Leveraging A2P SMS Text Messaging for Your Business

Oct 26, 2016
Leveraging A2P SMS Text Messaging for Your Business

Most people depend on mobile devices to function in their daily lives, so it has become imperative for companies to evolve from desktop to mobile-first strategies. From marketing promotions to notifications, people demand fast, convenient communication. By integrating application-to-person (A2P) messaging into your business, you can reach customers directly with real-time alerts and receive instant feedback on products and services. This post focuses on the basics of A2P SMS text messaging and the common types of applications for your business.

What is A2P SMS?

A2P SMS is text messaging between an application and an individual. It typically involves automated content sent by an organization or business to a subscriber. A2P is commonly used for confirmations, alerts, marketing campaigns, and two-factor authentication (2FA).

A2P SMS is used so widely that it has become part of people’s everyday experience without them knowing it. For example, a store could send an A2P SMS to notify shoppers of a holiday sale. Customers can then log in to the store’s online shopping portal by using a security code sent to their mobile device. Some establishments even accept payment via SMS, which may be confirmed using A2P messaging sent from an online portal. To deter credit card fraud, a consumer’s bank can send a notification of their purchase instantly upon the completion of a transaction.

A2P messaging is a direct contrast to peer-to-peer (P2P) messaging, which is communication between two individuals and typically involves one-on-one conversations. P2P communication use cases include group messaging applications, ride-hailing logistics, and dating apps.

Restrictions on A2P and P2P usage vary between countries, so it’s best to check with your service provider regarding regulations within countries that you would like to send A2P campaigns. In the United States and Canada, pro-consumer regulations have set strict guidelines and limitations on how companies can send A2P traffic in an attempt to protect consumers from unsolicited messages and minimize messaging spam. Only P2P messages can be sent over long codes (regular 10-digit phone numbers), while A2P traffic can only be sent over SMS short codes or toll-free SMS phone numbers. [Editor’s note 2021: This is changing.]

Short codes are special five- to six-digit phone numbers specially procured for businesses to send A2P traffic. Toll-free SMS phone numbers are simply toll-free phone numbers that have been SMS-enabled. Both short codes and toll-free numbers require special validation processes to ensure that only reputable businesses with legitimate use cases are approved, and that businesses are responsible with the purpose of sending their customers messages. Violations of SMS regulations can lead to cessation of entire SMS campaigns and suspensions of accounts.

Short codes and toll-free phone numbers have been built for A2P messaging. Short codes have the ability to send 40 times more SMS per second than long codes, making them highly desirable for sending messages to multiple users simultaneously. Shorter numbers are also more memorable to consumers than long codes and hence can increase campaign retention and engagement.

A2P SMS use cases

Here are some ways businesses have leveraged A2P SMS messaging to grow their customer bases.

Marketing and promotional campaigns

A2P messaging is a powerful resource for advertising and other promotional campaigns. Since short codes and toll-free phone numbers have two-way SMS enabled, businesses can send engaging SMS marketing and promotional campaigns. For example, companies can ensure compliance by having customers opt in for each promotion by responding with a specific keyword. Businesses have also used A2P messaging for campaigns that involve riddles and quizzes. Upon answering questions correctly, subscribers received a specific promotion, such as a coupon.

Companies like CallHub, an SMS and voice broadcasting software company that helps companies collect data from consumers, use Plivo’s two-way SMS service to distribute and monitor marketing campaigns, polling initiatives, and automated replies. Through a user-friendly dashboard, CallHub clients can publish custom messages to their contacts, increase engagement, and generate real-time feedback. Within three months of choosing Plivo, CallHub launched their polling system in 12 countries and gained a 4.6X increase in revenue. Because Plivo does not charge for incoming SMS, they also saved nearly 40% on rates.

Confirmations and alerts

One of the most popular use cases of A2P SMS is to send confirmations and alerts — brief, structured messages that notify a customer of time-sensitive information. For example, an airline could send you an alert that your flight is arriving an hour late. This type of information is urgent, so it’s crucial that alerts be delivered quickly and successfully. This means latency for SMS alerts should be low and the caller ID should be specific to your business. More on this in later sections.

