SMEs need to rethink the SMS: Here’s why
CEO of Mobiz, Greg Chen discusses how SMEs can still benefit from SMS when utilised properly.
When it comes to communicating with their customers (something which is vital to the growth of any business), SMEs have a wider array of options available than ever before. More traditional formats such as email compete with seemingly innumerable instant messaging, social media, and chatbot offerings.
With so many available options, SME owners with limited resources can find themselves feeling overwhelmed and even paralysed, unsure which channels to pursue.
While each of those channels has advantages and potential value, it’s worth remembering that one of the most effective has been around since 1992.
SMS offers almost unparallelled reach, particularly in the South African context where mobile reigns supreme. But, if SMEs are to make the most of it, they need to rethink their approach.
The power of SMS
Before digging into what SMEs can do when it comes to revamping their approach to SMS, it’s worth digging into what makes it such an important channel.
And while tens of millions of South Africans now have smartphones, the truth is that many of them do not use these devices to their full capability.
High data costs paired with the tough economic choices people have to make (data or food) means that most smartphones are effectively offline most of the time.
That means any communication channel that requires customers to be online risks reaching them at the wrong time, or not at all.
In that context, SMS just makes sense.
SMS doesn’t require the customer to be online and, importantly, doesn’t cost them anything to receive.
A fresh approach
But in order for SMEs to use SMS effectively, they can’t use the same approach companies did when SMS first went mainstream.
Trying to cram as much information as possible into 160 characters is a recipe for disaster. At best you’ll fail to provide the kind of value that people have come to expect from customer communication. At worst, you’ll actively turn them off your business.
SMEs should instead learn from the best communicators in the enterprise space when it comes to SMS.
Rather than viewing the SMS as the medium for delivering their message, they should see it as the hook for something more personalised and visually appealing.
Using Smart SMS technology, SMEs can direct customers to personalised web pages, with specials, offers, and discounts that are relevant to them. Importantly, they can do so at zero data cost to the consumer.
In effect, the SMS plays the same role as an email subject line would, with the personalised web page acting as a souped-up version of the email body. Unlike email, however, the text won’t get drowned out in someone’s inbox.
Start building databases now
It’s clear, therefore, that SMS offers incredible potential when it comes to allowing SMEs to reach their customers.
In order to make the most of those opportunities, however, it’s vital that SMEs start gathering customer data as soon as possible.
That means providing incentives for customers to sign up to a database. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever for SMEs to set up loyalty programmes and newsletters, ensuring that they are able to build up the kind of data that allows for personalised communication and be top-of-mind with their loyal customers.
Combine that data with relevant, visually appealing, personalised communication and your typical SME will find out what South African enterprise players have known for some time now: when it comes to customer communication, SMS is pretty tough to beat.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”