Six Crucial Questions for Mission-Critical Messaging

7.8 trillion text messages were sent in 2011 and that number was expected to reach about 9.6 trillion in 2012 (Source: Portio Research).

However, for the most part, texting has been a person-to-person (P2P) phenomenon with a smaller portion of the traffic attributed to business-to-consumer (B2C) SMS, which has grown over 50% in the last two years.The business-to-consumer SMS (sometimes referred to application-to-person or A2P) has been taking off significantly and is now growing faster than P2P.  This growth is being fueled by businesses, which are leveraging SMS to automate business processes for communicating and engaging with their customers, suppliers, and employees.

B2C Messaging TypesThere is significant demand for taking business-to-consumer SMS messaging to the next level by simplifying ecosystem pricing as well as making access to the SMS infrastructure more user-friendly.  B2C messages take a variety of forms including:

  • SPAM: Illegal spam text messages in the U.S. increased 45% in 2011 to an incredible 4.5 billion messages.  This type of traffic can cause huge spikes for mobile operators and aggregators, and often impacts the delivery of truly mission-critical messages that end up getting queued behind these messages, causing significant message delays and consumer inconvenience.
  • Mass Marketing: Mass marketing messages differ from SPAM in that they are opt-in, but they are generally not considered mission-critical from a delivery perspective (though they may be for the legitimate marketers behind them).
  • Business Process Automation: This includes a broad spectrum of mission-critical messaging for enhancing business communications like shipment notifications, calendar invitations, appointment reminders, and status alerts such as flight confirmations and delays.
  • Security Messaging: Authentication and verification messaging used to verify and protect online identities and mitigate fraud. Security messaging requires the highest level of deliverability because of what's at stake – things such as transaction verifications, registrations and password resets are increasingly relying on an SMS delivered to the consumer's phone.  So, when it absolutely, positively has to get there... use a provider that has the network connections, relationships, and processes to optimize delivery rates.

Mission-Critical Messaging Requires a Unique SkillsetAs the demand for B2C SMS has exploded, so too has the vendor landscape.  There are a variety of operators, aggregators, mobile communication, and phone-based authentication solution providers that have emerged to fill this gap.If your business depends on sending truly mission-critical, security-related messages to verify online identities, transactions, or shipment delivery, you need to ask these questions of any prospective vendor:

  1. Do you “cleanse” the phone numbers?When users enter phone numbers into online forms, they are not always properly formatted for delivery. Phone number cleansing automatically corrects improperly formatted phone numbers to adhere to complicated and dynamic international dialing rules that can vary by carrier and geography.  Cleansing can improve SMS deliverability by as much as 20% in some geographies.
  2. Can the provider “localize” the SMS message? As more and more companies become global, they need to reach an international user base.  This means you may need to localize the text of the SMS into languages and dialects that your users will understand. If you don't have this expertise in-house, make sure to ask your provider if they can customize the SMS into the languages and dialects of your user/customer base with custom SMS templates.
  3. Do you want to manage the complexity of short and long codes?There's a fair amount of complexity when sending an SMS across borders and across mobile operators.  In order to span the globe, businesses need to use a combination of SMS long codes, shared short codes, or dedicated short codes for their mission-critical messaging.  The right solution will depend on the use case, the geography, the mobile operator, the volume of messages, and a variety of other variables.  Some SMS providers require you to manage this complexity in-house or you can rely on a service provider that manages this as part of a quality practice.
  4. How many failover options does the provider offer? With most mobile operators and SMS aggregators,, every message gets essentially one shot at delivery to the destination operator. This does not ensure the highest delivery percentage. Instead, look for a provider message that employs a “waterfall” where individual SMS messages are re-tried through one or more providers in response to failures, delays, or other network conditions.
  5. Does the provider have direct network connections?A Mbile Network Operator can provide the ability to connect directly to the more than 800 operators around the world. This special status offers the potential of higher deliverability, increased transparency/visibility, and better stability in cost and service availability.
  6. What kind of support is offered out of the box? Customer support in the Telco industry is infamously poor.  And this poor support often trickles down to the mobile operators and aggregators who operate on razor-thin margins. Consequently, many SMS aggregators and simple API providers operate on a low-cost, self-service model. This may be fine when dealing with mass marketing communications, but is seldom sufficient for mission-critical messaging.  Make sure to ask these questions:
  • Is the cost of support included in the service? If not, what is the cost of support?
  • Do they offer phone and email based support?
  • Do they offer emergency (24x7) phone support?
  • Do they offer integration support andor offer best practices guidance?
  • Can they provide guidance on the optimal user experience or user interface?
  • Do they offer proactive alerting?
  • Do they offer access to a client portal and provide troubleshooting tools?
  • Do they offer canned and ad hoc (i.e. customized) reporting?
  • Do they offer SLAs and Service Level Objectives (uptime, technical support response times)?
  • Can the provider provide best practices on fraud prevention and risk mitigation?

These six questions will quickly separate the mission-critical contenders from the pretenders, and will help ensure the highest possible delivery percentages, the lowest levels of fraud, and the very best customer experience."

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