6 Ways to Retain Your Customers While Migrating SMS Phone Numbers

Most companies don’t change their SMS phone numbers, but sometimes changes are forced on them. Fortunately, there are a number of things organizations can do to decrease subscriber churn when changing SMS phone numbers.

Businesses may change their SMS phone numbers for various reasons:

  • Combining voice and SMS on the same toll-free phone number. All voice toll-free phone numbers in the US can be enabled with SMS capabilities. Companies can now send and receive SMS text messages on the same numbers they use for voice calling. This means that businesses can opt to combine their subscribers from dedicated SMS phone numbers to a common toll-free phone number. This can provide better branding and lets them more efficiently manage their customer base.

  • Switching from a shared to a dedicated short code. Shared short codes are unreliable by nature. When multiple companies share the same short code, and one company violates short code regulations, the carrier can block the entire short code, so all users of that short code suffer the consequences and experience service disruptions. An increasing number of companies are paying a bit more to switch to dedicated short codes for more reliability and control.

  • Switching from a random to a vanity short code or phone number. Having a memorable phone number can be a great advantage. Even though short codes, with five or six digits, are already shorter than long codes or toll-free numbers, they still need to stand out. One strategy is to switch to a short code whose numbers spell out the company name (827438 for TARGET, for example). Another is to use an easily recognizable number, such as 888222, which Chipotle uses.

  • Switching service providers. Most SMS phone numbers can be ported from one service provider to another, but country and carrier-specific regulations may limit porting, so in some cases businesses must migrate to a new phone number when switching to another provider.

Regardless of which type of phone number you’re migrating to, regulations specify that all SMS subscribers must first opt in to all SMS campaigns. You’re not legally allowed to start sending text messages from a new phone number to your existing customers even if it’s part of the same campaign that your subscribers have opted in to in the past. If you violate any consumer protection laws, then your phone number could be blocked and your company may even be sued by consumers for the violation.

Abrupt changes in your SMS campaign phone numbers can wreak havoc on customer engagement from your subscriber base, especially in a heavily regulated telecom market like the one in the United States. Changing phone numbers can cause subscribers to drop off.

When switching phone numbers, always treat the new phone number as a brand new campaign that each user has to subscribe to again. Here are several tacks you can take to ensure that as you move to a new SMS phone number, your subscribers migrate as well. Not only is retaining your subscriber base important for future marketing campaigns, but reducing churn positively impacts company revenue and the bottom line.

How to retain subscribers while migrating phone numbers

First, a caveat: Not all of your subscribers will opt in for your new campaigns. The techniques we describe here can help migrate a healthy percentage of subscribers to a new campaign phone number, but some will choose to opt out.

Consider toll-free SMS (available in the US)

Toll-free SMS messaging is growing in popularity in the United States. Studies have shown that toll-free campaigns experience better response rates and customer engagement than long codes and short codes, because interactions with toll-free numbers are always free to end users.

Toll-free SMS can also be more affordable for businesses. Toll-free numbers cost only a few dollars and are charged for on a monthly basis, while short codes often cost more than $500 per month and require three months’ payment up front.

Choose a vanity phone number

Whether it’s a toll-free or a short code phone number, having a recognizable, memorable phone number helps you gain and retain subscribers. You can ask your SMS provider to procure a vanity toll-free number with specific digits, and if it’s available, you can typically purchase it for the same price as a regular toll-free phone number and have it enabled within 48 hours.

Many companies have seen higher SMS response and retention rates with vanity short codes as compared to random short codes, especially in competitive markets. Rental fees for vanity short codes, however, are often significantly more than fees for random short codes. You can search for available vanity short codes on the Common Short Code Administration (CSCA) website.

Notify your customers early via web form opt-in

Notify your customers of the transition as early as possible — but remember, a new phone number can receive SMS opt-ins only after it’s activated.

