This feature is by Vince Han. Vince is the founder and CEO of MobileCoach and a frequent speaker at conferences such as Training Conference, DevLearn, FocusOn, Online Learning, ATDTK and others. He holds an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Vince is an industry thought-leader for learning and learning technology with an emphasis on artificial intelligence and chatbot technology.
SMS: Friend or Foe?
Recently, an executive at a direct selling company expressed concern about sending distributors and customers messages through SMS. It was his belief that communicating with his audience in this way was too intrusive and that good old-fashioned email was the least of all evils when it came to communication channels. I can certainly understand the sentiment, consumers do exhibit more sensitivity to unsolicited SMS messages and the government also works to protect this channel through regulations like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
However, I believe it’s a sucker’s choice to either go all in or all out with SMS messaging. The truth of the matter is that, when done right, no channel is more effective for audience engagement than the same channel that people use to interact with their closest friends and family. In North America, that channel is overwhelmingly SMS (although a strong argument could be made for social media channels like TikTok and Instagram for teens and Gen-Z).
The reason why SMS is so effective is that it is the most frictionless of channels – I’m already engaging with my closest circle of associates through SMS, so if you can effectively reach me there, you will get my attention. The carriers confirm this phenomenon by saying that 98% of SMS messages are read and a whopping 90% are read within the first 3 minutes of receipt.
Most consumers are happy to receive automated messages if they see and feel the value. A clear example of this is using SMS as a means for multi-factor authentication – you want to access your bank account online? Your bank may send you a code via SMS to make sure it’s really you. We really have no issue with use cases like that.
What consumers do have issues with, however, are unsolicited text messages that are salesy and overly marketing heavy. We work hard to protect the sanctity of our preferred channel, the last thing we want is to muddy it up with tons of unwanted messages like…well, like what email has become.
So as a direct selling executive, how do you strike the balance of leveraging a messaging channel that is the most effective without burning bridges or relationships by abusing it?
I work with a mobile messaging expert who helped me understand this dynamic very well a few years ago. He explained to me that any incoming message we get via SMS is an interruption, even if it is coming from our best friend. And how true that is, an incoming message is unexpected and an interruption. The key is to make sure that the interruption is a welcome and valued interruption. I want my friends and family to text me. These interruptions enhance my life. And the modality of SMS is such where I can reply on my own time and on my own terms, increasing its convenience.
So how do you ensure that your messages are welcomed and valued? Here are a few tips:
- Understand the law. We live in an increasingly regulated world and SMS is no exception. There are government regulations like the aforementioned TCPA that you need to be aware of (violations can be as much as $1,500 per message!) as well as regulations that the carriers (T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, etc) The carriers recently implemented a protocol for automated messages through long codes (10-digit phone numbers) called A2P 10DLC. These protocols require companies to register their campaigns in advance and adhere to terms of service. Compliance to these regulations requires companies to employ more sophisticated technology platforms.
- Make it easy for users to opt in and opt out. Users should have 100% in control of your SMS relationship. This puts the onus on you to ensure the messaging experience they have feels valuable.
- Move beyond marketing. Yes, you want to use this channel to promote your products and services but that relationship is too one-sided. Consider implementing benefits and services into SMS such as allowing customers to use SMS for customer service or to access coaching and educational tips and tutorials.
- Implement personalized communication preferences. Taking a cue from email subscriptions, you can give your distributors and customers choices about what types of messages they receive as well as frequency of such messages. The more control they feel, the more likely they’ll hang around.
- Create a Return on Investment calculation. For all its virtues, SMS is expensive. And A2P 10DLC policy modifications also came with even more price increases. You should think through an ROI calculation to ensure the money you are putting in is at the very least paying for itself. Can you use SMS to increase customer loyalty? To help distributors be more effective? To increase sales? To decrease contact center costs? Ultimately, like with any tool, you need to justify its usage.
If you think about it, the relationships you value the most in your life, whether with people or with businesses, you are quick to offer your mobile number to be communicated with. If you’re distributors and customers value you in such a way, they will surely give you a shot at proving that you can use SMS to help them and in turn, help you.
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