Masterclass three – A guide to integrating and communicating with SMS

Welcome to lesson three of our omnichannel masterclass. There are many things that make SMS a unique channel to use as a business, some more complex than others but with a provider with the right expert knowledge base, there are none which can’t be negotiated with ease.

Low-volume or high-volume sending?

The first item for you to consider will be whether your business or organisation will be sending low or high volumes. On-demand individual sending is appropriate for small campaigns, but companies that need to send more than 10 messages per second should consider batch sending. The difference of this integration feature will result in a 50-100 times difference in the speed of the send, so it’s important to get right. Don’t worry – your provider should be able to offer guidance for which is right for you.

Another item to consider is that many providers offer high-volume batch sending, but only in a heterogeneous sense that does not allow for personalisation such as unique URLs or custom fields like name or dates. This will be an essential part of most people’s messaging strategies so it’s crucial to check that any provider you are considering offers this.

Regional rules and restrictions

Because SMS is dependent on local network providers, the regional requirements for businesses sending texts varies for each country or territory. This means there may be restrictions on sending marketing, or the times of the day you can and can’t send. For example, in Canada, you are not able to send more than 2000 messages a month, you can forget about sending messages regarding your dating company or lottery competition in Saudi Arabia, and in France, business messaging will be blocked outside of the hours of 8am-10pm, Monday to Friday. A sender ID registration in Chad can take up to 2 weeks, or require a national Business License in Vietnam, and in China, you will need a signature from the sender to be included in each message. Not all countries support 2-way messaging, or sending from a name instead of a number, and prices per segment will vary according to where you are sending. On top of all of this, these regional rules and restrictions change on a daily basis. Your provider should not only be aware of them, they should make you aware of any changes that could affect your campaigns. Look for providers with strong links to networks globally, not just locally, in order to ensure you SMS strategy gets delivered in the way you hoped and at a price that is competitive and therefore worth your while.

Another thing to ask is that your provider does not use any grey routes. Grey routes are SMS messaging paths that take advantage of vulnerabilities of mobile operators in order to send SMS at a cheaper rate. Using grey routes has both security and reliability risks. Comapi does not use grey routes as it has links with operators in every country in order to offer direct connections for customers.

Shortcode, long number, alphanumerical send ID?

There are three options for you to send from for SMS, and which one you choose will vary according to your requirements. Comapi’s experts are always on hand to advise if you are unsure or need some clarity, but here’s the jist for each type:

  • Alphanumeric Sender ID

This is when you receive an SMS with a name in the sender information, without saving contact information. For example, receiving a message from Acme Inc. about your recent parcel delivery, instead of from, for example, +4100200300. Alphanumeric sender IDs can also include numbers if the sender would prefer. They do not support 2-way messaging, and must be between three and 11 characters long.

  • VMN (Virtual Mobile Number)

This is a number that appears as a personal long number, but it is used by companies to send messages at-scale to consumers. The advantage to these including the fact that the businesses use these numbers exclusively, and that they enable 2-way messaging.

  • Shortcode

These are shorter than long numbers (five digits in the UK, but various length across the globe) and are country specific, and therefore sometimes shared by companies.

Formatting your messages

A message is formed of segments. A single segment is limited to 160 standard GSM characters and segments following this require 7 characters each time to stitch the segments together, (making the limit of a two-segment message 306-characters, a three segment message 459-characters and so on). Keep an eye out on your character lengths for your messages, as a bit of clever rewording could make a substantial difference to the cost of your send, especially if you are sending high volumes and are only a couple of characters over the limit to the next segment.

Another thing to be aware of when formatting your messages is the inclusion (accidental or deliberate) of Unicode. These are characters that fall outside of the standard language for mobile communications. Unicode characters include non-western characters such as Chinese symbols, letters with accents, or certain punctuation points. Including a Unicode character reduces an SMS segment length from 160 characters to just 70. Whilst some companies opt for Unicode deliberately to be able to send in other languages, Unicode inclusion is often accidental as a result of copying and pasting text. It is therefore important that companies check for Unicode inclusion, or they risk being charged more than double per message.

Why do people use SMS?

All of these things can make SMS seem like a daunting channel, but not only are there are a multitude of benefits to using SMS, your provider should be able to offer you guidance no matter your use case, whether you want to send one message, or one million, to anywhere in the world.

SMS capability have been installed as standard on every phone (smart, or otherwise) for over twenty years, and have been the most widely used data service globally for over ten. With a 98% read rate, on average, double the click-through rates when compared to email, and a high penetration no matter the demographic, SMS is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal, and it shouldn’t be disregarded by any business. The only real thing to worry about is the messaging provider you choose.

SMS is used by almost every industry. Alerts, reminders and notifications are used by booking platforms to slash missed appointments or provide information about changes to your reservation, logistics companies to keep you informed about where your parcel is, your local garage to let you know your MOT is due or car is ready to be picked up, your favourite festival to say early bird tickets are on sale or your energy company to prompt you to submit a meter reading. All of these messages provide an improvement in customer service, but also often improvement in operations and efficiencies.

In addition, SMS is a marketing friendly channel, and your promotions, deals, discounts and company news will almost certainly be seen by the users you send to, and if you make it enticing enough, to the people they forward it to as well.