Between social, email, search and video, retailers are spoilt for choice when it comes to communicating with customers.

But there’s only one channel that can offer open rates of nearly 90 per cent and response rates of about 45 per cent, both of which far outstrip email’s average open rate of 18.7 per cent in Australia.

It’s SMS. In the past few years, consumers have grown to love using this 25-year-old channel to stay in touch with trusted brands – whether for delivery and appointment confirmations, product alerts, or two-factor authentication. Meanwhile, for brands, SMS has simply become the most efficient and economical way to stay in touch with large audiences.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, both consumers and brands have become even more reliant on business SMS to communicate and strengthen relationships amid the uncertainty.

A more empathetic interaction

So why has SMS become so popular? According to OpenMarket’s global Empathy in the Age of AI research, 60 per cent of consumers say they find it less stressful to deal with brands via messaging than by email. 83 per cent say they’re more likely to receive and read SMS more quickly than other channels, while nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) say the mobile inbox is their primary communication method for “getting things done”.

These quick reaction times are what makes mobile messaging adept at driving more empathetic interactions with your consumers. You can be there for them, answer their questions, and deliver vital information – at specific times, and when they’re in specific places.

The key to successful customer communications is knowing how the consumer wants you to engage with them in different moments. The research shows that almost 80 per cent of customers also want brands to understand which comms channels they prefer.  Generally, emails seem to be preferred for long documents such as newsletters, while SMS is preferred for timely, daily interactions with customers.

According to OpenMarket’s study, the vast majority of customers believe an empathetic approach to comms and CX from brands is important – and around 80 per cent believe that brands should prioritise swift, efficient, empathetic experiences when dealing with customers.

Keeping customers informed

Customer interactions can take on many forms for retailers, ranging from sale notifications and updates on stock, to delivery tracking, to safety messages. With COVID-19 restrictions in place in many parts of the country, curfews and stay-at-home orders have impacted store opening hours. During this time, many businesses have embraced sending SMS messages to customers with updated opening times.

In-store appointment scheduling via text message also enables businesses such as hair and beauty salons, home fitting stores or other service providers to confirm appointment times with customers and offer them a chance to reschedule if they can’t make the agreed time. This has taken on new importance in a time of social distancing restrictions, when it’s critical for businesses to effectively manage how many consumers are in-store at once. Meanwhile, SMS notifications can provide details about when new or on-hold stock is arriving in store. Messages like this can also offer information about related products.

Mobile messaging can effectively and empathetically handle the small yet personal interactions that customers have with retail brands daily. Meanwhile, other channels such as email can perhaps handle less personal, or less time-sensitive moments.

Identifying the right channel to connect with your audiences in different situations is key to unlocking new opportunities.

Jonathan Ryan is country manager for Australia and New Zealand at OpenMarket