Texting is a low-cost, flexible and reliable way to reach customers. So, businesses are jumping at the chance to text their customers. And we can see why! You’re more likely to reach your customer base through SMS messages than by email. In fact, texts are open and read at a rate of 98%, compared to a measly rate of 20% for emails.
But before you go ahead and add business texting, compliance is a critical topic to review. Privacy laws, laid out by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), dictate how your business is allowed to interact with customers. Sure they sound daunting at the outset. But, these laws ultimately help you to protect your customers and to build an honest and healthy relationship with them.
First, the basics: what you need to know to stay compliant.
Before I dive into what you can be doing to manage your compliance, let’s review the legal ground rules you need to know to stay in the clear. First, what is the TCPA?
In 1991, the TCPA was created to protect consumers from scamming and spamming from businesses. Under the TCPA, any marketing phone calls and text messages have to follow certain standards to protect customer privacy. These standards protect the consumer, but they also grant your business and phone carriers more credibility, ensuring that you build an honest relationship with your customers and maintain healthy boundaries.
At a fundamental level, TCPA requires that you:
- Get consent from your customers before messaging them and also provide a way for customers to opt out.
- Disclose the full scope of your SMS communications honestly.
When you follow the best practices to stay compliant with TCPA standards, you’re legally safe. But managing and maintaining them for every customer communication can be tricky. So we’ve put together 5 things you should do to manage compliance and stay legal while texting your customers.
1. Opt-in and Opt-out Management
In the last two weeks, I’ve gotten an influx of spammy texts to my phone. But how do I identify that they’re spam texts? There’s always a tell-tale sign. I haven’t agreed to them. If you haven’t given permission to be messaged and if the text offers no way to opt-out, it’s guaranteed to be an illegitimate message. For this reason, and as mentioned by the TCPA, it’s super important to get consent from your customers before sending any messages. And always give them the option to opt-out of hearing from you again.
Sounds easy, no? The tricky part is keeping track of which customers gave permission and which customers have opted out of future messages. Whether you’re sending text blasts with marketing promotions or sending out product updates via a mass text, you have to be cautious to send messages to only the customers who have agreed to hear from you and to avoid customers who have explicitly asked not to receive any messages.
To do so, use opt-in and opt-out management and keep records of which customers you can contact. Life is also much easier with an SMS platform to support you. Some texting platforms can keep track of records for you, so that as soon as a customer responds with “STOP” or “CANCEL,” they’re removed from any opt-in lists, keeping you within TCPA compliance.
2. Automate Confirmation Texts for Double Opt-in
Getting an initial opt-in from your customers is legally essential according to the TCPA. But if you get double opt-in, you create an extra safeguard to protect your customer relationship. Think about it from a customer experience perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been unaware that I gave a company consent to send me marketing emails.
Customers may not remember clicking the checkbox during their checkout giving you permission to text them. Then, when you start texting them, it may surprise them and, perhaps, negatively impact their perception of you. Double opt-in protects you from this by giving customers one more chance to give permission. In your initial text to your customers, include a keyword suggestion like “YES” that customers can respond with to verify they want to hear more from you.
To make it even simpler for your employees and your own management, automate these initial messages. As soon as customers finish a purchase order or request to hear from your customer service team, send an automated message to get a double opt-in. Then your system can know for sure which customers should be on the contact list.
3. Clearly Communicate all Terms and Conditions and Written Disclosures
Once a customer gives you permission to message them, TCPA requires you to be upfront and honest about the purpose of the message. Customers should always know what to expect from you. Include written disclosures and all terms and conditions in your initial text, whether it’s written into the actual text or if it’s linked out.
To stay on top of this, each opt-in message should include info like:
- Your business name — introduce yourself!
- Purpose of messaging — is it a marketing message? An appointment reminder? State your purpose!
- Expected frequency of texts per day, week or month — how often are they going to get messages from you? Be honest.
- Access to your terms and conditions — sharing your terms and conditions is a smart, compliant way to remind subscribers about your legal efforts.
- Instructions for requesting help — make sure customers know how to reach you and get questions answered.
- Instructions for opting out — like I said, always give customers a chance to opt-out.
4. Register your 10-Digit Long Code Number
In the US and Canada, the mobile carriers Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint have established a 10DLC program to regulate application-to-person (A2P) texting from businesses to their subscribers (your customers. The idea behind it is to add transparency into how A2P business texting is used. And that, in turn, helps the carriers provide better protections to your customers and eliminate spam (something we can all get behind).
So, as a part of your texting compliance, registering your A2P 10DLC and classifying your use cases are required. Texting campaigns that aren’t compliant with these carrier requirements can be charged significant carrier penalties.
So how can you stay in compliance and avoid fees? Here are four ways:
- Register your A2P 10DLC
- Only send texts to people who’ve explicitly opted in to get texts from you
- Don’t text about restricted content topics (things like drugs, firearms, adult content, etc.)
- Don’t try to evade the regulations.
Ultimately, getting 10DLC registration gives your brand more credibility with customers. You don’t want phone carriers or your customers thinking you’re a scam. Keep up to speed with 10DLC standards to communicate to your customers that you’re legit.
5. Educate and Train Employees
Proper education and training should be a given, but it’s worth noting. As an admin, you can set up safety nets and use technology to support your efforts to stay compliant. But you personally aren’t sending every single message going out to customers. Prioritize consistent training with your employees so they’re aware of legal standards and understand your expectations.
TCPA compliance is incredibly important — not only in keeping your brand legally sound, but also in preserving relationships with your customers. You can’t risk a couple of employees remaining unaware of standards.
So create a clear-cut company policy that details all rules and procedures for sending messages in accordance with the TCPA. Add this policy to the employee handbook and make it accessible in your internal knowledge base. Hold frequent review training sessions whenever there are any regulatory updates. Keep all employees on the same page to stay TCPA compliant.