For Zomato, a global food delivery service operating in 23 countries around the world, SMS dependability is essential. An undelivered confirmation is a grave complication that could lead to delays in the order queue. Plivo’s reliable voice and SMS services enabled Zomato to deliver instant order confirmations and delivery notifications, while also lowering their SMS costs around the world.

Two-factor authentication

Another common application of A2P SMS is mobile two-factor authentication (2FA), a security measure that asks users to verify their identity using a password sent to their cell phone. Many people encounter 2FA when they access their bank accounts or log in to applications with sensitive data and files, such as Google or Dropbox.

Confide, a private messaging application that deletes messages after they’re read, uses this two-step SMS verification process to enhance security. Once a user creates an account with Confide and enters their cell phone number, Confide uses Plivo to send an SMS message via short code phone number to deliver a random password. The user then copies that password into the Confide app so that they can complete their registration. This ensures that an individual can have only one account, since most people only have one mobile phone number, and it deters fraudulent signups by making it difficult for a bot to sign up with multiple phone numbers.

While it’s preferable to use a short code number for 2FA, sometimes using a regular 10-digit phone number (a long code) is beneficial. For example, if there’s a spam block in place against short code messaging, your users may never receive your 2FA message. To minimize this risk, it’s best to be able to use a combination of short and long code SMS messaging. Short codes let you know whether your message is delivered successfully, so you can use a short code for the first 2FA message, and follow with a long code message if the initial send fails.

Another prudent approach is to fall back to a voice call if necessary. If text messaging fails within a given amount of time, you can make an automated phone call with the codes spoken to the receiver via a text-to-speech engine. To enable this kind of fallback, be sure your service provider offers both an SMS and a voice API.

Integrating A2P SMS into your business

A2P messaging with short codes can be a powerful business tool, but companies need to be aware of the regulations for mass messaging customers. Even if consumers have opted in to receiving your texts, the messages themselves must adhere to CTIA regulations. Failure to comply can result in you losing your service.

Moreover, not all SMS service providers are created equal. A lot of factors go into the quality of the SMS platform. Three main factors for assessing SMS quality are latency, fixed sender ID, and delivery rates.

SMS latency

Latency for SMS refers to the time a message is initiated to the time it’s received, and it should be only a few seconds. From the end user’s perspective, when a user requests a 2FA authentication code, it should take less than a second to receive the code.

Fixed sender ID

Sender ID is not a factor that most businesses test for, but it’s essential in any two-way SMS campaign. A message’s sender ID has to match the phone number or short code that you want to receive replies on. If the sender ID doesn’t match, then the replies to your campaign will never arrive. Sender IDs can be a problem if your service provider uses aggregators that are not transmitting your text messages directly to the receiving carrier. When that happens, your text message may travel through multiple carriers and multiple countries before arriving at its destination, which can result in incorrect sender IDs — and extended latency.

Delivery rates

Even though many factors that can affect delivery rates are outside of your service provider’s control (recipient’s phone is off, bad reception, etc.), delivery rates for your SMS campaigns should be above 80%. For undelivered messages, your service provider should be able to provide the error code that indicates the reason why the message was not delivered (for example, incorrect destination phone number).

How Plivo helps its customers

Plivo is one of the leading cloud communication providers. We help enterprises and SMBs with their voice and messaging needs.

Every company has multiple applications that can leverage voice calling and text messaging. Plivo is uniquely positioned to offer solutions that match the varying needs of an enterprise while meeting expectations for quality and price. Plivo helps enterprises to differentiate their customer experience and add operational efficiencies as they grow.

Whether you’re a fast-growing organization or a stable business, Plivo can meet your business priorities and needs.

Plivo provides free 24/7 email support to assist our clients in integrating our services into their businesses quickly and seamlessly. To get started with A2P SMS messaging and begin engaging your customers today, contact our sales team.

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