Overstock.com knows the days are long gone when people would call or email about problems with its products or service. That’s why the online retailer now converses with its customers most frequently through text messages.

Since rolling out a new customer service channel based on text messaging in December, Overstock.com has seen a 98 percent open rate when communicating with people through texts, according to the company. That’s a significant improvement in Overstock.com’s ability to reach and help customers, since the company’s email open rates average between percentages in the single digits and low teens, said Tyler Cook, product management and development executive at Overstock.com.

“SMS is a form of communication we use naturally in our day-to-day lives,” he said. “People get a ton of email, so it tends to get lost in people’s inbox, and they won’t respond to it. We are finding texting has more success.”

Overstock.com, which sees 30 million unique visitors a month, uses Quiq text messaging software to inform its customers that their order has shipped and arrived, or that a package is late, will be returned or replaced. From Overstock.com’s mobile site, app or customer service line provided online, people can text the company’s roughly 500 customer service associates 24/7 about concerns — or anything they want.

“They can say, ‘Hey, I found this really cool couch on your website, but I don’t know which lamp I want it to go with,’ and we’ll give them suggestions,” said Cook. “Or, if someone wants to do a return, we’ll help them there. We’ll service them just like with a normal phone call.”

Since the feature rolled out, Overstock.com has received 14 percent fewer phone calls, according to Cook. Cook believes this is because texting puts the timing of service in the customer’s hands. “With text messaging, someone can start a conversation at 9 in the morning and come back to it whenever they want, and we can pick it up from there,” he said. “We don’t have to start the entire conversation over again.”

The company also saves money with the feature because it reduces the number of hours needed to help customers, Cook said. With texting, one customer service rep can help seven people in the same amount of time that it might take to help one person over the phone, he said.

Overstock.com isn’t cutting the number of its customer service reps, though. Instead, the company is allocating the time saved to other operational tasks such as ensuring packages are shipped correctly, which will help the overall customer experience, said Cook.

Eventually, Overstock.com plans to use texting for more than customer service. In the “near future,” the company said it will use texts to send promotions and offers for products it sells online.

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