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Research Reports

Bandwidth Consumer Preferences Survey

INSIGHTS INTO HOW CONSUMERS LIKE TO COMMUNICATE WITH BUSINESSES

It’s been years since the original Gartner report came out that identified just how critical SMS was becoming to reach consumers. With numbers like a 98% open rate, 36% click through rate, and 90 second response time, SMS couldn’t be ignored. Bandwidth wanted to know “Since SMS has boomed as a channel for business communication, how does it fare against other methods for how consumers actually want to be reached?” Let’s take a look. 

Summary

Between the email inbox, app push notification center, text messages, phone calls, and more, what is the best way to reach your customers? Well, we asked them. Bandwidth doesn’t yet support channels like email and push notifications, but we know just how critical every channel can be to an outreach strategy, so we included all the main ones just to be safe. Surprisingly, email remains a huge part of how consumers want businesses to interact with them. Not surprisingly, it’s not a timely channel. The fastest, by far, was SMS. So when you need to grab attention quickly, email shouldn’t be your first option. We also learned that as much as ALL OF US hate unknown callers and voice spam, consumers aren’t ready to write off phone calls just yet. Voice is still a wanted and necessary channel for consumer engagement, and wins out above external app downloads and Whatsapp for conversational interactions. Ultimately, a multi-faceted approach is needed for the most effective consumer engagement strategy, but the channel mix varies depending on your target audience and use case. Dig into the below results to learn more. 

Don’t have time to check out all the great data and charts we put together? It’s understandable. Here’s the big takeaways from our survey:

KEY CONCLUSIONS

  • SMS is the #1 channel for time-bound informational and wanted promotional communications. If you need attention quickly or the customer expects a timely update on their mobile device, SMS should be your go-to channel. 
  • Email is the #1 preferred business-to-consumer communication channel, followed closely by SMS. We know that promotional content is more readily filtered by the magic of email these days, which allows consumers to revisit those promotions later at their leisure. If it isn’t timely, it’s probably best to send in an email first and look to SMS as the backup.
  • Messenger apps (including Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger) are not a popular channel for business communication in the US. An important note here is that those types of applications do not let businesses contact consumers except in response to an inbound message, limiting the ways businesses can interact and offer to communicate important information that consumers want to receive. 
  • Online and in-app chat bots are becoming increasingly popular for on-demand communications, so don’t overlook them. Obviously they aren’t useful for mass engagement like an email or SMS blast, but consumers still want to access your business with these channels. Don’t forget to utilize SMS to direct users to your app or online chat experience when appropriate. 
  • Phone calls aren’t dead. We cannot stress this enough. Not only do consumers want the ability to pick up the phone and just talk to a human, they also still want phone call outreach so long as it isn’t spam. 

Want more? Check out a breakdown of the questions we asked in our survey below and how the respondents surprised us.

CHANNEL DEFINITIONS

We use a lot of terminology below, so before you get started, here’s what we mean when we use these terms:

  • Email: The ubiquitous digital inbox attached to every yourname@domain address
  • SMS/Text Message: The standard messaging capabilities on your mobile phone, regardless of device type, with no additional application or service needed
  • Phone Call: A dialed voice call (NOT a robocall) in an attempt to reach a consumer either directly or via voicemail, and vice versa for consumers attempting to reach businesses
  • Online/via App: Using a digital chat functionality built into a business’ branded website, web application, or mobile application
  • Messenger app: Any over-the-top (OTT) messaging application that utilizes data to exchange rich messaging experiences between users within the same messaging application (i.e., Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, WeChat, etc.)

When Speed is Key

The first question a business should ask is “How fast do I need to reach my target audience?” Be honest though, because while we know most of you are thinking IMMEDIATELY, that’s just not true. If you are sending time sensitive content, like a multi-factor authentication confirmation for an account login, a same-day appointment reminder, or even a wanted promo notification for a flash sale ending within hours, you are definitely turning to SMS first. 

When it comes to getting attention fast, SMS beats out all other forms of communication and it isn’t even close, with 63.1% of respondents saying it gets their attention fastest. In fact, the closest runner up is a phone call at 19.7%, which is why so many authentication methods have backup verification via voice calls. 

