5 Tips for Effective SMS Text Messaging with Customers

Published January 03, 2017 by Glen Kunene

For businesses in the digital realm, SMS reaches customers like no other medium: people almost always read the text messages they receive. In fact, SMS has a 98 percent open rate, according to a report by Dynmark, making text messaging an especially effective channel for businesses to distribute critical customer information.
Like any potentially effective business tool, however, the user must choose from several possible techniques to get the most out of SMS business communications. In this post, we offer five tips for maximizing the effectiveness of your SMS text messaging, while remaining true to your brand:

  1. Strike the right tone for the text message’s purpose
  2. Be brief (without being brusque)
  3. Offer the recipient a route to reply
  4. Test every message on your own phone
  5. Involve your SMS copywriter from the outset

Read on for the details of each tip.

1. Strike the right tone for the text message’s purpose

Businesses can use SMS for all sorts of customer interactions, including surveys, notifications, sales messages, and follow-ups to phone conversations. They can be used for communications as serious as warning banking customers when they’re close to their overdraft limits. More sales-focused uses include alerting customers to the start of a sale or extending customer service by reminding a customer to be at home for a delivery.

SMS composition often involves a trade-off between professionalism and friendliness. Getting the tone right is vital. Thinking through the following considerations when composing your message will help you strike the right balance:

  1. What is the gravity of the message you’re delivering? A friendly reminder can be lighter and more conversational in tone than the bad news of an overdraft notification, for example.
  2. Who are your audience and how do you want them to respond? Are they current customers who expect you to know their names, and are they currently dealing with you in some way?
  3. What is your brand’s personality? Youth-focused brands, for example, can get away with less formality, which means emojis might be appropriate. A bank or legal firm, on the other hand, would be expected to be more professional.

SMS is an extremely personal method of communication; for many consumers, it is used mainly for communicating with other people. For this reason, text messages from businesses can seem intrusive — and if you’re perceived as rude, your customers won’t want to do business with you. So consider tone carefully. An informal style can feel warm and conversational, but only to certain consumers. Text-speak might help you fit more in, but it can be seen as unprofessional, or worse: a corporate attempt to look cool.

2. Be brief (without being brusque)

Many mobile devices can display more than 160 characters in a single message by using alternative protocols like MMS, but only an SMS message of 160 characters or less will be guaranteed to arrive and be displayed the way you would like it to be read. (You can learn more about character restrictions and other complexities surrounding SMS.) So think hard about your message length before you compose it. Reduce it to a single proposition, and take the time to compose it in as few words as possible. If it’s a message that needs to be broken into multiple sends, do so — it’s better to send two clear, simple messages than one that confuses the recipient.

If you need to offer the recipient the chance to opt out of future communications, or you’d like to include a link to further information, invest time in writing standard footers that will include this text and/or links in all your messages. Establishing the standard wording and links for your ancillary information not only saves time but it also leaves you with a predictable amount of space for your key content. Remember to use short links instead of standard URLs to reduce your character count.

But don’t compromise your tone in order to fit more in your message.

3. Offer the recipient a route to reply

One-to-one text communication is about conversation, not broadcast. It works best when it’s interactive. The communication will feel more personal to the recipient when they have the option to reply, because it suggests a person will read that reply. So always give your recipients some way to interact — a way to respond — even if it’s only to complain, find out more, or opt out of future messages. Few will take you up on the offer, but providing the option is what matters.

4. Test every message on your own phone

The easiest way to ensure you’ve chosen the appropriate wording is to compose your message on your own phone. When you’re happy with it, send it to your own phone or another nearby device. Look at it when it arrives and think about how your customers would feel if they received it. If you have developed personas for your target audience, they can help here. If you think you could send your message to most people in your target audience, you’ve struck the right tone. If not, think about why not and refer to points 1-3 above.

5. Involve your SMS copywriter from the outset

Developing any kind of communications strategy can be an abstract process, divorced from the actual activity of writing the words. But in SMS, with so much at stake in so few words, this disconnection can lead to a failed strategy.

When you’re developing your SMS strategy, it, therefore, makes sense to involve the writer from the outset. That writer may be you, of course, but if not, it will pay dividends to have the writer at the table when you begin to work out what you will say, when and to whom. If you write the words as you develop your plans, you’ll quickly discover when your messages are too long, too complex or otherwise inappropriate and you’ll be able to amend your strategy accordingly.

Bonus Tip: Don’t take delivery for granted

If you’re running an SMS program that is global in scale, you will quickly learn that different countries and carriers have their own rules about what type of SMS traffic they will allow and it is difficult to know all the intricacies. Failing to comply with each region and carrier’s rules can result in a message either not being delivered or being delivered in an altered format. An SMS API provider like Nexmo will manage all those complexities and allow you to focus on nailing the messaging for optimal customer engagement.

One Thing to Remember: The Human Touch

Text messages may be short, but their impact on recipients can be disproportionately powerful due to their personal nature. So, although they can be a great way to make an instant connection and get noticed, recipients can find them intrusive and rude if they are thoughtlessly composed. Remember, customers are sensitive when it comes to the messages brands send them.

Businesses differ by industry and by audience, and aspects of the advice in this article may be more appropriate for some than for others. If there is one simple piece of advice that all businesses should keep in mind, however, it’s that when you send a text message you’re talking to a real person, so remember to write like one.