Customer Centric SMS Compliance: Don’t Just Make the Government Happy, Make Your Customers Happy
November 23, 2020
It’s said that “good guys finish last”.
But being a “good guy” to your customers can make you look like a badass in the SMS marketing space.
That’s because best practices are about putting your customer first—and playing nice using the following best practices is not only a legal requirement in the SMS world, it’s just good business.
No one (and we mean NO ONE) likes the brand that fills their inbox with useless messages, and you’ll be the SMS playground bully if you do this to your customers by hitting them with texts that are just filler and not substantive.
So let’s break this down a bit more:
DTC SMS marketing is about more than just following the rules, it’s about combining the best practices for compliance with a customer experience that is engaging and adaptive.
There’s so much going on in the ecommerce and DTC spaces, and sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all the noise. It can be difficult to know exactly what to do, and how to do it properly. This is why it’s important to know the legalities around any marketing distribution channels.
With more and more product companies beginning to emerge, and with eCommerce sales rising as the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping many people home, there’s a slew of opportunities for marketers to utilize various channels to reach potential customers.
SMS marketing is one such channel. It can be extremely valuable to both marketers and potential customers, but without knowing the laws surrounding it, it can be an intimidating channel to utilize.
And even if something is legal, that doesn’t mean that marketers should do it. There needs to be an even balance of compliance with all of the regulations involved and delivering a positive customer experience in-line with your brand values.
But there can be issues with simply making your SMS marketing compliant as well.
Unfortunately, many marketers new to SMS marketing believe that if you know the regulations, you can blast your customers with as many texts as you see fit.
Too many brands have decided that the more messages the merrier, and they overwhelm you with texts the same way junk mail clogs up your spam folder.
The thing to remember is that not only is this bad business, its also illegal, and can land you in hot water with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Getting compliant is a starting point.
Let’s start with your compliance baseline.
This is the bare minimum that you need to do before texting your audience. There are laws put into place in the United States that ensure customers are treated decently when it comes to all forms of telecommunications, including SMS.
One of these laws is The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) which ensures that consumers are not being unduly solicited. It also makes sure that companies adhere to strict solicitation rules, and respect the privacy of their customers. This act was put into place by the FCC.
The other association involved in ensuring compliance is the Consumer Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA). The CTIA provides the principals and best practices for staying compliant.
Note: In Europe, General Data Protection Regulation was enacted to protect the privacy of consumers and also applies to SMS as well, but for the purpose of this article, we’re going to limit our discussion to the United States laws as they pertain to compliance with SMS.
Now some may wonder if DTC SMS marketing is legitimate, and it definitely is, but there are several important legal aspects to keep in mind.
Here’s the bottom line: As long as DTC marketers adhere to compliance regulations, they are good to go, but just as the TCPA lays out the actual regulations, the CTIA highlights the best practices needed to stay comfortably within those rules.
Compliance Best Practices
Here are some of the best practices that ensure you are staying compliant with the CTIA:
1. Get proper consent with your opt-ins
- Use the right type of opt-in consent based on where your customers are signing up. There are two main kinds: a single opt-in and a double opt-in:
- Single opt-in: This generally involves a consumer directly messaging the business or entity (usually via a number or code) and doesn’t require additional confirmation.
- Double opt-in: This could include having a user enter their information into a sign-up form and requires confirmation to continue. An example of this would be signing up via a website on desktop. You provide your number, they text you a confirmation message, and you need to confirm in order to be compliant.
- Use clear calls-to-action in your opt-in language: This ensures that customers are given accurate information about what to expect regarding the SMS they are going to receive.
- Confirm any recurring campaigns: Customers must be informed if they are being entered into a recurring SMS campaign, and they should confirm their consent in order to opt into those campaigns.
- Only add them to the campaigns they have agreed to. This should go without saying, but consumer consent only applies to the actual campaign that they agreed to opt into. This means that additional consent might be necessary for additional campaigns. The bottom line, don’t sell or share your list or buy one from anyone else.
- Make it simple for your consumers to opt-out. Consumers need to be able to opt-out at any time, and businesses need to provide a clear way for them to be able to do so. This often looks like including the ability to text ‘STOP’ to cease receiving messages.
- Do not utilize lists that are bought or rented from other sources: If compliance has not been vetted this could lead to major violations.
- Always honor previous opt-out requests and maintain records: This ensures that you do not send messages to consumers who have requested to opt-out.
2. Ensure the privacy and security of your customers:
- Ensure that you have secure methods in place to ensure that all consumer information is kept protected.
- Conduct regular security audits to ensure that customer information and transactions are kept private. We’ve all seen the news of another high profile brand revealing a large ‘breach’. Do everything you can to ensure this doesn’t happen to you.
