How to use SMS more intelligently, for one-to-one conversations at scale


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Just over three years ago, I was in Newcastle visiting friends. We went out, had a few drinks, and, after the cab home, we put in the inevitable pizza order with Domino’s.

I live more than 250 miles away from that branch of Domino’s in Newcastle, yet I’ve received a text message from them every week for the past three years letting me know they’re still open for business.

Granted, pizza is among the better travelling takeaways. But I’m not sure how warm it would be after a four-and-a-half-hour drive.

I’ve never responded to any of the messages. I should try to unsubscribe, really, but the fact that the branch hasn’t noted that I never respond, and presumably never will, is confusing.

Why not send a message that might help them understand more about me, their customer?

In the past, you might have put the blunt force nature of this text service down to the limitations of the technology, but today there are numerous options for managing SMS messages in the same way you would any other communications channel – not to mention smart SMS services that allow customers to make purchases, receive order updates, or issue general enquiries by text.

Text and email are customers’ preferred communication channel

Mass distribution text messages work in plenty of instances.

They’ve been used to help evacuate towns near volcanoes, or let people know when COVID jabs are available.

On at least one occasion, the tactic has triggered a small national crisis – which, if nothing else, is perhaps an indicator of the method’s potency.

Businesses, however, should be looking beyond these wide-scale uses and focusing on how to deploy SMS to build closer relationships with their customers.

A study in 2019 indicated that text and email are the preferred way for businesses to get in touch for most customers. Research by Twilio suggests that SMS will continue to be a popular option for businesses adding new communications channels.

Texting is one of the most personal, direct methods of communication, and as such represents a great opportunity to build customer loyalty.

Yet so many businesses aren’t working hard enough to achieve that return on investment.

Use text to develop a revised picture of your customer

It’s a misconception that SMS is only useful for mass distribution messages.

The first step towards achieving a better return is to make SMS interactions feel less transactional.

While the format is helpful for process updates – “we’ve got your package”, “your order is on its way” – there’s no reason why trusted senders shouldn’t use the service to help build a revised picture of their customers.

There are obvious privacy measures to be aware of, but simple prompts can help keep the information in your database as up to date and accurate as possible.

Businesses that get this right will be able to include SMS more effectively in their omnichannel communications offering, enabling customers and service agents to switch between text, email, phone calls, or online chat functions without losing track of interactions.

Simple changes to how messages are worded, and the prompts available to customers, can provide valuable information – and contribute to an improved customer experience.

Instead of encouraging me to order a pizza every Friday, for instance, Domino’s in Newcastle could ask why they haven’t heard from me since that first (and only) interaction.

And, of course, I’m just one customer among many. When you scale up this process, and stay on top of the customer database, it becomes possible to start facilitating more one-on-one conversations, and more productive interactions.

Jordan Edmunds
I am business development manager at Zing, a dedicated Twilio consulting partner. My role is to help organisations put their contact centre at the heart of customer engagement. I'm involved in the whole process, from speaking to new customers to assess their needs through to the full implementation of Twilio.


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