Think of the evolution of communications for customer support and how it is coalescing around the concepts of not too hot; not too cold — we want it just right. Aren’t we all becoming a little like Goldilocks in terms of how we like to receive support? It’s a subject that speaks directly to message channel choices.

From the business side of the support conversation, too hot would translate into “too expensive.” In other words, a support communication model that relied on constant engagement. For instance, a heavily staffed call center that routed even minor support issues to individual phone conversations. Too cold from the customer perspective would be a lack of attention; it takes too long to get a valid response or the interaction is not conducive to a quick two-way conversation – snail mail comes to mind here, though trying to get support through email often takes too long to be satisfactory in many cases too.

So what is just right? I’d argue that SMS has become the best communication channel for customer support interactions. With SMS text you can engage in conversation, but communicate at the pace you want. It can be done in spare moments and doesn’t require continuous attention – unlike a phone conversation where you can’t drop off for 30 seconds or a minute. Yet, are people really using SMS enough, and are businesses equipped to handle SMS interactions at volume, to consider it for a support platform?

First, let’s agree that communications are going mobile — subscriptions continue to grow while landline totals continue to decline.  It is likely that most of your customer base carries a mobile device with them at all times.  And that device is not just for phone calls. In Q4 2007 US mobile subscribers caught up with worldwide users — with SMS volume exceeding call volumes (Nielsen).  And that isn’t just with tweens; that statistic held for people ages 13-44 and people 45-54 still had large SMS volumes.

Smartphones, with apps and mobile internet, may be top in the news but in Q1 2011 they were still under 30% of the mobile market while 68% used SMS (comScore). So yes, enough people use mobile and SMS, but is it viable as a service channel, and if so how can you manage it? Here are a few examples of smart approaches to using SMS for customer care – done just right:

Comcast goes beyond their famous twitter presence and uses SMS to provide services, via Comcast4U, to their large customer base. These services range from payment notices, asking customer service to call you (!), and looking up TV listings or video on demand.

Macy’s uses SMS in-store to extend the reach of customer service, providing customers with direct access to information from their designers. This kind of service can also be extended to enroll in alert programs for fashion updates and discounts.

Several professional sports teams have adopted SMS for venue services to fans during a game. The New Orleans Saints are shrinking the size of the Louisiana Superdome, utilizing SMS to crowdsource information about rowdy fans or as a request line for assistance. There is no need to leave your seat – just text to the number provided and help is on the way. With your confirmation they will extend this and provide follow-up messages for discounts, team news, and more.

The Chicago Fire is using SMS for in-venue entertainment, with games and polls. This program extends beyond the game with news, game reminders, offers and more as a supplement to their existing email updates.

Incorporating SMS into your customer service communication channel increases responsiveness and provides customers with information when/where they want it. The key is to coordinate across these channels (e.g. web, email) so that you are seamlessly interacting with your customers, not treating people as different customers based on how they contact you. Provide a “just right” experience and you’ll see improvement in your customer loyalty. Got any other good SMS customer service examples? Share them in the comments!