Authored by Gary Marcotte, SVP Customer Engagement Innovation
Considering that almost half of emails are read on mobile devices, as we learned in the previous chapter, it should come as no surprise that more and more consumers are opting in to text message services for receiving their marketing and reminders. SMS texting is direct and immediate, can be integrated with other channels, and is more reliable for publishers.
According to research from Gartner, open rates for SMS can be as high as 98%, compared to just 20% for email. Meanwhile, SMS response rates can be as high as 45%, compared to just 6% for email.
Clearly, text is not a channel to ignore, but it comes with its own caveats and best practices that the automotive industry may not have delved into as deeply as email, social, or other channels.
“Open rates for SMS can be as high as 98% compared to just 20% for email.”
This text marketing chapter will cover the following:
- General Etiquette when Texting
- Compliance (including Opt-in & Opt-out)
- Service Texting
- Sales Texting
- Reputation Management
Entrepreneur Magazine lists seven key tips for text etiquette. The list should not surprise anyone as these tips are key in our personal text relationships also.
- Consider Your Audience
Each text message you send is a projection of your business, and it is important to present your business in the way you want to be perceived.
- Communicate Clearly with Plain Language
Avoid jargon and complex concepts. Keep it simple and direct.
- Respond Promptly
Texting is about timeliness, so respond as soon as you can, even if your response offers a later time and/or date when a more complete answer will be provided.
- Use Symbols and Emojis Only When Necessary, Which Should Be Almost Never
Emojis are not appropriate in business texts—period.
- Do Not Be Long Winded
Make your point directly. People should be able to understand what you are asking and/or saying without having to read a “manifesto.”
- Be Patient
Few things are more annoying than a text that follows a text asking, “did you get my text?” Recognize that your message is likely less important to others than it is to you. Recognize that people have other things happening and may not be able to respond immediately. Give them the time and space to respond when and if the time is right.
- Know When to End the Conversation
Most people are not looking for a constant “drip” if they are not interested in the product or offer. Constant texting to someone who is not interested or very busy will likely lead to “opt-out” and/or a negative perception of the business.
The Federal Communication Commission has implemented strict rules to govern how business text messaging can be conducted. Large fines have been imposed against companies found to have improperly solicited customers and prospects via text. These rules mean dealers cannot simply buy a list of cell phone numbers and start texting. Current and potential customers must give their permission for you to send them marketing text messages. Opt-in lists must be built according to these strict permissions.
Here are the “must haves”, according to Simple Texting’s SMS Compliance Guide.
- Express Written Consent
According to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), customers must give businesses “express written consent” before the business sends them text messages. This written consent cannot be buried in a pages-long form full of legalese. It must be clear and conspicuous, so the recipient knows what they are signing up for. Failure to adhere to this guideline is one of many possible TCPA violations.
Even text messages that are merely informational require consent. In short, the ways customers can give consent to receive text messages from dealers are:
- Sent a keyword to your number
- Entered a phone number on a web form online
- Signed up in-person at a physical location
It is important to note that businesses are not allowed to require a user to opt into a text program as a condition to purchase products or services. Once a business decides to get consent, there must be a clear call-to-action associated with the opt-in method.
- Rules When Importing Contacts
Express written consent is not just for new contacts. It is for all contacts. Federal law and industry regulations are such that best practice is to manually review each import request. Before a business imports a list, it must be sure that each and every phone number has given permission to send them messages.
- Call-to-Action Requirements
A call-to-action is the message that prompts the individual to opt into any SMS campaign. It should consist of the following:
SMS Campaign Purpose
Let subscribers know what they are signing up for. Are they getting reminders? Coupons? Tips? Specify what is being offered so there aren’t any surprises.
Include the approximate number of messages the customer should expect to receive in each week or month. This will prevent any unexpected or intrusive texts.
Message and Data Rates
Even though unlimited texting has become more common; some users may have to pay a small fee to receive text messages. Businesses must inform subscribers that these charges may be incurred if they sign up for the program.
Terms and Conditions
List all the terms and conditions in full beneath the call-to-action or provide a link nearby. This list should contain:
- The identity of the company/brand/program
- Customer service contact information
- Description of the product people are signing up for
- Opt-out instructions in bold type (e.g., Reply STOP to unsubscribe)
- Confirmation Message
Regardless of how users signed up, the very first text must be a compliance message confirming opt-in. It should reiterate some important information, including:
- Business identity
- Message frequency
- The fact that message and data rates may apply
- How to opt out
- What You Cannot Text – SHAFT
The CTIA is an association of mobile carriers who set rules and best practices for the text marketing industry. One of these rules is known as SHAFT—sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, and tobacco. Including content related to any of these topics in a call-to-action or any message is considered one of the highest violations and may result in an immediate ban.
