6 Ways to Retain Your Customers While Migrating SMS Phone Numbers

Customer engagement has been a key factor in driving consumer satisfaction. So it’s no surprise that retaining loyal customers have encouraged the development of many engagement tools including SMS text messaging. This is why abrupt changes in your SMS campaign phone numbers can spell disaster for your subscriber base, especially in a heavily regulated telecom market like the one in the United States. Changing phone numbers can cause significant drop off in subscribers, which is often referred to as subscriber churn or attrition rate. In this article, we will focus on how to decrease subscriber churn while migrating phone numbers.

Even though migrating phone numbers is not a typical consideration for most companies, however, you may be forced to make such a decision for several reasons including:

  • Combining voice and SMS on the same toll-free phone number. Recently, all voice toll-free phone numbers within the United States can be enabled with SMS capabilities. That is, all Toll-free phone numbers (e.g., 1-888-555-5555) 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 more efficiently manage your customer base.
  • Switching from a shared to a dedicated short code. Shared short codes can be unreliable by nature. Since multiple companies share the same short code, if one company violates short code regulations, then the carrier can block the entire short code. This means that all the users of that short code would suffer the consequences and experience service disruptions. Therefore, an increasing number of companies are paying a bit more to switch to a dedicated short code for more reliability and control of their own short codes.
  • Switching from a random to a vanity short code or phone number. Having a memorable phone number can be a great advantage for any campaign. Even though short codes are already shorter in length (typically, 5-6 digits), it still needs to stand out in the current overactive consumer marketing climate. One strategy is to switch your short code to your company name (e.g. 827438 for TARGET). Another is to use an easily recognizable number (e.g. 888222 for Chipotle).
  • Switching service providers. Most SMS phone numbers (e.g., short codes, long codes, toll-free) can be ported from one service provider to another. However, there can be country and carrier specific regulations that limit porting. Therefore, acquiring a new phone number may be required when switching to another provider for better quality or price.

Regardless of which type of phone number you are migrating to, regulations specify that all SMS subscribers must first opt-in to all SMS campaigns. Therefore, you are legally not 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 into in the past. If any consumer protection laws are violated, then your phone number could be blocked and your company may even be sued by consumers for the violation. This is why you should pay close attention to the methods used for migrating your subscribers as you change phone numbers.

When switching phone numbers, always treat the new phone number as a brand new campaign that each user has to subscribe to again. Below are several methods to ensure that as you move to a new SMS phone number, your subscribers migrate as well. Not only will retaining your subscriber base be important for future marketing campaigns, but reducing churn can directly impact company revenue and the bottomline.

How to retain your subscribers while migrating phone numbers

Even though it is critical to take action in migrating your subscribers, it’s also important to note that it is unlikely that 100% of your subscribers will opt-in for your new campaign(s). That is, the solutions below can help migrate a healthy number of subscribers to your new campaign phone number, but there will always be a subset of customers that will choose to opt-out altogether.

1. Choose a vanity phone number

Whether it’s toll-free or a short code phone number, having an easily recognizable and memorable phone number will help gain and retain subscribers. Vanity toll-free phone numbers is not an official product, however, you can ask your SMS provider to procure a phone 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.

Vanity short codes however, have a higher cost associated with it. Rental fees for vanity short codes are often significantly more than random short codes. You can search for your vanity short code directly on the Common Short Code Administration (CSCA) website to ensure that it is available for purchase. Though, many companies have seen a significant SMS response and retention rate with vanity short codes as compared to random short codes, especially within markets that are highly competitive.

2. Consider Toll-Free SMS (Available in the US)

Toll-Free SMS is growing in popularity in the United States. Unlike long codes (e.g., 415-555-5555) or short code (e.g., 555555) phone numbers, receiving and replying to a toll-free SMS phone number is completely free for your subscribers. 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 the end user.

Toll-Free SMS can also be more affordable to businesses. To give you some perspective, toll-free phone numbers cost only a few dollars and charged on a monthly basis. Whereas, short codes are often over $500 per month and require 3 month payments upfront.

