Business text messaging can help boost customer satisfaction, streamline communications and even improve cash flow. Texting is an immediate, professional and effective way of communicating with your customers, but there are specific rules that you need to comply with.
Business text messaging lets you communicate with customers instantly. You don't have to waste time playing voicemail tennis or worry about important emails getting lost in cluttered inboxes.
Text campaigns work best when a customer has already been introduced to your business and expects to hear from you.
Here are some of the most common ways that UK businesses use text to engage with customers:
- Appointment reminders: You can text customers to remind them of check-ups, property viewings, and other appointments. Reminder texts can be scheduled to go out 24 hours before an appointment, or you can send them on an ad-hoc basis.
- Deadline reminders: If customers need to sign off on a project milestone or submit necessary paperwork by a set date, you can text them with deadline reminders. This is especially helpful if emails are getting ignored or if calls are going to voicemail.
- Schedule changes: Delays and last-minute meeting cancellations happen from time to time. If you're having the day from hell and you're forced to keep customers waiting at short notice, you can send a polite & reassuring text informing your customer of the new time.
- Invoice reminders: Business text is ideal for situations where a client's invoice is overdue, but you don't want to phone up and demand payment. Invoice texts are handy prompts that can't get lost in the inbox.
- Quote reminders: If your business sends out many estimates for work, you'll know how hard it can be to get new clients to sign off on a quote! A quick text reminding prospects that they still need to accept your quote can help you get jobs approved faster.
- Progress updates: Whether you're running a florist, MOT garage, or a dry cleaning business, you need to be able to notify customers when goods are ready for collection. A progress update text can speed up your fulfilment and reduce customer service complaints.
- Repeat booking invitations: If you run a medical or veterinary business, you can remind customers to book a follow-up appointment 3, 6, or 12 months after their initial visit. Your customers will thank you for proactively helping them to keep safe and healthy.
- Requests for customer feedback: If your customer promises to give you a great review, you can remind them with a text! Just make sure you have your customer's consent before you text.
You might already have mobile numbers for your customers on file, but that doesn't mean your business has a legal right to text them. First, you need the right to process their data.
The simplest way to text customers legally is to ask for their permission. When you send a business text to a customer in the UK, this is legally considered data processing. Under the UK's data protection laws, there are six lawful bases for data processing: consent, contract, legal obligation, vital interests, public task, or legitimate interests (source: legislation.gov.uk). For businesses, the critical lawful basis is consent.
By law, your customer's consent needs to be "knowingly and freely given, clear and specific" (source: ico.org.uk). You should ask your customer to opt-in to receive text messages (either by ticking a box, clicking a button, or giving written approval).
Customers should understand what kinds of texts you're planning to send them. You need to ensure your business can be easily identified as the sender and make it easy for recipients to opt out of receiving texts in the future.
Before you start sending texts as a business, you need to familiarise yourself with three acronyms: ICO, GDPR, and PECR:
ICO: The Information Commissioner's Office
The Information Commissioner's Office (ico.org.uk) is the independent authority that protects data privacy in the UK. The ICO can help you understand and comply with the various data protection laws that apply to your business.
Almost all UK organisations that handle personal data are registered with the ICO. Visit the ICO website to learn how, when, and why to register your business and appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO) within your company: www.ico.org.uk.
GDPR (UK GDPR) and the Data Protection Act
UK GDPR, or the Data Protection Act 2018, is the UK's data protection rulebook. If your business stores customer data (names, addresses, emails, or phone numbers, for instance), or if your business sends marketing messages, then you need to comply with the laws set out in the Data Protection Act. The ICO website has a handy guide to UK GDPR, which is worth reading carefully.
UK GDPR does not apply to communications with your EU-based customers. There is very little difference between the EU's GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) rules and those of UK GDPR, but this may change in the future.
PECR: The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations
Any UK business that sends marketing messages by text must comply with PECR rules.
The Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations are similar to the rules set out in UK GDPR, but they focus specifically on electronic communications such as texts and emails. PECR rules are the UK's equivalent of the EU's e-privacy laws. Learn more about PECR here.
There are several ways you can start sending out to customers, assuming you have their permission. You could do it manually, however, it wouldn't be scalable, and many of the benefits of sending business texts will be lost.
The two more scalable ways are to either use an online service, where you can manage everything centrally or, if you have a VoIP phone system, such as the fantastic 3CX, to send out your messages. The latter is our preferred route as it means that you don't need to pass your crucial customer information to anyone, and you protect their data privacy rights.
Not all VoIP providers can offer business text messaging. Depending on how you want your text systems to integrate with your business software, you may need to opt for a hosted VoIP rather than a cloud-based service. Please talk to our team if you need help choosing the right solution for your business.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do different rules apply to B2B texting?
PECR laws don't cover texts sent to corporate subscribers, but not all businesses are classed as corporate subscribers. Corporate subscribers are corporate bodies with separate legal statuses, such as LLPs and Limited Companies. Some businesses are classed as individual subscribers (sole traders, for instance). In practice, you should follow the same rules when texting B2B (business-to-business) as you would if you were texting B2C (business-to-consumer).
If you are sure that every business you deal with would be classed as a corporate subscriber, you can send B2B marketing texts without getting consent first. You still need to clarify your identity on every text you send, and it should be easy for corporate recipients to unsubscribe from marketing messages.
Can I send texts without registering with the ICO?
If your business processes personal data (phone numbers, email addresses, postal addresses, etc.), you should register with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and pay a data protection fee. There are a few exceptions to this rule: you can check whether you have to register on the ICO website here.
Most organisations register with the ICO regardless of their status. The ICO's registration process is straightforward, and the fees are very low (typically £40 - £60 per annum, depending on organisation size). Non-payment of fees can result in fines of more than £4,000 (source: ico.org.uk), so it's best to get registered to be on the safe side.
Solicited and unsolicited messages: what's the difference?
A solicited message has explicitly been requested (source: ico.org.uk). The customer has asked for specific information, and the builder has provided it. For instance, if a builder's client asks how their bathroom renovation is coming along, the builder's reply would be considered a solicited text.
An unsolicited message has not been specifically requested. Your business can only send unsolicited messages if your recipient has opted in to receive texts from you. For instance, if you run a dentist surgery, you can text an appointment reminder to your patient or invite them to book a regular check-up. These text messages are technically unsolicited, as the customer hasn't explicitly asked for them.
Ideally, you should only send texts to customers who have opted to receive them. There may be situations where you have a legitimate interest or legal obligation to send unsolicited texts (see the six lawful bases for using data here), but in most cases, you should ask permission first. If in doubt, consider seeking legal advice.
Can I automate my business text messages?
You can automate business text messages in two ways. Your business can send texts out on an automated schedule, or customer conversations can be automated with the use of text bots:
Scheduled texts work well if your business needs to send out appointment reminders or service updates. To set up a scheduled customer text, you typically need to integrate your phone system with your CRM systems. This might require a locally-hosted VoIP solution like 3CX, and you will need your IT team to get involved.
Text bots, or chatbots, are ideal for large businesses with high customer volumes. Your customers text your business with a question, and then the chatbot automatically responds with a pre-programmed answer. Text bots can answer common questions instantly and at any time of day, but this technology has its limitations. Chatbots can't pick up on nuances in a conversation in the same way that a human can. Bots also need to be taught how to respond to common questions. If a customer reports a new, unique, or unusual problem, bots will struggle to help. As a rule, you should always inform customers that they are talking to a bot and give them a way to quickly escalate their issue to a human.