Texting Two Ways

Ever since the introduction of AOL's Instant Messenger in the '90s, text has been changing the way people communicate. For enterprise users, text has provided a communications vehicle with the immediacy of voice but without the formality of email, and has allowed people to keep in touch to deliver quick, focused messages in a marvelously convenient and unobtrusive fashion. The result has been a phenomenal increase in text usage at the expense of telephone calls, emails, not to mention the near elimination of voicemails.

While text communication was initially restricted and even banned in many enterprises, this changed when mobile texting hit the consumer market in the form of cellular short message service (SMS); the enterprise could no longer fight it. While the enterprise initially tried to turn its back on text, enterprise users once again took a technology they were using at home and brought it into the office.

Today the industry has largely moved past SMS and its multimedia cousin MMS, as users found greater functionality first in BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and eventually in Apple Messages, WhatsApp, and the texting capabilities of services like Facebook and Skype.

While usage on these newer texting services is growing, according to CTIA, the volume of traditional SMS in the U.S. is actually declining. This may be due to the fact that SMS has fallen far behind in terms of functionality, but don't overlook SMS's major benefit: it retains is its role as the "lowest common denominator" of texting. However, the status and capabilities of SMS may be critical to enterprise UC platforms as the more popular consumer platforms may be inaccessible or hard to use for the enterprise.

Enterprise Text

The first face of text deals with the options for internal enterprise texting, and it can be organized into three categories:

  • Texting capabilities that are part of the vendor's UC or workstream collaboration (team collaboration) platform
  • Third-party texting platforms with security and compliance features geared toward regulated industries (e.g. PerfectServe, Soprano, or Sprint Secure Messaging (with TigerText)
  • Familiar consumer texting platforms like Apple Messages, WhatsApp, or traditional SMS

The big dividing line is between regulated and non-regulated industries. Regulated industries are highly sensitive to security, and employees are often required to use specific messaging platforms that meet compliance requirements. Microsoft has had secure texting, and Cisco more recently jumped into the game with the introduction of security and compliance features for Spark, Cisco's workstream collaboration platform.

More secure UC/workstream collaboration texting could open the door to more of these highly regulated enterprises. For the past few years I've been noting that if enterprise users do adopt these collaboration platforms as a new way of doing business, these tools, and the mobile apps that come with them, will be an indispensable part of users' business lives. That transition would bring text along as part of the mix. We are still waiting to see evidence of that wholesale adoption of workstream collaboration, however.

On the other hand, if workstream collaboration fails to capture the hearts and minds of enterprise users, the prospects for UC texting drop precipitously. Enterprise users recognize the benefits of text just like everyone else, and they will continue to use their familiar consumer tools like Apple Messages and WhatsApp to communicate with colleagues, regardless of IT mandates to the contrary, and to communicate with their clients because that is the client's preference.

Some UC platforms are offering integration with SMS (i.e. the "lowest common denominator" option). RingCentral has had SMS capability on all of its lines and Vonage is introducing it. With Apple iOS and OS X devices, the UC SMS option isn't so painful as SMS messages can be sent and received from within the Apple Messages app on iPhone, iPads and Macs. Android users are typically relying on WhatsApp or one of the social media texting applications where there is no SMS integration, although WhatsApp on mobile devices offer essentially all of the SMS features including incoming message notification.

In the end, text is a communications medium of growing importance, and that impact will be felt in business as much as it is among consumers. The question for UC and workstream collaboration vendors going forward is whether they will have a solution that fits user preferences and workstyles or whether this will be one more key requirement where users will continue to rely on the consumer tools.

Text in the Contact Center

Let me go on the record as saying, "I hate contact centers." The simple act of dialing "8XX" causes my palms to sweat and starts a low throb pounding behind my forehead. For contact center vendors, it is unfortunate that I share this adverse reaction with the vast majority of the Millennial population who are becoming an increasingly important part of the consumer market. Along with me (or more likely "before me"), that generation is increasingly turning to text.

The contact center industry is embracing omnichannel options with real-time chat, text, and email joining the traditional voice capability, but as the conversation switches to text, there are a lot of alternatives on the horizon, including ones that offer a lot more functionality and user satisfaction than the traditional voice contact center. Real-time chat was the contact center's first foray into messaging for B2C exchanges, but persistent chat offers far more in the way of convenience for consumers with busy life styles.

Like a phone call, real-time chat is by nature disruptive. If you're at your desk working on your computer, you can time slice a chat session into whatever else you're doing -- much the same way the agent at the other end is time slicing his or her attention among several "real-time" chats. However, when the chat session is terminated, that content is typically lost forever in the ether.

A persistent chat can last for weeks. Apple painted that picture with its Business Chat capability, which integrates with its Messages app (see "Apple Business Chat: Big News for Contact Centers"). With persistent chat, a customer could use Business Chat to search for a product, query a customer service rep about that product, order it, pay for it, track the order, and access customer service as needed after delivery. Any agent that picks up the conversation will know exactly what the customer purchased and see the entire history of the transaction.

Business Chat is also integrated with Apple Pay, Maps and other applications so users can navigate the purchase within the familiar Apple ecosystem. Business Chat's built-in functions support typical use cases, so Time Picker will allow the agent to send options for potential appointment times (which link to the iOS calendar) and List Picker can allow users to select available colors or sizes with a single click.

To the benefit of the current contact center vendors, Apple is not looking to take over the contact center market, but rather will partner with traditional contact center providers like Genesys to augment its texting capability while leaving the voice contact to the Genesys platform. Others are taking a more "confrontational" approach.

Facebook has been pushing its Messenger app as a way for businesses to better communicate with customers, and according to this report in the Wall Street Journal, it will be doing the same with WhatsApp. You will recall that in the all-time put-down of the contact center at the 2016 F8 Developers Conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously said, "I've never met anyone who likes calling a business."

Other entrants are being more conciliatory. In September of last year, Salesforce announced it was partnering with Cisco in the customer service space. According to the press release, Cisco would provide intelligent contact routing, call treatment, and computer telephony integration, while Salesforce could provide agents with a full view of the customer to deliver fast, smart customer service. However, Salesforce also has its own contact management solution, which will be much more attractive to customers who have not yet invested in a heavy-duty contact center operation.

Conclusion

There is no denying that text is taking on an increasingly important role in enterprise communications, both from an internal and B2C perspective. However, as we have long seen in the mobile space, the UC and workspace collaboration vendors are finding themselves in a dependency position when it comes to dealing with the leading mobile equipment and service providers. The mobile players clearly have the upper hand in this, so it will be interesting to see if the UC and social collaboration vendors will be able to execute this intricate dance without getting their toes stepped on.

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