Being able to send text messages to your customers’ mobile phone is arguably the best channel to reach them. People carry their mobile phones with them wherever they go, including places where we wish they wouldn’t use their phones. (No, not there; I was referring to their cars).
People read and respond to text messages far more quickly than other channels like e-mail or even voice calls. So given how great this channel is, what’s the hold up, especially since SMS is frequently the enabling channel for smartphone app communications as well?
If your business wants to send automated text messages to your customers, then you have to follow some Best Practices laid out by the Mobile Marketing Association, with some wireless carrier specific rules as well. One of these rules is acquiring expressed consent from consumers before you can send a text message. And no, you can’t send them a text message asking them for their consent!
For vertical markets such as Healthcare, Airlines, or Financial Services companies, common methods to acquire expressed consent include having customers sign up on your company’s website or by filling out paperwork such as a mortgage application or a service agreement. However, you can also use an automated voice application to gain expressed consent to text a consumer. There are a number of reasons when using an automated voice and texting application may be beneficial.
Please enter your phone number.
It’s not uncommon for a business to have a consumer’s phone number. But often the business isn’t sure if it’s a mobile or landline or even if the phone number is accurate. Additionally, the consumer may be one of several family members and may want multiple phone numbers enabled to receive text messages.
If you have a list of contact phone numbers for your customers, you should first determine if it is a landline or mobile number. If you don’t know how to do this, engage a reputable vendor. Landline numbers may be called using an automated voice application to ask customers to also provide their mobile number and acquire consent (opt-in) from your customer to receive future calls and text messages at that number. Sounds simple enough, but remember that handset authentication is required before you send your “planned for” text message to the consumer.
What is Handset Authentication?
The Mobile Marketing Association Best Practices document for sending text messages to consumers was updated in 2011 to add a right party contact best practice called Handset Authentication. Handset Authentication involves sending an initial text message to the consumer that asks the consumer to confirm affirmatively (respond YES in a text message) that they wish to receive text messages from the business and then acknowledges their Yes text message response with a second confirmation text message.
The rationale offered by carriers for this new best practice is consumer protection. (Note: I’m just explaining this best practice so you can understand it rather than endorsing it or offering my opinion regarding it.) Marketing-related SPAM is a problem with e-mail and wireless carriers want to avoid having it become as pervasive of a problem for consumers in the text messaging channel. Additionally, it can cost your customers to receive text messages from their wireless carrier. Lastly, a customer may accidently enter the wrong mobile phone number when they opt in to receive text messages from a business’ website.
For all these reasons, handset authentication is now expected of businesses as a part of a double opt-in strategy to confirm you are sending the text message to the right consumer. One exception is if the business has a short code that they use to advertise to consumers (e.g. Text JOIN to 12345 to receive a coupon). In this case, the consumer is clearly in possession of their handset (mobile phone) since they are the ones sending the first text message to the business saying they want to opt into their text message program; therefore handset authentication isn’t required.
How to make smartphone lemonade from these lemons
If you work in the customer service organization, you are probably thinking, “But I’m not in Marketing and I’m not trying to sell the consumer anything! I’m just trying to prevent or resolve a service issue with my customer via text messaging!” Here is your chance to make lemonade out of these lemons.
Consider using an automated voice application in conjunction with a handset authentication text messaging program to further your mobile engagement strategy with your customers. Imagine your business has a cloud-based solution that you can send a list of phone numbers, get back the list of mobile phone numbers along with identification of which ones you have consent to text, and confirm that the consumer has double opted-in via their reply to the handset authentication message.
Your consumers are called, prompted to confirm or enter one or more mobile phone numbers they want to receive text messages from you on. Immediately after the call, they are sent the handset authentication text message, so double opt in is received and stored before they forget that they just opted in. Now you are ready to send them your planned text message, which could be sent months later (or whenever their service issue or relationship warrants it).
Remember that texting is just the “enabler communications channel” to your mobile customers. Meaning texting can reach all mobile customers today, but as the number of customers using a smartphone increases, you’ll want more of your customers using your smartphone application where you are notifying them via push notifications or mobile alerts that wake up your customers’ smartphone app and inform them or prompt them to action. This will be a more cost-effective channel and richer user experience for your customers. So at the time you are gaining expressed consent to text them, also send the consumer a text message with a link to your smartphone app. If you don’t already have a smartphone app today, the good news is you’re gathering expressed consent to inform your consumers when your smartphone app is ready.
Squeezing those lemons hard and sweetening them just enough can promote brand loyalty, increase customer satisfaction, and drive the adoption of your smartphone app as part of your mobile strategy.