3. Notify your customers early via web form opt-in

After planning out your transition, it’s important to notify your customers as early as possible. However, the new phone number can only receive SMS opt-in if the new phone number is activated. And the turnaround time for phone number activation depends highly on the type of phone number.

On one hand, Long Code and Toll-Free SMS phone numbers can be provisioned almost instantly. Long Code phone numbers can be instantly provisioned if your vendor has a live 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 phone numbers for SMS.

On the other hand, Short Code phone numbers can take at least 3 months to provision because of a complex carrier application process. However, regardless of how long it takes to procure a phone number, you are still unable to receive new opt-ins via SMS until your phone number is active.

Therefore instead of using an SMS opt-in mechanism (e.g., text START to 55555 to opt-in), you should start using other mechanisms of opt-in including web forms and in-person sign ups for your new SMS phone numbers. The best mechanism for opt-in is an online form because you can seamlessly collect new subscriber information and manage your database for your new campaigns. Even for physical in-person events, try to use a digitized form collect opt-ins to minimize human error and time needed for data entry. Below are some mechanisms you can use to lead your subscribers to an online opt-in form:

  • Online advertisements (e.g., Facebook, Google, Twitter)
  • Email newsletters
  • Direct mail invitations
  • In-person sign ups during live events
  • Offline advertisements (e.g., newspapers, banners, posters)

4. 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 will go a long way. For example, send your current subscribers a text message with a link to a 20% discount and upon clicking on the link, they will fill out a form to opt-in to a new campaign phone number.

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

  • Special weekly offers
  • Flash sales
  • Localized offers in their area
  • Surprise offers on special days (e.g., birthdays, Christmas, etc.)
  • Direct discounts on purchases
  • Exclusive deals that only this new campaign will get them
  • Notifications for order confirmation, deliveries, inventory availability, etc.

5. Create urgency about switching phone numbers

If subscriber migration is slow, try being direct about switching phone numbers. This way, your subscribers will have a sense of urgency that if they don’t opt-in for the new phone number, then they will no longer receive promotions. Just remember that if you mention a deprecation date to your current subscribers, that you should adhere to that date to maintain a good customer experience with your brand.

6. Don’t overlap your communication

As your subscribers are migrating from an old phone number to a new one, be sure to unsubscribe them from the old campaign. This way, you can ensure that there is no overlap in communication and that you will have clean reliable subscriber data. Decrease duplicate messages will also improve your user experience and help keep costs down.

Additional Takeaways

Even though the suggestions in this article cover many aspects of phone number migration, it’s important to first understand your subscribers before running new campaigns. Find out what incentivizes them the most and the best times to send them information, just to name a few. Here are some additional points to 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 focus on high quality content and promotions that align with your product and customer incentives.

Create meaningful content. Meaningful content should be aligned 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 subscribers are not only receiving a discount, but 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 AM - 9:00 PM local time. This not only ensures that your campaigns stay compliant, but it also assures that your messages are read in a timely fashion. Optimal times during the week are typically during the morning commute (i.e., mornings between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM) and lunch times (i.e., between 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM). During these times, subscribers are typically more susceptible to promotional messaging.

Limit SMS frequency for better user experience. To maintain good customer experience, it’s better to send meaningful messages once a week. Therefore, you should only send a maximum of 4 text messages a month. With this in mind, plan your campaigns so that your messages are concise and to the point. Subscriber churn can have a significant negative impact for any business. Therefore, all businesses should take special precautions to reduce your customer churn rate while migrating phone numbers.

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. This ensures 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, so there is no fixed number to adhere to. However, it’s important to consider this number from a gain as well as cost perspective.

For example, given that you are trying to migrate 10,000 subscribers and have set your acceptable migration rate at 80%. That means that the old phone number can be deprecated when 80% (i.e. 8,000) subscribers opt-in to your new campaign. However, this means that you should also be willing to lose 20% or 2,000 subscribers during the migration.

If you’re thinking about migrating phone numbers, feel free to chat with our customer success team. We are always happy to help answer any questions you may have.

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