3. Only send the right types of messages to your consumers.
- According to the TCIA: “Message Senders should use reasonable efforts to prevent and combat unwanted or unlawful messaging traffic, including spam and unlawful spoofing.” This should speak for itself. Basically, don’t be shady with your text messages.
- All website links that are embedded within messages have to be relevant. Those messages must include identification of who those links belong to. Again, this should be obvious, but it’s best to stick to the expectations you have set with your subscribers.
- Messages cannot contain phone numbers that don’t clearly identify who they belong to.
These are just some of the best practices laid out in the TCIA that act as guardrails to ensure basic compliance, and protect both the consumer and the business involved in communications.
Just Because You Can Do Something Doesn’t Mean You Should:
Now, if you aren’t living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard someone say “marketers ruin everything”.
Here’s something all marketers need to be aware of: just because you’re allowed to do something does not mean it’s best practice. Also, you can’t build a relationship with your customer if you’re constantly spamming them—it can actually ruin the potential of that relationship.
Direct-to-consumer means that you have full control of the entire brand experience, which, as part of that process, you owe it to your customers to hold to the brand values laid out in the social contract between you and them.
Always remember to prioritize the customer and your relationship with them. Making this the cornerstone of your SMS marketing strategy, while also adhering to all the regulations surrounding compliance, will produce far better long-term results for your brand.
Exceptional Over Acceptable: How You Can Optimize For Better Results:
So, beyond just complying with compliance regulations, what steps allow for a better customer experience?
As a DTC marketer who is concerned about ensuring that your customers enjoy the experience, consider that you need to do better than just “acceptable”.
Here are some examples of things that are technically legal, but not great in practice:
- Guilting customers into opting into receiving text messages.
- Sending one message to your entire list regardless of who they are
- Sending text messages blasts, all the time, to absolutely everybody
- Sending purely informational texts that aren’t all that interesting
All of these practices are legal and are technically “acceptable” as a practice under current U.S laws, but they may fall short of the optimal way to interact with your customers.
Here are some better ways to create real relationships with your customers through SMS:
- Give your audience an appealing reason to opt-in: Provide a reason that makes them feel good about joining your list, one with real benefit to them.
- Segment your messages for better relevance: This requires a real understanding of who your different types of customers actually are, and what their needs are, but increases your chances of building customer trust and interaction.
- Send regular messages that are relevant to your brand and your customer: These messages should be timely, and could include sales that are short-term, discounts, or anything else that is time-sensitive.
- Utilize engaging copy and creative to tell a story or draft a narrative: This allows for your customer to feel connected to your brand, receive info in a way that is interesting to them, and feel excited to receive SMS messages.
SMS ROI Has Proven How Essential It Is:
Here’s a great example using a case study done here at Conversmart: Luxy Hair already had a fantastic reputation for not only their hair extension products but also for their best-in-class customer service.
Conversmart was able to help Luxy Hair to integrate SMS to offer even more help to their customers through text message communications, which led to 45X ROI!
Read more about that full Luxy Hair case study here.
SMS done well can also lead to higher open rates than email. According to a study done by Cellit and reported upon by Retail Dive: SMS has a 7x higher open rate than email campaigns. That is an incredible boost to brands who are considering utilizing SMS to better reach their customers/potential customers.
These results indicate that when SMS is utilized properly as a marketing channel, it can yield phenomenal results.
Focus On Delivering a Better Customer Experience:
There’s a lot to consider as a DTC marketer, especially when it comes to SMS.
But just because you’re doing well doesn't mean that you couldn’t be doing a whole lot better, and you should be.
Creating engaging content that uses well-crafted copy, relevant offers, and interesting information mean that your list will grow, and will allow you to reach your audience more directly.
The truth is, if you are focused on building a better experience for your customers, you will ultimately be helping to increase your brand’s value in the long term. One of the best benefits of a great SMS experience is that happy customers tell their friends, colleagues, and family about that experience.
Word of mouth can be an incredibly powerful tool to grow your brand’s reach. It can lead to an excited, loyal community that is excited to receive your emails, purchase your products, and tell the world about your brand and its benefits.
Are you doing what’s needed to build a better experience for your customers?
As we’ve expressed throughout this article, the need to build your lists by honing in on optimal customer experience is key to driving growth. Ensuring compliance, and also combining those best practices with an eye for keeping your customers feeling connected to your brand is key.
Your customers' experience should always be the center of whatever campaigns you decide to send out using SMS because audience engagement is incredibly essential to your brand’s growth.
As a DTC marketer, these types of communications are always an extension of your brand’s values. So remember that when you are creating messages to send out to your SMS list.
If you need help figuring out how to improve the SMS customer experience for your DTC brand, let us know.