From Talk to Text, Part 1: The Expansion of Toll-Free as a Critical Business Solution

The business world is buzzing about text enabling Toll-Free Numbers to expand their communications suite.  But exactly how do you take what’s traditionally been a voice service and bring it forward into the digital era?  We sat down with Alan Stiffler, Somos Vice President of Business Development, to learn more.

This post is the first in a three-part series on the development of texting to Toll-Free Numbers: what is driving this trend, what are the timelines for building the new texting registry, and how will it create new opportunities for businesses and consumers.  

What is creating the interest in texting to Toll-Free Numbers?

Texting has emerged as a challenger to voice communication, even a preference for the younger generation.  Virtually every American owns a mobile phone, and over 80 percent use texting as a means for communication.  A New Research study from a few years ago found that the average 18-24 year old sends more than 100 texts per day!  And when you consider the enormous popularity of social media, it’s clear that people want to communicate electronically in every aspect of their daily lives.

In keeping with this trend, companies want to engage customers in a manner that they find comfortable and convenient.  For the past four decades, a primary tool for business-to-consumer (B2C) communication was the phone call to a Toll-Free Number.  Even today, Toll-Free is a vibrant method of communication with over 40 million numbers in use and growing.

So if we combine these two concepts – that people increasingly want to communicate over text and that Toll-Free is the primary means of B2C communication – we get the rationale for the increasing demand to text enable Toll-Free Numbers.

Will consumers welcome texting to Toll-Free Numbers?

Let me cite another study. A Harris Poll conducted on behalf of OneReach in August 2014 found high demand for texting to Toll-Free Number as a way to improve customer service. Here are some key highlights from the report:

  • 64% of consumers with texting capabilities would prefer to use texting over voice as a customer service channel.
  • 44% of consumers with texting capabilities would prefer to press a button to initiate a text conversation immediately, rather than waiting on hold to speak with an agent.
  • 77% of consumers with texting capabilities aged 18-34 are likely to have a positive perception of a company that offers text capability.
  • 81% of all consumers agree that it is frustrating to be tied to a phone or computer to wait for customer service help.

According to Harris, consumers see value in text as a way to communicate on more time-friendly terms. They can check an order status, schedule an appointment, find store locations, check balances, engage tech support, and engage with businesses without waiting in a phone queue.

What is the role of Somos in developing a registry for text enabled Toll-Free Numbers?

The increasing demand to text enable Toll-Free Numbers led to the search for a solution.  Initially, companies who were among the first to offer texting to Toll-Free Numbers collaborated on a solution.  After a few bumps in the process, the trade association that develops industry guidelines for texting (CTIA) formed a working group to find a permanent solution that would be administered by a neutral third party.  We submitted a white paper with a design for a centralized registry that connected to the SMS/800 Toll-Free Number (TFN) Registry - the authoritative source for Toll-Free Number administration.  Our proposal was viewed favorably by the working group members and in late 2014, we began to build the Texting & Smart Services (TSS) Registry.

Operating the TSS Registry is a responsibility we’ve embraced, given our decades experience managing the Toll-Free voice platform. Somos has the technical capabilities for running carrier-grade registries, and a history of providing an equitable and unbiased service.

How will the registry work?

The TSS Registry will serve as the authoritative provisioning and routing database for all multimedia services associated with Toll-Free Numbers.  Initially the registry will support only texting, but over time can be expanded to include MMS, video calling, and other services. The TSS Registry will operate independently from the SMS/800 voice platform, but will interact with it to provide validation and accurate information on registration and routing.

What is your status on developing the registry?

We are in the application development stage with plans to go live later this year (2015).   We plan to use our blog to keep everyone informed of our progress and announce release dates so check back often!

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