Making the choice between short code and toll-free messaging for business-to-customer communications. | Flowroute Blog

Toll-Free SMS or Short Code? Understanding Which Solution Will Improve Customer Experiences

Posted on October 3, 2019

Understanding and prioritizing customer preferences is critical when a business is establishing its messaging plan.

For example, customers appreciate having the flexibility and control to determine the method of communication they use (i.e., text or calling), and at the same time, they expect that mode of communication will connect them with a person who can provide immediate support.

Further, customers want their communications with a business to be secure, yet contextual, meaning that the history or context of their interaction is understood by the support personnel, so they receive accurate and efficient service.

Additionally, consumers overwhelmingly prefer SMS to email and voice calling when interacting with businesses. When evaluating enterprise communication services, businesses will benefit from selecting services that can check all the boxes listed above.

Luckily for businesses, there is more than one option available when considering what types of messaging services to provide. Below is an overview of two messaging options: short code and toll-free, as well as some of the pros and cons of each solution to help IT and business leaders select a messaging option that is right for their customers.

Toll-Free Messaging: Pros

  • Fast. Toll-free numbers have a high throughput rate. Throughput is the measure of data transfer between the connections measured by message per second (MPS). So, sending one message per second means 3,600 messages per hour. The higher the throughput, the more messages you can send in a timely manner. Higher throughput enables service providers to deliver timely messages even during peak times when thousands (or millions) of messages are delivered every minute.

This capability is crucial when sending timely notifications like emergency alerts, PIN codes or reminders. Further, toll-free messaging is easy and fast for businesses to provision, allowing them to set up offerings in a matter of minutes, which gets the service to customers faster.

Flowroute also lets users select a new toll-free messaging number or set up messaging using an existing toll-free number, which increases speed of deployment.

  • Easy to use. When receiving a text from a toll-free business number, customers can respond directly to that message instead of having to create a new message or email chain. This allows customers to address business communications immediately and easily, which improves their overall user experience with the business.

Businesses also benefit by providing features that will give them a positive reputation (i.e., from offering streamlined customer service, etc.). Additionally, businesses also benefit from having customer communications in one location making it easy for them to track and refer to the history of the customer’s interaction with the company.

  • Low-cost. Toll-free messages are cheaper for businesses to provision and maintain. This reduced-price tag for businesses allows them to secure a quicker return on their investments, as well as invest money elsewhere.

The price the business pays to provision and maintain numbers can also influence the price customers pay for a service.

  • Secure. Since toll-free numbers are traditional 10-digit numbers, they are easy for customers to identify as coming from a legitimate business. Furthermore, toll-free numbers can also be branded (i.e. 1-800-Contacts).

This feature benefits businesses because customers are more likely to respond and interact with a number that looks legit.

To add an additional layer of security for customers, Flowroute offers users fraud protection.

Toll-Free Messaging: Cons

  • Carrier filtering. Toll-free messages are subject to carrier filtering. This means that some messages may be delayed or not delivered at all if they fall outside a telephone carrier’s reach. This could pose problems for customers travelling out of the country if they need to access PIN or security information.
  • Hardware costs. If a business doesn’t have an existing toll-free number or if they do not operate on cloud-based platforms, installing the hardware to support it can get expensive.
  • Unsolicited calls. The “free” provision of toll-free numbers can sometimes result in unsolicited calls. This can tie up customer support representatives and create longer wait times for existing customers.

Short Code Messaging: Pros

  • Expanded reach. Like toll-free numbers, short code messages have a high throughput, making them an ideal way to send out large quantities of messages in a short amount of time.

Short code SMS can support both small businesses with 200 subscribers, as well as large businesses with 2 million subscribers. Short code is ideal for organizations sending out appointment reminders, verification codes or alerts.

  • No carrier filtering. Short code messages are not subject to carrier filtering. This means customers across carriers and across the world can receive short code messages.

In case of an emergency, business can reach customers without fear of their message not getting through, which could jeopardize the customer’s safety as well as the business’ reputation.

  • Vanity short codes. Like toll-free numbers, short code messages can be customized, which increases customers familiarity with the numbers.

Businesses typically assign short code messages to specific users; however, users can also choose a specific number ahead of time.

When choosing a short code number, customers and businesses often want a number that is easy to identify and remember, such as 33033 or 711711. Businesses can also opt for a number that spells something on the user’s dial pad, like Kmart’s short code 56278, which spells “KMART.”

Short Code Messaging: Cons

  • Provision time. If not done properly, short code messages can take longer to set up. This is often due to the licensing process a business is required to complete. This wait time could delay new business initiatives or disrupt employee workflow when transitioning to the short code messages.
  • Higher cost. Short code messaging is more expensive. This is in large part due to the regulations and leasing requirements to obtain and use short code messages. In addition, if a business opts for a vanity short code, they can incur higher costs than regular short code numbers.
  • Interaction limits. Customers cannot reply to a short code messaging number, nor can they call it. This creates an extra step for customers needing to contact customer support, which can result in frustration that would impact a business’ reputation.
  • Spam. Since they are not formatted using a traditional 10-digit number, short code messages can look like spam. Customers may be suspicious to click links shared in a short code SMS or may ignore it completely. This could result in missed business opportunity for the company or repercussions down the road for the customer (i.e. if they ignore a payment alert, suspecting it to be fraud and end up defaulting on their payment).

Overall, toll-free SMS and short code messaging can help businesses improve the ways they interact with their customers. As always, businesses should secure a sense of their customers’ preferences before selecting a messaging service to ensure they provide customers with the capabilities they want and need.

If you are interested in learning more about different messaging capabilities, check out our blog post, “Three questions businesses should ask about SMS and MMS messaging.”

For help with setting up your company’s customer messaging, contact the experts at Flowroute.

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