The unexpected new customer service channel


I’ll bet we’ve all received ‘outbound’ text/SMS messages from various businesses to keep us updated as to the status of our parcel delivery, to confirm an appointment or to ask us for feedback once something has been completed.

However, have you ever wondered why text messaging hasn’t really been developed as an ‘inbound’ customer service channel?

That’s something I found myself wondering when reflecting on my recent and positive experience with my bank.

As I understand it, with the rise of the internet, VoIP and mobile phone services, most local phone numbers have been converted so that they now have the same capabilities as mobile phone numbers, including the ability to send and receive SMS/text messages.

However, this is not the case for free phone or toll-free phone numbers as there are no standards or agreements, across networks, on how to configure existing toll-free phone numbers so that they can send and receive SMS/text messages.

Until now.

Recently, I was speaking to Jason Sommerset of Bandwidth, the SMS and VoIP provider for companies such as Skype and Google Voice, and he told me that things are changing and that they have just announced that the toll-free numbers they manage now have the ability to send and receive text messages.

That doesn’t mean that you can start texting away your queries to a business’ toll-free number and expect a response. For this to happen, the toll-free number has to be managed by Bandwidth and it’s also up to the company to decide if they want to add this capability to their customer service mix and then offer it to their customers.

I think this could potentially be an interesting and exciting development for many firms as well as their customers. Why?

Well, imagine having the ability, instead of calling and having to navigate an IVR system or having to find an address to email or filling in a web form or searching a knowledge base or downloading an app, to just being able to send a text message to the company’s toll-free number in the knowledge that they would get it and then respond.

What’s even more interesting, I believe,  is the fact that text messaging is both familiar and ubiquitous and, so, texting toll-free numbers would require little or no education to encourage adoption.

Moreover, there will be many customers that will appreciate the ease of being able to text a business’ toll-free number to get an answer to their questions and experience shows that making things easy for customers only has a positive effect on satisfaction and experience.

In the light of this, I think bosses need to be asking themselves, and their customers, whether text messaging to their toll-free/freephone number should be their next inbound customer service channel.



This post was originally published on my Forbes column here.


  1. I’m not sure a agree Adrian, sometimes you can have too much choice, I think I’d rather my service provider lined up behind one channel and excelled at delivering there rather than trying to be all things to all men.


    • adrianswinscoe says:

      Hi James,
      I think it’s an interesting development but, like you, would prefer to see service providers get focused on a handful of channels and then excel at them.


  2. I think I’m with James on this one. But I’ll keep an open mind and see how this progresses. It makes me think of social media as a customer service channel – and how few businesses have mastered it or even figured out what to do with social media.

    Annette :-)

    • adrianswinscoe says:

      Hi Annette,
      I agree with James and yourself but think it’s more keeping a watching brief on its progress.



  1. […] doesn’t envisage a lot of growth in text/sms messaging as an inbound customer service channel in the near future. This is primarily due to the fact that you can’t guarantee immediate delivery […]

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