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Associations Now

Customer Service Via Text Message

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, March/April 2014 Technology

By: Katie Bascuas

Summary: The National Restaurant Association turned to toll-free texting at its member service center to reduce phone hold times.

If you've ever found yourself on the phone watching the minutes tick by while waiting on hold for a customer service representative to pick up, you may appreciate a new service the National Restaurant Association is offering its members.

Since last August, NRA members who call into the association's toll-free number can opt to text a question to a customer service representative instead of waiting on hold to speak to someone.

"Like any other association, we're constantly asking how can we better serve our members, and at the same time we were starting to see an increase in our call volume," says Eric Fenlon, manager of the NRA service center. "We were trying to figure out a way in which we could manage that and still offer a great experience for our members."

So the association turned to a cloud-based texting service that allows users to send and receive texts from any internet-connected device using an existing phone number. At NRA, customer service team members sitting in front of the service's web application can see incoming text bubbles pop up on their computer screens, just as they would appear on a mobile phone, and easily type a reply.

"We generally see an eight-times efficiency increase in the amount of customers you can handle in the same time" as a phone call, says John Lauer, CEO of Zipwhip, NRA's texting service provider. "When there's a voice call and there's an operator at the association, they're just working with that one person through that whole process. Whereas if it's texting, which is asynchronous, you can kind of juggle more stuff and everyone is more efficient."

Fenlon says the association reduced its voicemail log by 80 percent since launching the program last summer, and in the first five months, NRA estimates it had about 6,000 text conversations. The service has allowed the association to handle a higher call volume with the same number of staff, and it has proven a success among members.

"The feedback from our customers has been extremely positive," Fenlon says. "We have some members who prefer to communicate with us through text only, and from our end, it increases our capacity."

What kinds of questions come in via text? "We get questions about membership; we get questions about logins; we get questions about an order," he says. "It's not any one particular thing. Any and all questions come through text."

Katie Bascuas is associate editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC. Email:

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Speedier Service."]

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