How to Communicate with Customers Using SMS – Tips & Tools

Messaging, through SMS (Short Message Service) or messaging apps , has taken over phone and email as the primary technology for private communication. And B2C communication is likely to follow.

Many people feel more comfortable texting than calling – especially Millennials and Gen Z . Today, over 5 billion people send and receive SMS messages globally.

Like other modes of mobile messaging, SMS aligns perfectly with our mobile-sedentary lifestyle. This explains why the open rates of mobile messaging ( 98% ) blow those of email ( 15-25% ) out of the water.

SMS has the same benefits you get from apps like WhatsApp and Messenger, but also features a few unique strengths:

  • It works on all mobile phones
  • It’s internet independent
  • It doesn't require an app download

Add the fact that SMS has become practically free in most mobile phone plans and it becomes obvious why it’s one of the most accessible channels for customer communication.

So where do you start? Here are seven ways you can communicate with your customers using SMS:

1
Notify your customer base about a deal

When your company runs a promo or has a special announcement, SMS is a good channel for sending out a mass text alert. It basically works like a newsletter, but without fancy design elements and with a supercharged open rate.

Brains and clock.

Most deals are also timely in nature making SMS an optimal channel. Seventy-eight percent of your newsletter recipients will never open your email – and a large portion of the 22% that does will be too late.

JookSMS is a tool that makes setting up and sending mass alerts easy. As one of the leaders in SMS marketing, they can help make mass alerts a success for your company.

2
Surveys and polls

Surveys and polls can also help give your company insight into what your customers think of you, your brand and how you can improve. While SMS is only suitable for very short questionnaires, this is compensated by their high open rates.

3
Run a contest

Prize on a stage.

Its high engagement and open rates also makes SMS an excellent channel for running contests. You've likely seen this being used on television already: SMS “A” or “B” to [number].

Slicktext offers a dedicated Text to Win feature for launching your own text to win sweepstakes. It makes it easy to define and set up, it automatically selects your winner(s), and offers insightful analytics.

4
Account alerts

You've likely received automated SMS alerts for services you're subscribed to. Perhaps in a login authentication process , to confirm an electronic financial transaction, or to receive an estimated time of arrival (e.g. of an Uber). The number of applications is virtually limitless.

Text alert systems allow businesses to automatically send messages – urgent and non-urgent – to large groups of people.

5
Order updates

Text also provides a convenient and straightforward way to keep customers in the loop. For example, a business can send a message to let customers know when their order has shipped and when it will arrive.

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In e-commerce, people want to be home when their package is delivered. By notifying them in advance, it’s more likely that someone will be home to open the door. This saves your customers the extra effort of having to pick it up somewhere or wait for a second delivery attempt.

Shopify offers the option of SMS order updates built into their platform . Otherwise, it's possible to build the necessary integration through Twilio's API platform .

6
Appointment reminders

This works in a similar way to order updates, but instead for appointments like visiting the hairdresser.

A missed appointment is frustrating for both you and your customer. It can be a waste of time for your company and inconvenient for your customer to reschedule. Especially for appointments made far in advance, a reminder can be helpful for your customers to keep track of their schedule.

SMS provides a convenient way to send a reminder to both you and your customer. Customers can reply with a letter or word to confirm the appointment, such as “C” or “Yes.” You can also give them the option to reschedule or cancel, saving you both the hassle of missing an appointment or calling to reschedule.

7
Customer service

SMS can also be a valuable channel for regular customer service.

Especially when you apply one of the above use cases of SMS customer communication, it can be beneficial to allow your customers to follow up, reply to your text and escalate it to a 1:1 support interaction.

This is something we focus on at Userlike by offering a customer communication solution for messaging channels like SMS, your website, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

The Userlike Message Center.

What channel fits best will depend on the scenario your customer finds themselves in, but Userlike ensures that all messages arrive in one central area – your Message Center.

Best practices for SMS and tips to get started

SMS has its own code of conduct and etiquette. Here are a few ground rules to get started.

Get permission. This isn't just etiquette, it's the law! Like all fields in law, it's a patchwork of regulations that differ across the world. This post shares a quick overview of what acts and regulations are at work around the world, but most come down to this: you need to have written permission to reach out to customers via SMS. Verbal permission is not enough.

Did the customer leave their phone number in a contact form that clearly stated it would be used to follow up with them? That's consent. Got your hand on a list of phone numbers through a business contact of yours? That's a no-no.

Collect phone numbers. This speaks for itself: Obviously you need to collect phone numbers in order to reach out via SMS. Signup forms and contact forms are suitable opportunities for this. Just make sure you clarify that your company will or might reach out via SMS.

Consider timing. Successful interactions with SMS depend on the right timing. Keep your texts limited to regular business hours. Your customer will probably not be happy to receive a message in the middle of the night.

A classis hat.

(Re)introduce yourself. Your average customer won't save your phone number. As a result, they might be confused when a text from an unknown number pops up on their phone. Each time you start a new conversation with a customer, introduce yourself. It will save confusion and make the customer more likely to respond. A simple "[Company name] customer service:" is enough.

Indicate how you got the number. This is a good idea for when some time elapses between the customer handing over their phone number and your business reaching out. Something in the direction of, "You’re receiving this message because you left your number at www.yourwebsite.com/signup."

Keep things short. A mobile phone is a device optimized for short, crisp messages. Long messages are also a bad idea for email , but they are especially unforgivable in a mobile context.

Use emoji. Because SMS lacks both the formality of an email and the nonverbal cues of an in-person or phone conversation, emoji can help get your message across. It can make an otherwise flat message seem friendly. However, more serious matters like two-factor authentication messages are better kept serious without emoji.

Avoid spam. Text messages are more personal than emails, and a spam text will feel more like a violation than a spam email. You are far more likely to anger your target than convert them.

The first step we already covered: get consent. Secondly, it should be easy to opt-out. For example, let them know they can type "STOP" to opt-out of automatic text messages. It is a waste of time and money if you send messages that your customer is no longer interested in receiving.

To not reach this point of failure, avoid sending frequent and too commercial messages – especially not in short succession.

Avoid sensitive information. If the information is sensitive, the customer might not feel comfortable discussing it over text. And in some cases, the law prohibits it. HIPAA laws , for example, bar medical offices from discussing patient health over SMS.

In these cases, your customer service reps need to make a judgment call to determine if it is best to continue the conversation over a phone call. Explain to the client that it might be better to speak with them and use text to schedule a call at their convenience.

Old school telephone.

Escalate to phone. In cases like described above, escalating to phone is most logical. Your customers are already on their phones. While SMS can provide convenience, there are times when a phone call is more appropriate.

Sometimes problems are too complicated to solve over text. Some customers are confused about what exactly is wrong or aren’t sure how to explain it. Other times, your reps need to troubleshoot through a multi-step process that can be confusing over text. Too much back-and-forth could draw out the problem and cause frustration on both ends.

If you're looking for a SMS solution for customer service, you might want to consider Userlike. It combines all major messaging channels, allowing you to answer chats from SMS, your website, WhatsApp and more. All from one central hub optimized for professional support. Learn more .