How to Use SMS to Improve Queuing

How to Use SMS to Improve Queuing

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If you’re watching the mobile space at the moment, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was all about mobile applications and not much else. The app market is certainly an exciting space where we are seeing the capabilities of mobile phones being dramatically extended.

But, if you’re looking to setup a mobile business, or incorporate mobile into your business, don’t overlook other mobile technologies, especially SMS.

A broad reach

SMS is particularly good at reaching everyone who has a cellphone. While smartphone penetration is around 15% in South Africa at the moment, practically everyone either owns or has access to a cellphone.

Even ‘dumb’ phones have SMS built into them and people know how to use SMS, needing little to no training. One clever application of SMS for entrepreneurs is to use it to replace traditional queuing systems.

Here are some tips to get you started.

  1. Identify a situation – either part of your main business or part of another operation – where queuing is causing headaches, for customers and the company alike. From filing tax returns, to passports and visas, to hospitals, courts, elections, restaurants, ticket sales, deliveries. Anytime people are standing around unnecessarily, getting stressed and unhappy, and giving the business unnecessary logistical problems is a great opportunity to improve things with SMS.
  2. SMS queuing works by allowing the customer to ‘book’ their place in a queue via an SMS. They then receive confirmation and an indication of where they are in the queue – freeing them up to carry on with other things. Then depending on the type of queue, they receive an SMS alert when they are at or near the front of the queue. The timing depends on the circumstances:  a delivery company might alert a customer an hour before, to give them time to get home; while a restaurant might need to give patrons five minutes to arrive from the bar area. When queues are unpredictable, for example at hospitals where an emergency might take up time unexpectedly, patients can be kept up to date on their position and expected waiting times.
  3. More advanced services can include gathering information from the customer in advance, making your dealings with them even more efficient. Customers can be allowed to self-select the correct queues based on their requirements, and can even select time slots – perhaps they would prefer you to deliver their groceries late in the afternoon rather than immediately. You can also use your SMS conversation tactically to get customers to sign up for your newsletter, offer vouchers or other marketing initiatives.
  4. The benefits to your company include freeing up staff as they no longer need to answer phone calls or manage queues, customers are happier because both the actual and perceived waiting time is reduced. You can predict and manage spikes in visitors better, further managing customer expectations. And you can cut down on wasted trips trying to deliver something to a customer who wasn’t home.
  5. To do this, you don’t need to rebuild the wheel, or even be that technically savvy. All the application-to-person (A2P) messaging technology you need to do this already exists. You’ll need to select an SMS aggregator to partner with who will take care of the message connectivity, billing interfaces, shortcodes and keywords. They’ll provide an API (application programming interface) for you to plug into, and also be able to advise you on how to charge for the service, whether to choose a dedicated or shared shortcode, and other options you have available.
Dr Pieter Streicher
Dr Pieter Streicher established Celerity Systems in 2000 as an IT services company focusing on the marketing and management of Internet-based solutions. BulkSMS.com, a division of Celerity Systems, focuses on SMS messaging solutions for commercial and non-commercial communications. As a leading wireless application service provider, BulkSMS.com offers bulk SMS messaging solutions to large and small businesses, public benefit organisations, and individuals.