Technology enabling credit card marketers to create cell phone text-message dialogues with customers could enhance their marketing and collection efforts.

SoundBite Communications Inc. of Bedford, Mass., said its Contact Center Text Messaging Solution, announced last week, lets collection and call-center agents conduct text-message dialogues with customers through their cell phones, replacing one-way text alerts.

Collection agents or marketers may send customers a personalized text message, and the customer may respond using a keyword or a five-digit phone number. SoundBite's technology may preserve the entire dialogue for future reference and action.

A growing number of the nation's largest card issuers are using text messaging to interact with their customers, particularly for collection, said Alan Berrey, SoundBite vice president of market development, in an interview last week. But most applications require the customer to respond by calling a toll-free number. "Our product lets the customer directly respond to a call center or collection agent's text message, creating a text dialogue between customer and agent," Berrey said.

Seven of the top 10 credit card issuers use SoundBite's call-center technology for their collections and account-management, and the majority still rely primarily on its automated telephone-dialing systems to reach customers whose accounts are delinquent or nearing delinquency, he said. "Text messaging is a relatively new collections tool, but it's spreading rapidly."

George Peabody, the director of emerging technologies at Mercator Advisory Group, said SoundBite's new text-messaging technology could become "a potent new tool" as mobile phones become ubiquitous. "With text-savvy consumers growing across all age groups, the ability to create a relevant and interactive text-messaging dialogue with consumers is a home run for organizations looking to attract and retain valued customers," Peabody said.

Several large card issuers plan to deploy SoundBite's two-way text-messaging technology, but Berrey did not name them.

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