Leveraging Text Messages in Your SMB

Paul Mah

I just came across a blog entry by a company called Inner Fence. Now, I have not used its products before, but it appears to have created software for the Apple iPhone called Infinite SMS. Infinite SMS works by tapping into a publicly announced service by Google to send unlimited text messages. Unfortunately for the start-up, Google has informed it that it will soon block the application - and all other non-Google software for that matter - from sending free text messages.

 

This reminded me about the text notifications provided by Twitter. A free service that was initially provided to all users, it was eventually discontinued for overseas folks due to the excessive costs incurred by sending so many overseas text messages. In this instance, Google was also candid in expressing that its decision has to do with the fact that its experimental text messaging service has simply attracted too many users, resulting in too high a cost.

 

For today, I shall not vent about the high tariffs imposed by mobile providers in this lucrative niche. However, while it is true that text messages can hardly be considered cheap when calculated on a cost per-byte level, many organizations - and especially SMBs - are coming to the realization that the proper exploitation of text messages can lead to greater work efficiencies.

 

Here are some ways that small and medium-sized companies can tap into the power of text messages to enable better communication, which will in turn enhance their business.

 

As an announcement service: By far the most common usage, this entails sending messages to a group of users within a department or company. This could be used to announce the achievement of sales targets, or the communication of more time-sensitive information.


 

Reminder for meetings or appointments: I recently visited the dentist for a tooth problem. The dentist was already overbooked for the day, so I made an appointment for another day. The day before my appointment, I received an automatically generated text message to remind me of my appointment. Similarly, my optician used a text message to inform me that my spectacles were ready for collection - and listing its opening hours in the same message.

 

To conduct simple surveys or polls: With some initial efforts, it will not be difficult to set up a system to collect information from disparate users. Responses to questions could be summed together (Your sales volume for the day), or a report could be generated and sent to the relevant manager (Can you make it for a meeting on Friday at 3 p.m.?).

 

Obviously, some kind of programming or at least the presence of specialized server application software will be required to implement most of the above mentioned services; I will elaborate on a few of them if there is sufficient interest.

 

In the meantime, do you have other ideas for using text messages in your business?



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Mar 17, 2009 9:24 AM Rob Warner Rob Warner  says:

Paul

Great post, pity it's taken me a while to get here.  Still.

I work in this area, mainly in the education sector but we are seeing an increasing level of interest from businesses of all sizes (we aren't actively seeking any).

The examples you give identify the key benefits here, essentially that SMS saves admin time and is cheaper than the phone call or letter that it replaces.

It seems to me that there are 2 big issues though preventing wider adoption, particularly with small businesses:

1 - keeping contacts in sync with other systems can be a pain.  There is a need to have a messaging platform capable of synching with many other applications.  Most systems sync with Outlook for example but move beyond this and you are into proprietary, integrated applications that are relatively expensive and industry specific.  A standard approach here to contact synching would greatly help smaller businesses.

2 - small businesses often get bundled messages on their phone and are reluctant to move to a computer platform where they will be charged for something that they can do for free already, albeit that the computer makes it easier.  It's difficult to see in the short-term a mobile network allowing customers to send from their pc using the normal phone tariff.  This would though make a massive difference.

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Jun 8, 2009 11:50 AM Chris Chris  says: in response to Rob Warner

Paul,

Very good article, as someone who works extensively in this area I can say it is a very up and coming market for small business.

To Rob.

Some thought to your issues:

1.) I agree that keeping data in sync is indeed an issue without the proper type of program that is simple to use and manage. I do know of a couple of ways thou through a product to handle it thou.

2.) Depending on the use of their PC's there is a way around the tariff if you know a little bit of detail about the person you wish to text.

With the economy watching their dollars these days, ROI is a very key point and free is a pretty good Investment with a little bit of time

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