We Have Seen the Future, and it’s a Text

By Joseph Martin, Director of Solution Engineering, Sprint Business

Another consumer driven technology is poised to shake up the way we communicate at work. But this one is more familiar than most – the humble text, more formally known as SMS messaging.

While there are numerous enterprise-grade apps that facilitate business communications, the ubiquitous text will have the greatest impact, says Tim Fujita-Yuhas, director of product management and new product strategy at OpenMarket, a Seattle-based enterprise mobile engagement company.

That is because virtually anyone with a mobile phone can send and receive a text. No mutual apps are needed, giving enterprise-to-employee SMS an unencumbered and basically unlimited reach. It’s a blend of both convenience and urgency, according to Fujita-Yuhas. “People read and respond to text messages faster, and at greater rates of engagement, than any other communication channel,” he explains.

Smartphone owners know the ping of an arriving text creates an irresistible magnet for the eyes (which is what makes texting while driving so dangerous). Companies are now moving to leverage that attraction for more important and timely internal communications.

Fujita-Yuhas says that one big driver of this trend is consumers’ experience with SMS interaction with companies they patronize. They come to work now expecting the same sort of attention to their needs as they enjoy with their favorite companies. “They expect their employers to act like other businesses that they have positive relationships with,” he notes. “These other businesses know and use their preferred channel for engagement.”

Turning inward

Some companies that are doing this best with their employees are those that have mastered the art of messaging with their customers, and are taking what they learned and applying it internally. That is leading to SMS-based employee surveys, for instance, that reinforces to workers that the company cares about what they think.

Organizations are turning to texts for their timeliness in urgent emergency notifications such as weather warnings or IT service outages. They are also using them to make sure that rotating shift workers show up at the right time and by HR departments for new hire interview follow-ups. And soon, Fujita-Yuhas says, many companies that have already been blending SMS and the Internet of Things to enable more efficient repair and service notifications will start turning that effort inward to automate IT trouble tickets, for example.

The benefits are clear, even though they are often hard to quantify. They include: more efficient appointment setting, faster resolution times for issues, quicker response times both internally and externally, and a more engaged workforce.

Ubiquity is the key

“There is no question that SMS will continue to grow while other communication channels such as voice and email are going to shrink,” Fujita-Yuhas predicts. “Mobile apps will always occupy an important but niche mobile engagement solution. They just don’t have the ubiquity of SMS.”

But the irresistibility factor that makes texting so useful within a business needs to be tempered in order to avoid text burnout. That calls for an SMS culture that limits these messages to the most appropriate topics, within a defined timeframe.

“Employees appreciate and crave the immediacy and convenience of SMS, but increased mobile engagement certainly is going to make it harder for employees to disconnect and have down time,” Fujita-Yuhas says. “That’s especially true since people are more likely to read all of their SMS messages, when they might not read all of their work-related emails or check their voice mail as frequently.”

A “safe hours” option is the answer, with a genuine effort to respect employees’ personal time. While emails and voice mails can generally be allowed to wait until the next morning, the presumption is that texts can’t.

The safe hours concept – perhaps something like no texts between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. – may be more challenging for global companies with 24-hour operations (it’s always midnight somewhere), but it can be managed, Fujita-Yuhas insists.