Which communication channel gets attention the fastest

Channels, channels everywhere

The second thing to consider is how your consumers want to be reached. Information overload is all too real and attention is the most valuable asset. As businesses, we often find ourselves asking how to hit our goals without considering how our audience would actually enjoy helping us hit those goals. Instead of adding to the onslaught, consider how your target audience is expecting to be reached—and even further, how that audience expects to be reached based on the use case.

General business communication channel preference

Conversational communication (i.e. customer service/support) channel preference

Promotional communication (i.e. coupons/sale alerts) channel preference

Informational communication (i.e. appointment reminders) channel preference

Based on these charts, you might think that email should be your first choice for reaching customers, but you just learned in the previous section that timeliness matters. And now you know, so does context. Here’s a simplified breakdown that crunches the survey data to offer suggestions for when to use what channel. (As a disclaimer, this isn’t us giving legal advice…please consult your legal counsel with any questions you may have about your specific compliance and practices.)

*Disclaimer: Again….this is not legal advice

Notable retail preferences

When it comes to arguments like brick and mortar versus online only, figuring out the best way to deliver a receipt or offer up payment options, or even how to give customers a pleasant waiting experience, we uncovered a few trends that may help inform your business.

Purchase preferences

We wanted to know how the pandemic had impacted consumer purchasing preferences. We asked respondents how they preferred to make a purchase and if they had changed that preference since the pandemic hit. 66.5% of respondents didn’t feel that their preferences had changed with COVID-19. We know that consumers are comfortable with in-person transactions, but online payments and digital payment methods leveled the playing field as we transitioned to 6 feet apart.

Before the pandemic

After the pandemic

Receipt delivery

SMS and email receipts have taken the US by storm as companies like Square revolutionized the small business transaction experience. Now consumers get to choose how they receive their proof of purchase, and while some still like the oily feel of a thermal paper slip that can be tucked away to never be seen again, digital methods are outweighing print by leaps and bounds. 73% of respondents preferred a digital receipt to print.

Waiting preferences

No one really enjoys waiting, and businesses know it. From free coffee and snacks to sports or HGTV playing on big screens, the waiting room experience has continually been an issue of making the best of a bad situation. At Disney, they even make the queues part of the ride to keep park-goers as entertained as possible while they shuffle slowly along. Since the pandemic completely upended many of those strategies, including eliminating the offering of food and beverages, we were curious how the consumer preference for waiting had changed. 52.5% of respondents were swayed by COVID-19 to change their tune, and suddenly rocking out in your car waiting on a text message is the best.

Before the pandemic

After the pandemic

Demographics matter

The last thing to consider is your target audience demographics. Everything from gender to income to age can impact the success of your communication program. Fun fact: in the course of this research we also learned that women were twice as likely to take a survey!

Gender-based preferences

Is your audience primarily one gender or the other? Some brands have that luxury and can specialize. Here are a few notes on trends based on gender:

  • In general, women’s least preferred communication channel were phone calls, while men chose messenger apps (such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger) as their bottom choice
  • When conversing with a business, men prefer to speak over the phone or via email whereas women prefer email and text messaging to speaking on the phone
  • Women prefer texting more than men do while men prefer phone calls more than women do

Age-based preferences

Is your audience older or younger? Here are a few notes on trends based on age:

  • The 55 and over population are the most likely to prefer phone calls over any other form of communication 
  • Email and SMS do well at almost all ages, but particularly the 44 and under crowd

Income-based preferences

Other data has shown that lower-income populations are better reached with forms of communication like SMS, but what else did we learn about the economic differentiator? Let’s take a look.

  • Income was not a huge factor in preferences and there were no statistically significant differentiators of preference between income brackets
  • Lower income respondents were 50% less likely to have changed their preferences since the pandemic began compared to higher income respondents

SURVEY METHODOLOGY

Bandwidth utilized a third-party survey company to collect responses from 1,501 individuals within the United States in late 2020. The pre-qualifications included that respondents be: 18 years or older, English-speaking and residing in the United States, with a household income of at least $25,000, and that they use SMS on their cell phone. Bandwidth was not identified in the survey.

Learn more about the new state of messaging

Want to learn more about how messaging is changing, and how that is impacting consumer preferences? Visit our Ultimate Guide to Business Text Messaging for an interactive look at how the messaging landscape is changing.