The danger of using SMS messaging with your customers

SMS tower of babel (Image Jegi via Flickr)I received an SMS yesterday:

Mr Stephen Davis, you have an appointment with Dr Bart Mascolo on 8/11/2011 at 4.30pm.

It was sent from ‘REMINDER’.

It had BLOCKED my ability to SMS back to query it.

It gave NO phone number as a reference point.

I had to search the web to find the surgery, call and explain it was not me.

Does this represent your communication with the outside world from time to time? What is the price of this disconnection?

I had to help fix the issue

When this unsolicited SMS arrived, it caused me to go scurrying through diary entries and searching emails for any reference of a Dr Mascolo. I drew a blank.

I sensed it might have been sent by mistake so I had two options:

  • Ignore and possibly leave someone missing an appointment
  • Alert the surgery to the error

But boy, all the money and thought that went into a state-of-the-art communication system failed to ask the one question that is so vital in 2011: how can consumers talk back?

My guess is that giving recipients the chance to respond would be deemed a drain on time and resources, so the account blocks replies.

I discovered this after composing a reply message and sending it. Instantly I got alerted that replies cannot be made.

So, I could have dropped it there but thought: what if it had been my appointment, I would have appreciated someone trying harder.

What followed was some googling for the good doctor, a few dead ends (doctors’ surgeries tend to have notoriously poorly optimised websites and also suffer from all those junk directory sites which clog search after scraping business details from other directories) I made it through.

Turns out, there was a note in the appointment book to check to make sure the ‘right’ Steve Davis was SMSed.

Unfortunately, my suggestion of being able to reply or have a number was met with the comments:

  • It has the doctor’s name in it and you’ve been here before
  • The system doesn’t allow for replies
  • I will ask the practice manager to see if it can be added

Often we are focussed internally

Those three offerings are, to me, examples of insular thinking that ALL businesses can and do suffer from; mine, yours, everybody’s.

1. Assumes the doctor’s name will be a point of reference. Well, the nature of clinics these days is such that you rarely get the same doctor twice and with staff turnovers I never pay attention to the doctor’s name. So that is NOT a reference point for me.

2. Yes, I had been there before but there was NO reference to the surgery name. Again, a disconnect.

3. The ‘reflex’ offering that this is just how the system works leaves me feeling like it might or might not actually be addressed for whatever reason.

So, I will take this as a reminder for all of us, whether or not we are using SMS messaging.

All of us can suffer communication blind spots in ads, websites, SMS, video, phone answering, even in face-to-face sales. And all of us can be found guilty at times for setting up barriers between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

So a useful exercise for today would be to reflect on what assumptions we make in our communication?

This is especially significant for Top End businesses dealing with prospects or customers from interstate or overseas. In many ways, the most valuable skill in communication you could develop would be the ability to forget everything you know about the Top End or your business or your sector and read/view your communication from that point of view.

Even something as simple as the term ‘Top End’ means nothing to many people. See how easy it is to have communication blind spots?


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