Messaging • Last Updated 9/29/2023

SMS customer service—7 best practices

Stand out from the competition by following these best practices for providing top-notch SMS customer service.


By Emily Bowen

SMS customer service graphic

Short Message Service (SMS) is a powerful tool that every business should utilize for customer service purposes—but it needs to be used correctly.

By following these best practices, you can ensure that your SMS customer service is top-notch and that your customers are always happy with the level of service they receive from your company.

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What is SMS? Why use it for customer service?

SMS—commonly referred to as text messaging—is a simple, effective marketing tool that helps businesses communicate with consumers. It’s the text messaging service used on many mobile phones, and it's based on standardized communication protocols.

SMS is ideal for sending short, text-only messages. If you need to send images, audio or video, MMS might be a better choice. There are many different types of SMS numbers—read our SMS number type blog post to find out which number type is the best choice for your use case.

It’s common knowledge that SMS messaging is a powerful customer service tool, and that when used correctly, SMS can dramatically improve customer satisfaction levels. According to G2, 66% of consumers would like to receive customer service notifications via text, but only 23% of businesses use SMS messaging. G2 polled customers to see what type of customer-service-related communications they’d like to receive SMS. Of the customers polled, 75% wanted to receive delivery and shipping tracking updates, 65% wanted order status and confirmations, and 46% wanted scheduling reminders.

Whether you already use SMS to communicate with your customers, or are building your SMS strategy from the ground up, here are 7 best practices to keep in mind when using SMS for customer service.

1. Make it easy for customers to opt in

The first step in providing excellent customer service via SMS is to make it easy for customers to opt in to receiving messages from your business. Until a customer gives written consent, your business cannot contact that individual via text. You can obtain this consent by prominently displaying a keyword and short code (e.g. text “START” to 2324) on your customer-facing materials, such as your website, social media posts and emails. Customers can then text the keyword to the short code to opt in to receiving SMS messages from your business.

The first text you send to each customer should be an opt-in message (also known as a call-to-action message) that reminds consumers that they have consented to receive communications from your organization. That first message should make the following clear:

  • Your organization’s name and purpose
  • How often consumers will receive texts
  • Message and data rate notices
  • Terms and conditions
  • Opt-out instructions

Once customers have opted in, you’ve set the stage for successful customer service communications. The customer knows why you’re contacting them, and what type of communications to expect in the future.

2. Personalize your messages

Once you have customers opt in to receiving SMS messages from your business, it’s important to personalize the messages they receive. This means addressing them by name and using language that is friendly, relevant and relatable. Additionally, you should customize the content of your messages to fit the needs of each individual customer—personalized touchpoints (e.g. sharing a how-to video on the day a product arrives or offering an invite-only beta on a relevant product) make the customer feel valued.

McKinsey found that 72% of customers expect brands to recognize them as individuals and know their interests, and 66% added that personalized messaging keeps them invested in the brand. By taking the time to personalize your SMS customer service, you can build stronger relationships with your customers, improve customer satisfaction and reduce churn.

3. Send timely and relevant messages

Another important best practice for customer service via SMS is to ensure that all messages are timely and relevant. This means sending messages that are related to the customer’s current situation and sending them at a time when they are likely to be able to read and/or respond.

For example, you can check in with a customer a few hours after they worked with tech support to ensure their issue has been resolved or send a client a reminder the morning before their appointment.

According to the TCPA, businesses cannot text customers before 8:00AM or after 9:00PM local time. In addition to making sure you text customers at a time when they’re likely to see the message, it’s imperative that your communications are timed so that customers receive messages within the TCPA-specified time range, otherwise you risk accumulating complaints and fines.

4. Keep your messages short and sweet

When crafting customer service SMS messages, it’s important to keep them short and sweet. SMS messages are limited to 160 characters—if you attempt to send a longer message, it will be concatenated (split) into multiple messages, which can increase your spend.

People are more likely to read and act on shorter messages than they are on longer ones. This means you should get straight to the point and avoid using unnecessary words or technical jargon. Though texting can be informal, if you’re communicating on behalf of a business, you should use proper grammar and punctuation so that your messages are easy to read and understand.

5. Balance automated systems with human interaction

Depending on your use case, your business may use an automated system, real people, or a mix of both to reply to customers.

Using an automated response system (like auto-responders or auto-reply) allows your business to quickly respond to common questions or concerns without requiring your team to type out a new message each time. These systems can reduce response time and allow your team to focus on other customer-service related tasks. In addition, automated response systems can help you track customer interactions and ensure that each customer receives the same level of service.

However, although automated systems can be great for providing quick, cost-effective customer service, it's important not to lose sight of the human experience. In many instances, 2-way SMS messaging or conversational SMS can offer personalized interactions that simply can’t be replicated.

6. Allow customers to opt out

It’s important to give customers the option to opt out of receiving SMS messages from your business at any time. This can be done by including an “opt-out” keyword in all of your messages. One way to do this is to set up “STOP” response capabilities. Customers can then reply with the opt-out keyword if they no longer wish to receive SMS messages from your business. It’s important to send opt-out instructions often to remain in compliance with regulations.

7. Gather feedback

In today's fast-paced world, SMS is an efficient and effective way to gather feedback from customers and, over time, improve customer experience. By sending a quick text message after a purchase or interaction, businesses can get real-time feedback that can helps identify areas to improve.

SMS customer feedback can be used to track satisfaction over time, which allows your business to see whether or not messaging efforts are paying off. And because it's so convenient, customers are more likely to respond to an SMS survey than they are to a traditional email or phone customer satisfaction survey. As a result, businesses that use SMS customer feedback can gain valuable insights into the customer experience and can make the necessary changes to improve.

SMS is an excellent tool for customer service. However, strict regulations dictate how and when businesses use SMS, and there are significant penalties for getting it wrong. In addition to damaging your reputation, violating these regulations can result in hefty fines. Check out our SMS compliance guide and checklist to make sure your business is following the rules (bonus—you’ll get tips on how to write compliant text messages!).

Ultimately, SMS is an amazing tool for communicating with customers, no matter what message you need to send or what you need to help customers with. Learn more about SMS integration with the Telnyx SMS API, or get in touch with our team if you have questions.

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