4 Must Do’s For Excellent SMS Client Service

The following article is a guest contributed post from Kane Russell, VP of Marketing at Waterfall Mobile.

With spending on SMS marketing looking to double from roughly $4 billion in 2013 to more than $8 billion by 2016, SMS client service holds paramount importance. Without an effective service strategy, SMS campaigns will become non-compliant and fail to reach their target customers.

To create an effective strategy, SMS client service needs to incorporate the following four elements. By addressing all four, SMS campaigns will remain compliant and welcomed by customers, which is crucial for securing an immediate and positive impact on SMS ROI.

1) Industry-Mandated Compliance

CTIA – The Wireless Association is the primary governing body monitoring SMS programs. Though SMS regulations have and may continue to change slightly, a few constants have held true for years. Most important, when a customer subscribes to an SMS list, they have to receive a message with the SMS program name, message frequency, a privacy policy link, the phrase “Message & Data Rates May Apply,” opt in/out instructions and where to receive support. In addition, this information should also exist somewhere on the call to action promoting the SMS campaign. Here are two examples, the first an SMS confirmation message from PETA, and the second an online mobile sign-up form from Pizza Hut:

Though I am not a legal expert, and marketers should always consult with their legal teams, the above examples are industry standard and currently sufficient for informing customers. From a business standpoint, adopting the proper compliance practices ensures that customers remain enthusiastic about receiving, opening and clicking through SMS promotions. As a handy reference, use this compliance best practices guide to see step-by-step instructions for maintaining full compliance with the CTIA.

2) Dedicated Vs. Shared Short Codes

Deciding between a shared or dedicated short code comes down to two factors: startup cost vs. functionality options. By paying more for a dedicated short code, companies benefit from infinite keyword choice, personalized branding for system-triggered messages and accessibility for complex routing programs or CRM integrations.

When selecting a dedicated short code, think of it like a license plate. You can select a randomly assigned code, which is less expensive, but you have no choice over the number. A “vanity” number personalizes the short code to make it easier to remember, text and advertise.

To acquire a dedicated short code, just search online to find an available code. A quarterly leasing fee, charged by a company called Neustar, applies to all dedicated codes. At present, non-vanity short codes cost $500 per month, with vanities codes costing $1,000.

In addition to Neustar, short codes also require carrier approval. In total, the provisioning process takes 8-12 weeks, so plan ahead to make sure campaigns can get up and running in time.

3) List Uploads

It’s easy to grasp why list uploads are a key consideration for effective SMS client service. On one hand, companies can upload a list of contacts to an SMS database and use text messaging as an immediate and interactive form of personal communication. On the other, companies improperly uploading lists to an SMS database run the risk of sending unsolicited text messages to personal cell phones, which is illegal and punishable with a fine of $500-$1500 per message.

When looking to upload a list of employees for internal SMS communication, some best practices include:

  • Employers should look into providing phones and/or texting plans for their employees.
  • Test phones to ensure that they allow texts to and from a short code (sometimes company-provided phones block certain features and functionality). In the event that a set of phones does not allow texting from a short code, contact the mobile carrier to modify the corporate plan’s settings.
  • Use a double opt-in. This means that end users reply to a prompt before subscribing to receive ongoing communication. One benefit is that double opt-ins serve as a means to collect segmentation data for targeting subscribers with more relevant information. Take the following example, where end users reply with their zip code to confirm their subscription. Now the SMS database not only has confirmed subscribers, but also a segmentation point for targeting location-relevant information.

When uploading for external purposes, for example when migrating a customer list to a new short code, make sure to message customers informing them of the change. At present and for the last few years, CTIA recommends sending a message from the old short code with the new keyword and short code so that customers can opt in directly.

4) Database Management

An SMS list, like any data asset, constantly evolves as customers join, leave or interact with campaigns. Make sure your SMS client service strategy can handle these ongoing updates. Above all:

  • Trigger a support message that contains email and phone contact information when people text HELP to a given short code. Customer service teams should monitor these channels on a daily basis.
  • Capture all messages not recognized as saved keywords or prompts and route them to a general mailbox. These unrecognized texts occur frequently, for example when customers commit typos or text in direct questions. Responding directly, as opposed to replying with a generic “unrecognized command,” establishes 1-to-1 relationships with customers that will greatly enhance overall satisfaction with the SMS program.
  • Enable basic opt-out keywords and their misspellings so that customers can suspend SMS communication without hassle. STOP, UNSUB, QUIT, CANCEL and UNSUBSCRIBE should all allow customers to remove their mobile number from every list on a given short code. An opt-out should trigger a confirmation message (a debate finally settled recently), which looks more or less like: “You’ve opted out of <Program Name> and will no longer receive any messages. Email <Email Address> or call <Phone Number> for more info.” Opt-out confirmation messages will be standard for all brands on a shared short code and customizable at the brand-level for dedicated short codes.

By adopting these four elements into an SMS service strategy, companies can rest assured that their campaigns will remain compliant and effective at engaging customers. With service needs addressed, marketers can focus on the more important (and fun) aspect of SMS marketing: compelling content that drives bodies in store, increases loyalty or whatever other communication goal that stands to benefit from mobile’s most personal, direct and ubiquitous messaging channel.


About The Author

Kane Russell is VP of Marketing at Waterfall Mobile. Based in San Francisco, Waterfall’s technology helps companies build mobile marketing campaigns that customers love. You can reach Kane on Twitter @waterfallmobile.