in conversation, it also reduces many people’s anxiety about having so much voice-to-voice or face-to-face communication. Texting is a quiet way to talk to others, and about half the world’s population prefers quiet.
Texting Allows for More Honesty
You’re more honest when you text than when you talk. Neil Wagner, a writer for The Atlantic, says, “People are more likely to answer sensitive questions truthfully in a text message than in a voice interview.” Wagner cites a study from the American Association for Public Opinion Research to bolster his claim.
Because texting gives people a chance to think before responding– unlike verbal conversation, which demands more immediate reactions– people take time to slow down and say what they genuinely think. For you as a business owner, that means you’re getting your cleanest customer feedback data from the text messages you receive.
Texting Lets You Multitask … Sort Of
Texting and driving is illegal for a reason. It requires the brain to do two jobs at once– drive a car and send a message. The human brain works best when it focuses on one cognitive task at a time. In fact, you may not be able to multitask at all even if you think you are doing so.
The brain may just be switching back and forth rapidly between the two tasks at hand. Psychologist David Strayer says that only about 2% of the human population can multitask. The rest of us are basically just doing two things in an uncommitted way.
Nevertheless, multitasking feels good. It feels productive, and people want to do it. Texting your company allows people to switch between their conversation with you and their other activities more easily and fluidly. Unlike talking on a phone, which is more attention demanding, texting allows the person to stop, type out the text, send it, and then return to their second activity– doing both tasks with a greater degree of concentration and excellence.
Texting Works When a Call Isn’t Needed
People send personal text messages when the idea they want to convey is too short to warrant a phone call. “Leaving now,” is one such text that people commonly send. “On my way,” “Busy now,” and “Love you,” are also frequently recurring personal texts. It’s the same for communicating between customer and business. People find texting most convenient when they just need to send a short message that requires minimal or no feedback.
Customers often just text a business when they need to send a quick note with billing or account information, for example, or when they have something like a product question that only needs a simple “yes” or “no” answer.
Text messaging was reserved for personal or casual use for a long time, but that’s no longer the case in American business. Even though many customers still prefer to call or email a business, all businesses now have to consider the fact that text messaging could serve as a crucial channel of contact from customers and clients. When Zipwhip interviewed businesses that don’t text, fully 64% of them said they saw the value in it. The businesses that see the value of texting and capitalize on it are those that will thrive in the new age of communication.