Why SMS Should Be a Strong Focus in Your Customer Engagement

Mike Stone SVP of Marketing

This piece was originally posted on ANA.

While many people say that SMS (short messaging service) is making a comeback, the truth is that the channel never went away. Just because your brand now has a mobile app or an Alexa voice skill doesn’t mean people want a user experience that entails a lot of staring at their phone or speaker. Different situations call for different needs. And at this point, we’re all pretty used to texting in any situation.

Think about the number of ways people greet each other. Sometimes, we say “hi” with a wave. Sometimes, it’s a more formal handshake and greeting. Other times it’s a brief nod of recognition in an elevator. Brands should reflect these different types of situations with their digital channels, with SMS as much as a focus as phone calls or email. SMS responses can be easily customized by using unique keywords that indicate a customer’s product interest or location, building to more precise segmentation as more messages are exchanged. Consider that there are currently 5.1 billion mobile subscribers on Earth, so SMS obviously has incredible potential for personalization at global scale.

People respond positively to SMS-based marketing and customer care. In fact, 9 out of 10 consumers want brands to communicate with them via SMS, which has an astonishing open rate of 98 percent. Even Walmart is investing big in text messaging as retail’s next big thing.

Marketers should develop systems that enable customers to opt into certain channels — like SMS — and indicate their preferences for specific channels over the other ones. If you don’t already, your brand should have a preference center, where they can tell you how often and in which formats they want to hear from your brand for different needs. Thirty-seven percent of consumers interact with a brand on three or more channels, and 60 percent are more likely to return to a brand or retailer to make another purchase when they’re able to choose how a company communicates with them.

The considerable pay-off is in consumer loyalty. Companies with the strongest omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain 89 percent of their customers, compared to 33 percent for those brands that do not. With that in mind, here are brands in four categories that wisely weave SMS into their omnichannel customer experience.

Order Fulfillment

FedEx does a great job of keeping customers in the loop via text message after they express SMS as their preferred alerts channel. For instance, I recently ordered a few long-sleeve t-shirts from Walmart.com, and the delivery service sent me text notifications when the order was picked up by a truck and then when it arrived. After it was delivered, I got another SMS.

With the texts, FedEx has transformed the shipment tracking process from passive to active. In the past, the expectation was that you would have to log on to FedEx.com and input a tracking number to get an update. Smart brands are taking the onus off of their consumers with SMS. What’s more, I did not get annoyingly double-messaged with emails about the delivery, even though FedEx has my email address.

Nightlife Planning

The Nudge is a lifestyle planner mobile app in Silicon Valley that — remember, the core of its business is a mobile app — uses SMS more than any other channel. Since text messages are actually less immersive — you normally just read one message and then you are done — The Nudge encourages people to curb their screen addiction. It delivers interesting tidbits about what’s going on around a user’s locale in the coming days and lets them add events to their app with a click.

At first blush, with a mobile app focusing on text, one might say, “what an inverted concept!” But it’s not upside-down at all; it’s putting the customer experience first and the brand second. The simple text reinforces the rich experience of the app by directing the user to specific content or features that they would be most interested in.

Lunchtime Needs

Quick-serve brands are seeing great success with SMS as a channel option for their patrons, and Subway is the clearest example. It offers a six-inch sandwich for only $2.99 if you sign up for its SMS-only program, which has attracted 5 million customers to join and accomplishes an 85 percent retention rate. They then get lunchtime specials notifications during weekdays.

Subway has more numbers that show the value of channel preference in the customer experience. On average, the brand has found that 26 percent of its SMS followers visit stores more often, 13 percent spend more, and 15 percent make more purchases than before being in the SMS program. This program’s results represent a clear victory for the brand.

Style Notifications

Apparel shoppers want a human touch and convenience, which are two ideas Rent the Runway’s texting concierge service achieves simultaneously. The direct-to-consumer brand allows customers to use MMS to receive recommendations and style advice. With a text, they can also get expedited delivery and request items to be placed on hold for pickup in-store.

The SMS concierge service sneakily improves the customer experience across channels. For instance, when customers figure out pick-up logistics in advance via texting, their in-store experience is more efficient and smoother. Right now, the texting service is entirely powered by humans, but Rent the Runway plans to implement AI eventually to expedite conversations.

It’s All About Defining Moments

What FedEx, The Nudge, Subway, and Rent the Runway accomplish with SMS is serving consumers at the right moment. Indeed, text messages are an efficient way for brands to help people at the correct time and place.

SMS should be a piece to your omnichannel offering that people can opt into instead of other channels like email or phone calls. Increasingly, mobile marketing is all about offering such personalized relationships. And what is a more personal connection than a text?

Let us help you create a strong SMS strategy. Make sure to check out our SMS resources and let us know if you have any questions.