Top Ways to Improve Your App’s User Engagement and Security with SMS — Part I

Published October 24, 2016 by Francisco Kattan

SMS is personal. Think about it. When you get a text message, you read it. You’ve probably heard the stats: SMS gives you access to more than six billion phones and 95% of SMS messages are read; most of them within 90 seconds. It’s no wonder SMS has a 92% engagement rate, which is significantly higher than email. So, what does it take to weave SMS capabilities into your application?

In this two part series, we look at the top 8 ways to improve customer acquisition, security and engagement using SMS messaging with minimal development and integration work. Each tip also has links to sample code.

1. Verify and secure user accounts with SMS phone number authentication

According to the Wall Street Journal, up to one third of internet traffic is fraudulent. How can you be sure your app is dealing with real people and not bots or fraudsters? Easy: add SMS-based two factor authentication (2FA) authentication to your account sign-up and login process.

When a user first registers their account, ask them for their mobile number then send them a unique pin code via SMS. To complete the sign-up, the user must enter the code you sent them. That allows you to verify the legitimacy of the user and their phone number, which you can use to verify the user’s identity later on.

Depending on the security needs of your app, you can even do away with passwords altogether. After all, they’re hard to remember and often easy to compromise. With SMS-only authentication, your users can verify their identity by simply inputting the unique pin code you send them by text message.

Implementing SMS-based authentication takes surprisingly little development work — it’s just a few API calls. Here’s sample code for new account verification, two factor authentication and SMS-only authentication.

2. Send customers timely notifications and reminders

Now that we’ve dealt with security, let’s look at how to use SMS to make your app even more useful.

Say your software handles appointments for cleaners. You want to help those cleaners reduce missed appointments. Your legacy software sends reminder emails to homeowners but you find many of the emails are not opened or go undelivered. SMS is an easy solution to solve this communication gap. After all, text messages have an average 92% engagement rate.

Adding SMS appointment reminders to your application takes minimal engineering effort – again, it’s just a few API calls – and the SMS you send can even link back to your scheduling app, enabling customers to cancel or reschedule appointments as necessary. Here’s a guide that shows how to get started with SMS alerts in a NodeJS application.

3. Alert customers when their account balance is low

If your users need to add funds to use your service, SMS alerts can help you increase your revenue and customer satisfaction. Rather than wait for your customers to log into an online portal or app to discover their account balance is low, you can setup automated SMS alerts to notify them before their credit gets too low.

You probably already have a regular process that checks customer account status. It is simple to add an SMS alert when a customer’s account balance falls below a specified threshold. If you include a top-up link in the message, your customer can even replenish their account directly from that SMS. Read how Amazon AWS uses SMS alerts.

4. Reliably send time-critical alerts

What about those times when you need to alert customers at precisely the right moment? Perhaps the car they requested is about to arrive, the gate for their flight is closing, or bad weather has closed their children’s school. This is where deliverability comes in. Ensuring your text alerts arrive without delay depends on the quality of your SMS provider’s network, their agreements with mobile carriers, and how well their system navigates local telco regulations.

For example, did you know that mobile networks in France will not deliver marketing messages on Sundays? It takes a well-versed SMS provider to make sure your time-sensitive SMS messages are not mistaken for marketing messaging (which can be blocked by the carrier), and abide by all other legal and technical hurdles between you and your customer’s phone. Read more about time critical SMS alerts.

Stay tuned for Part II next week where we will cover four additional tips:

  • Allow users to chat without sharing their phone number
  • Invite new customers to download your app with a direct link via SMS
  • Create a local SMS presence to increase customer engagement
  • Enable SMS or voice engagement using the same local number