Compliance requires careful planning and precise execution. Always consult the proper legal counsel and Federal, State, and local regulations before beginning a text program.
Common Dealership Text Usages
Progressive dealership and their vendor partners have validated many effective uses for text messaging. Here are just a few of some of the most common and most effective usages.
- Sales Applications. Engaging a prospect or loyal customer via text indicates a level of interest that cannot be overlooked. Customers who allow a dealer to text indicate a level of engagement with the dealership that will result in better retention. Prospects who text are clearly in the market and interested in the dealer’s product line. Here are some of the most productive uses for text in the sales process.
Lead Response – Text response often exceeds 80% compared to 50% or less for email. Giving customers an option to text on lead forms and dealer sites is one way to gauge urgency and improve dealer contact and closing rates.
Trade Value – Systems now exist to enable customers to enter their license plate number into their phone and get an instant trade value. This indicates interest, but more importantly, also builds an opt-in list of mobile numbers for future conversation.
Digital Retail/Remote Shopping – Chat and/or text options for consumers who are in the market and looking to buy remotely is effective. Most customers want to do parts of the process like price, payment, credit, and even vehicle selection remotely. Many of these processes are more difficult online and not well suited to self-service.
Outbound Equity – Once a compliant text list has been built, sending alerts to indicate that a customer has crossed into positive equity can also be effective. Even offering incentive updates or upgrade to a new vehicle messages can be effective if a customer has shown interest and/or willingness to receive such messages. Pestering customers who express no interest leads to opt-outs so these functions should be used sparingly.
- Service Applications. Engaging service customer via text is even more productive than with sales opportunities. Service customers want transparency, speed, and convenience, and text provides that solution. Few things are more frustrating than trying to reach a Service Advisor in a busy dealership by phone. Text cuts through the process for both store and consumer. Here are some of the best service usages.
Outbound Service Reminders. Many dealerships are sending service and maintenance reminder alerts via text. These texts enable customers to schedule an appointment easily from their phone as soon as they receive the alert. Appointments can be made via call or mobile applications. Discount coupons and offers sent via text remain on the phone such that they can be shown to an advisor during a service visit. This is much harder via email and/or direct mail and is an important way to drive better redemption, retention, and attribution.
Vehicle Updates/Inspection Results. Most multi-point inspection tools have a text option that enables service advisors to text the results of the inspection directly to the consumer so they can a) see what needs to be done, b) see pricing, and c) approve additional work. These texts are highly valued by customers and really improve and streamline the service experience. Many products also enable a video showing the needs that can be included in the text.
Service Alerts/Mobile Pay. Most progressive dealerships also use text to alert the customer that their service work has been completed. This is another “must have” for the modern dealership. Many such alerts also include the final repair order with final cost and a “mobile pay” option to allow the customer to pay on their phone to streamline the pick-up process.
- Reputation Management. Progressive dealers have reputation management systems that they use to help generate positive reviews and respond to others. Many businesses like Amazon and others use the same process, so this is a familiar thing for auto buyers and servicers. Text is used to send a thank you note or the like to targeted customers who can then use their phone to instantly write a review and rate the store. This process dramatically increased the number of reviews and helps positive reviews balance out the negative ones that typically get written.
Text is a reality for today’s modern dealership. That text system should be integrated to the store’s CRM system so that contacts and lists are captured by the company.
Here are the essentials:
- Understand compliance and assign a Compliance Officer who governs usage, storage, and permissions.
- Create rules for etiquette and teach them to your people. Call it a code of conduct. Monitor it and make sure that those texting on the dealership’s behalf are representing the store correctly.
- Create a deliberate strategy to build a permissible text list. This can be done on the dealer website, at the point of sale or service, and many other ways. It does not, however, happen by itself.
- Define sales, service, and reputation management strategies and campaigns. If you do not, people in the store will. It is too important to just “let it happen.” Make sure the right people decide the right way and the right systems.
If a dealership does all of this, it will have the right results and steer clear of compliance issues.
About the Author
Gary Marcotte, SVP Customer Engagement Innovation at Outsell
Throughout Gary’s 35+ years in Automotive, he has been part of many ground-breaking initiatives, including in the early 1990’s, the launch of Lexus Certified Preowned.
Gary was the long-time leader of Marketing for AutoNation, and since leaving in 2011, has advised many innovative automotive marketers. In his role at Outsell, he helps guide the development process, Product Innovation, and other Strategic growth initiatives.
SVP Customer Engagement Innovation