Global SMS Best Practices

Before going global with your SMS communications, there are several best practices you should consider. Includes a checklist to help you choose the right global SMS provider.

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Global SMS Best Practices

Invented in the 1980s, SMS (Short Message Service) is one of the oldest texting technologies and also the most frequently used around the world. Because texting is so simple and quick, and the messages are short by design, consumers love using SMS. They read and respond to text messages four times faster than email. In fact, 96% of messages are read within three minutes of receipt, and 90% within three seconds!

Businesses also love SMS. In addition to the consumer preference for texting, there’s also its ubiquity and unrivaled open rates. That's why in today’s global economy, many companies rely on the immediate international reach that SMS provides. Global SMS services allow businesses to text customers around the world via software and application interfaces, while offering the customers who receive their messages a localized experience.

Before going global with your SMS communications, there are several best practices you should consider. These practices will guide you as you evaluate providers who can support your global SMS communication efforts. Keep in mind that since each country has different regulations for SMS, it’s essential to choose a technology provider that works with the mobile carriers in the countries where you do business.

Best Practice #1

Get permission.

One of the most important rules for using SMS as a business is that you must first gain permission from customers to contact them. Failing to do so can damage your brand and result in hefty legal fees. It’s imperative that you are compliant and adhere to local laws, such as CTIA recommendations in the US, which protect consumers from unwanted solicitation. Likewise, you must give users the opportunity to opt out. For example, you should include “Txt STOP to cancel” in your SMS auto-reply.

Best Practice #2

Choose the right number for your use case.

Three main types of phone numbers that can send and receive SMS messages: long codes, short codes, and alphanumeric sender IDs.

Long Codes

Long codes are 10-digit phone numbers, the type that a consumer or business would purchase from a landline or mobile carrier, and are generally the most common type of phone numbers you see. Each country has a distinct telephone numbering protocol, and thus there are many types of long code phone numbers: geographic numbers, non-geographic numbers, and mobile numbers.

Short codes

Short codes are a five or six-digit phone number specifically made for commercial use and mass mobile communications—and you’ll typically want one when using SMS for larger-scale marketing purposes. Since short codes are individually approved by wireless carriers, for marketing , your messages won’t be blocked. And you can send short code messages at a much faster rate than from regular long code phone numbers. You’ll find that short codes are available in most countries.

Alphanumeric Sender ID

Alphanumeric Sender ID allows you to set your company name or brand as the Sender ID. Not all countries support this feature; Canada, the US, and Mexico don’t at this time. Some countries may have additional requirements, such as pre-registration or limiting Alphanumeric Sender ID messages to be sent as transactional only (as opposed to promotional). Additionally, messages sent using an Alphanumeric Sender ID cannot be replied to directly.

Best Practice #3

Pay attention to timing.

Respecting time zones and sleep patterns, as well as user engagement habits, is particularly important when you are using SMS globally. It’s best to be aware of your customer’s location, and understand the time zone differences that apply. Since messages are geared to inspire immediate action, it’s not effective to send messages after hours. Aim for times your customers won't be busy, like before or after work, or during lunch hours. As a general rule, don't send messages before 9 am or after 9 pm. Your provider should be able to automatically deliver your messages to your audience at the right time in the right time zone.

Best Practice #4

Keep messages simple.

SMS messages by their very nature are informal. Most can be quickly read from a phone’s lock screen (or from a watch!) and immediately understood. There’s no need for subject lines, intros, or signatures. Keep your messages short and to the point for maximum impact with minimum words. If done correctly, your customer may give your message the same attention as a text received from a friend. For marketing messages, be sure to have a clear call-to-action (CTA) and an incentive.

Best Practice #5

Personalize your messages.

Keep in mind that customers are more responsive to materials that are addressed directly to them. A little personalization goes a long way, such as using the recipient's first name or adding a conversational touch that reflects your customers’ interests. You can also target your customers with more relevant messages based on their preferences. By segmenting your audience, you can be more intentional with your outreach rather than sending the same message to everyone.

Best Practice #6

Engage in two-way conversations.

SMS is such an effective channel for engaging with customers that it’s important to anticipate—and effectively handle—responses to your messages. In fact, 85% of consumers not only want to be able to receive information but also reply to businesses or engage in a conversation. One way to do this is to provide a set of keywords in your text messages that customers can include in their replies. A keyword makes it easy to build automated response handling. You’ll want to use an autoresponder to instantly and automatically send personalized, follow-up text messages, or have an agent (or intelligent bot) available to reply.

