Savvy small business owners have added texting to their customer communications channels, or are at least moving in that direction in 2023. It’s a smart move when you consider 78% of consumers say the ability to text with SMBs would increase their likelihood of supporting those businesses.
Yet before you get busy texting those current or potential customers, you should understand the legal regulations governing privacy — and it’s not as obvious as you might think. Here’s what you need to know about the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), and a few tips on how to use texting appropriately.
Note that this blog is for information only and is not intended to provide legal advice; make sure to check with your own legal counsel to make sure your business stays in compliance with TCPA requirements.
Designed to Spare Consumers Harassment
Remember the early “wild west” days of robocalling, when consumers were fielding dozens of calls a day from telemarketers wanting their business? Those consumers made their frustrations known, and in 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed the TCPA into law, which established the well-known Do-Not-Call list.
Over the years, the TCPA has expanded to include modern communications channels, so it now covers categories like auto-dial systems, faxes, prerecorded messages and SMS text messages.
That might not grab your attention unless you consider that violations of the TCPA could result in significant fines of $500 per incident, and $1,500 if the violation is deemed willful. For some unlucky businesses, that has added up to millions of dollars in fines for what seemed a fairly innocent text.
What Gets Businesses in Trouble
TCPA established the requirement that businesses get written permission from consumers before contacting them. What business operators get wrong is thinking of business texting as a piece of mail, instead of a phone call. By TCPA standards, texting and phone calls are one and the same. In fact, a smartphone, which has the ability to store phone numbers and dial them as a list, is considered the same as an automated dialing system used for telemarketing.
That means if you want to text consumers, you must first have them agree to receive those messages. For non-marketing texts, like appointment reminders, consent can simply be the sharing of a number. However, texts for marketing purposes require “prior express written consent” where the form includes the telephone number of the recipient and a signature. It must make clear the consumer is authorizing the business to send texts for communication and marketing purposes, with no requirement to participate as a condition of purchase.
You must also make consumers aware of the Do-Not-Call registry and how to join it if they change their mind about receiving messages. Remember, you’ll have to check this list regularly and remove from your communications list any names that appear.
Finally, business texts need to include a disclaimer that “Message and data rates may apply,” as well as an opt-out option. Check the FCC website for more detail on TCPA regulations.
Quick Tips for Business Texting
Once you’ve checked all the legal boxes, it’s important to take a look at your business texting practices and make sure they are engaging and impressing customers, not frustrating them. A few guidelines to keep in mind:
Keep quantity within reason – No customer wants to hear from you every day, or perhaps not even every week. Limit texts to important marketing opportunities (sales, product updates, etc.) or one-on-one communications around the customer’s appointment or order.
Be concise – Text messages allow for a maximum of 160 characters, but in general you should aim for the most concise message that is useful and relevant to the customer. Keep abbreviations to a minimum and instead strive to make every word count.
Personalize – The more personalization, the better. Customers like to feel known, and making the effort to show you know them could improve their engagement with your message. In fact, more than 54% of consumers say they would be more likely to purchase from a company if a text message they received was personalized to them.
Check your timing – Marketing texts should go out during business hours so they don’t interrupt customers’ sleep or personal time. However, if you hear from a customer by text, respond quickly, even if it’s just an automated message assuring the customer you’ll be in touch the next business day.
A modern telecommunications provider can help you get started with a comprehensive and compliant business texting solution. Cloudli’s TalkNText, for example, lets you create text message auto-replies, store a text stream in a centralized location, check texts from home or work (while keeping work texts separate) and more. The solution also supports local 10-Digit long codes (10DLC) and is compliant with A2P 10DLC, a trust mechanism that leading U.S. mobile carriers put forth to protect their mobile users from spam and unsolicited messages.