How to Evaluate Your SMS Provider (with Downloadable Worksheet)

As a business leader, you know that one of the best ways to reach your customers is via text messaging. But you also know that finding an SMS provider and API that can reliably and cost-effectively reach your customer base across multiple geographies is difficult.

It may be time to find an additional or new SMS provider if

  • you need better professional technical support and troubleshooting resources
  • you need reliable global SMS coverage
  • you need reliable network coverage and higher uptime
  • you need robust, direct integration with third-party plugins
  • you want to pay only for what you use.

Whether you’re looking for a backup provider to Twilio, planning on switching your primary provider to an SMS API with more features, or wanting to ensure that your messages make it to all your customers in every geography, it’s important to know how to evaluate each product as you shop around.

1. Look for an SMS provider with the essentials

At the end of the day, the most important thing an SMS API provider must do is ensure that your messages reach your customers. A suite of cutting-edge features is appealing, but there are a few key bases your provider must cover first.

Look for these five essential features in your SMS API provider:

  • Character support across multiple languages with built-in, network-standard GSM and Unicode characters and emojis ensures that messages display as you’ve intended — whether you’re reaching customers in China, the United States, or Yemen.
  • Multiple sender ID support allows you to use long codes, toll-free numbers, short codes, and alphanumeric sender IDs. Your provider should help you figure out which format is right for your business case.
  • Long message concatenation prevents long texts from arriving at receivers in multiple parts by automatically concatenating them.
  • Delivery report notifications allow you to track real-time delivery data from your messages and measure the performance of each SMS campaign you send. 
  • Message queuing reduces the amount of work you have to do per SMS campaign and lets you send multiple messages in a single API request. Your provider should ensure that you follow the throughput recommendations of your downstream carrier.

If you find an SMS provider that offers these five features, you’re well on your way to ensuring that messages reach customers as intended.

2. Check that your SMS API provider meets compliance standards

69% of consumers think that companies are vulnerable to cyberattacks, and only 25% think that companies handle sensitive data well. Your SMS provider must be able to help you keep customer information secure. 

Local carrier rules change by location. You need an SMS provider that helps ensure you’re in compliance. The SMS API provider should also offer

  • Purging and protection of sensitive data. Your provider shouldn’t store message details that contain sensitive, identifiable customer information, including phone numbers.
  • Smart rate limiting. Every country has regulations around SMS messaging. Your provider should help you understand and comply with each country’s per-number messaging frequency limits and throughput regulations.
  • Automatic opt-out handling. SMS API providers should support simple, automatic opt-outs and auto-replies such as “stop” and “cancel” on long code messages.

These three compliance measures, combined with the expertise of your SMS API provider, help to ensure that your SMS communications meet relevant regulations and reach your customers without issue.

3. Ensure that the SMS provider delivers to all your geographies and channels

No matter where you and your customers are located, your SMS API provider should guarantee fast, global delivery with a quality-based routing engine that integrates with other features and selects the best delivery route based on historical performance data.

But that’s not all. Look for these other delivery features when assessing an SMS API provider:

  • Free incoming SMS. This feature improves ROI and overhead by delivering SMS long codes at no cost to you.
  • Intelligent message encoding. Your SMS provider should ensure delivery support for destination networks where Unicode isn’t supported with an intelligent message system that exchanges Unicode characters for similar GSM characters.
  • Number pooling. Avoid sending rate delays and carrier flagging by spreading messages across a pool of numbers.
  • Conversion API. Look for real-time feedback from your API to inform future campaigns and improve carrier routing.
  • Geo permissions. Make sure you can easily control which geographies your messages can reach without having to code.
  • Local match. Improve open rates and response rates with auto-selection of a local number based on the destination area code.

As your business grows, it’s important that your SMS messaging campaigns serve every geography your customers live in. By checking for these key delivery features you ensure accurate, cost-effective, and data-informed delivery every time.

4. Make sure your SMS API provider has the reliability you need to succeed

Your SMS provider should give you the peace of mind that comes from knowing your messages will reach your customers and that issues, should they arise, will be quickly resolved. This means extreme reliability (such as guaranteed uptimes of 99.95%) and a team that cares about you.

Make sure that your SMS provider can support you and your business with a

  • Tier 1 carrier network. You need to know your messages will get to every one of your customers. By partnering with a Tier 1 carrier network, SMS providers can promise high deliverability.
  • Redundant carrier network. Ensure messages reach your customers by choosing a vendor with a redundant carrier network. This means that if messages fail to be delivered, they’re automatically routed to the next best carrier.
  • High availability and reliability. Uptimes of at least 99.95% should be guaranteed by a service-level agreement (SLA).

Spend your time reaping the benefits of a killer strategic SMS messaging campaign, not troubleshooting APIs or wondering whether messages made it to customers, by ensuring that your SMS API provider has these reliability features.

5. Look for low, flexible, and transparent pricing

SMS messaging should help you realize ROI, not eat up your budget. Make sure that you’re paying only for the features and data you use.

No matter where you’re looking to reach customers or how large your SMS messaging campaigns are, your SMS API provider should offer transparent pricing plans: 

  • Pay-as-you-go pricing. Pay only for what you use with usage-based pricing. 
  • Volume discounts. Your rate should get cheaper as your messaging volume increases.
  • Committed-use discounts. Get a discount on your pricing if you switch from a pay-as-you-go model to a committed-use pricing package.

6. Look for the ability to customize and integrate SMS provider features

Pricing isn’t the only thing that should be flexible to your needs. Your SMS provider should let you easily and quickly customize, scale, and integrate cutting-edge features that help you stand out from your competition and delight your customers.

  • Sticky sender. Maintain a continuous thread of communication with customers when using a number pool by delivering messages from the same number or sender ID each time.
  • Low-code development. Customize your code, and deploy quickly through visual, low-friction editors and reusable templates.
  • Built-in multitenancy: Segment your customers based on use case, spend capacity, or risk profile to track performance and billing.
  • Detailed debug logs. Streamline troubleshooting with informative debug and error logs.
  • Extensive documentation. Integrate easily with the tools you use most, thanks to detailed documentation and sample code.
  • Server-side software development kits (SDK). Ensure that your team can program in their language of choice, whether it’s Java, Python, Ruby, Node.js, or others.
  • Serverless environment. Enjoy all the benefits of custom code without the headache of hosting it yourself.

Your SMS API provider shouldn’t paint you into a corner when it comes to functionality. Flexible features allow you to take what you love and trim the rest to build the best SMS messaging campaigns possible.

How to find the SMS API provider that’s right for your business and your customers

You want to make sure that when it comes time to reach out to customers with SMS, development and integration are easy and messages reliably get where they need to go.

If you’re looking to add a backup vendor for failover situations, or if you’ve grown your business to new geographies that your current provider can’t reach, consider what your primary SMS API provider does well and where you need to supplement.

If you’re looking for a new primary SMS provider, it helps to develop a visual representation of how each company stacks up. That’s why we created our downloadable SMS API provider evaluation checklist [PDF]. Use this document to compare SMS provider offerings.

You want to give your customers the best experience. To do that, you need an SMS provider with the highest-quality support, features, and infrastructure, without breaking your budget. Plivo is the best Twilio alternative. With globally distributed PoPs, latency-free connectivity, high deliverability, and optimized routing, we’ve supported companies in every industry. Our SMS API and global delivery network have helped businesses such as GoDaddy, Deckers Brands, and Wix make a lasting impact, backed by free, 24/7 technical support and ease of integration and scaling — all with a 35% cost savings compared to Twilio. Sign up for a free trial today.

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