Best Practice #7

Boost your messaging intelligence.

By 2020, Gartner predicts that customers will manage 85% of the relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human. Artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities such as intelligent routing, natural language processing, message sentiment analysis, and keyword spotting help your customers have a more personalized and efficient SMS experience without them even noticing. Ultimately, contextual intelligence lets you engage with larger numbers of customers without sacrificing the quality of the interaction.

Best Practice #8

Integrate SMS into your business systems.

When you integrate SMS messaging smoothly into the natural flow of your business relationships, any information you learn about your customers and their transactions can help you decide how best to reach out to them. When designing your global SMS messaging experience, you can add information about the customer, order, or issue directly from CRM, ERP, and other business systems. Every bit of data should bring context to your conversations to improve both the customer and agent experience.

Best Practice #9

Measure what works.

Are you reaching customers at the right time, with the best frequency, and using the most effective calls to action? Smart businesses know how effective their SMS messaging is and, by using the right tracking tools, can offer direct and measurable metrics that prove their ROI. When you continually measure the success of your messaging, you see what's happening in real time, so that you can improve your users' experiences. Understanding the unique metrics that apply to your business will help you identify any problems and take swift action to fix them. With the right tools, metrics, and informed interpretation, you have the power to provide a best-in-class SMS experience.

Best Practice #10

Choose the right infrastructure.

Without the right platform, your SMS campaigns cannot thrive. Your business may start out in one country, but why limit where you could expand to in the future? Choose a reputable, established, global SMS provider who gives you the ability to reach nearly anyone in the world right from the start, without having to manage infrastructure or negotiate contracts with carriers in each country. Look for a platform that handles all of the logic and intricacies, like regulatory compliance, privacy, and security, so you can focus on refining the customer experience based on languages and regional preferences. Additionally, your platform should provide connectivity for all local numbers through a highly reliable global carrier network with built-in redundancy.

Use this checklist to help you evaluate potential global SMS providers and choose the right platform for your business:

  • Global reach and scalability: Does your provider offer a superior global carrier network to ensure seamless and speedy delivery of your text to any part of the world? And can it scale to handle hundreds of thousands of texters simultaneously?
  • Flexibility: Can the provider offer a solution that can be easily integrated into your existing software and/or CRM?
  • Feature rich: Does the provider offer the ability to send emoji, calendar invites, polls, surveys, and picture messages with MMS (Multimedia Message Service)?
  • Language services: Do they offer translation services in real-time so you can text with your customers — automatically — in their native tongue?
  • Uptime: Does their service level agreement meet the real-time demands of your business and, more importantly, ensure your messages are delivered without service interruption?
  • Phone number inventory: Does the platform have the inventory to support your local and toll-free number needs from 100+ countries and API control for instant provisioning?
  • Rigorous cleansing process: Do all phone numbers go through a thorough cleansing process that includes many stages of inspection across all attributes, to ensure they’ll be free from unwanted calls and texts?
  • Throughput: What is the highest volume of text and picture messages the provider can send per second? Do they have Global Low Latency (GLL) so your calls automatically take the shortest and highest quality path?
  • Regulatory compliance: Do they provide automated address verification for local phone numbers, data delete controls for privacy of call and message data, and adhere to stringent EU privacy laws with Safe Harbor compliance?
  • Bounced numbers: Are you going to be charged for messages inadvertently sent to landline or VOIP numbers that are incapable of receiving SMS?
  • Local cost control: Do they prevent voice and messaging overuse in each country with an API for usage-based triggers and explicit geographic permissions?

Global Connections, One Platform

The immediacy, convenience, and personal nature of global SMS give you the perfect opportunity to connect with customers around the world on the devices they use every day. Businesses use Twilio to add SMS capabilities to their software so they can communicate the right information at the right time—at scale. Twilio Messaging APIs integrate messaging into your business communications in a variety of ways. Want to expand beyond SMS and incorporate in-app chat, share push notifications, or communicate through social messaging apps? With Twilio, you can message customers on multiple channels using a single platform.

Using Twilio APIs, your developers can grab the tools they need to give your web and mobile apps the power to exchange messages of any variety, all with minimal development effort. Twilio manages the complexity of the global carrier network in 150+ countries to provide industry-leading message deliverability, allowing you to focus on creating a world-class customer experience instead of building and maintaining communication infrastructure.