The turnaround time for phone number activation depends on the type of phone number. Long code and toll-free SMS phone numbers can be provisioned quickly. Long code phone numbers can be provisioned instantly if your vendor has an inventory of phone numbers and provides access via an online user interface or API. Toll-free SMS phone numbers in the US may require up to 48 hours for provisioning because a short application is required for carriers to enable toll-free numbers for SMS. By contrast, short code phone numbers can take at least three months to provision because of a complex carrier application process.

Since you can’t receive new opt-ins via SMS until your phone number is active, start using other opt-in mechanisms, including web forms and in-person signups. The best mechanism for opt-in is an online form, because it lets you seamlessly collect new subscriber information and manage your database for your new campaigns. If you’re getting opt-ins in person, use a digitized form to collect opt-ins to minimize human error and eliminate extra time for data entry. You can lead your subscribers to online opt-in forms via:

  • Online advertisements (e.g., Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram)
  • Email newsletters
  • Direct mail invitations
  • Offline advertisements (newspapers, banners, posters)

Give incentives for subscribing

Subscriber migration is hard, and even though some users will opt in to a new phone number without any incentives, motivating subscribers with a promotion can go a long way. For example, send your current subscribers a text message with a link to a 20% discount; upon clicking on the link, they can fill out a form to opt in to a new campaign phone number.

Here are a few campaign ideas that can create incentives, add convenience, and make it fun for your subscribers to opt in to a new SMS phone number:

  • Special weekly offers
  • Flash sales
  • Localized offers in their area
  • Surprise offers on special days, such as birthdays or Christmas
  • Direct discounts on purchases
  • Exclusive deals that only this new campaign will get them
  • Notifications for order confirmation, deliveries, and inventory availability

Create urgency about switching phone numbers

If subscriber migration is going slowly, give your subscribers a sense of urgency that if they don’t opt in for the new phone number, they’ll no longer receive promotions. Just remember that if you mention a deprecation date to your current subscribers, you should adhere to that date.

Don’t overlap your communication

As your subscribers migrate from an old phone number to a new one, be sure to unsubscribe them from the old campaign. That way, you can avoid any overlap in communication and maintain clean, reliable subscriber data. Eliminating duplicate messages also improves your user experience and helps keep costs down.

Additional takeaways

Before you implement any of these suggestions or run any new campaigns, seek to understand your subscribers. Find out what incentivizes them the most and the best times to send them information. Here are some additional thoughts on running successful and engaging migration campaigns.

Focus on customer engagement. Regardless of the purpose of your campaign, always plan for long-term customer engagement and offer high-quality content and promotions that align with your product and customer incentives.

Create meaningful content. Aligned your content with your customer engagement strategies and company goals. For example, simple discounts are overdone and don’t offer any engagement mechanisms. However, if you put a discount at the end of an engaging SMS survey or riddle, then the engagement will likely be more memorable and encourage customer loyalty.

Optimize your campaign delivery times. CTIA (Cellular Telecommunication Industries Association) guidelines suggest that all marketing campaigns and promotional messages should be sent between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. local time. This not only ensures that your campaigns stay compliant, it also ensures that your messages are read in a timely fashion. Optimal times during the week are typically during the morning commute (between 8:00 and 10:00) and lunch times (between 11:30 and 1:30). During these times, subscribers are typically more receptive to promotional messaging.

Limit SMS frequency for better user experience. To maintain good customer experience, send meaningful messages no more than once a week. Plan your campaigns so that your messages are concise and to the point.

Set a realistic migration rate. Since it’s not realistic to migrate every customer to your new campaign, it’s important to set realistic expectations before the migration begins to ensure that there will be a reasonable completion date and that the migration won’t drag on unnecessarily. Acceptable migration rates can vary across industry and campaigns.

As an example, suppose you’re trying to migrate 10,000 subscribers and have set the acceptable migration rate at 80%. That means that you can deprecate the old phone number when 8,000 subscribers opt in to your new campaign. It also means that you’ve accepted that you’re willing to lose 2,000 subscribers during the migration.

If you’re thinking about migrating phone numbers, have a chat with our customer success team. We can help answer your questions.

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