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Winning the race to connect with customers

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For small and growing companies, one of the big dangers is being distracted from this race by the plethora of business tools and technologies that promise to “transform” the way a firm operates or engages with its customers. 

Along with distraction, another key danger is that a business commits itself to a communications strategy based on a technology that is not well suited to its needs, or to the behaviours of its customers. While it may seem innovative to invest time, energy and money in pursuing customers through, for example, WhatsApp, how sure can you be that the messaging platform has the reliability, the reach and the functionality to be an effective communications tool?

New instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, WeChat and Skype are becoming as popular in the world of work as they are in the consumer market, and for good reason. They work brilliantly as internal communications networks, enabling employees to share ideas and information instantly. Where these services fall short, however, is communicating outside the bounds of the organisation – in other words, to the public. 

This is where the venerable, but tried-and-tested, technology of SMS messaging is so well suited for growing businesses, since it is reliable, quick, direct and well-understood by people with a mobile phone. 

One example of a business using text messages to provide a fantastic experience to the public is the Castle Triathlon Series, which runs gruelling triathlons in five locations across the UK, Ireland and France. The company is by no means a typical high street business, but its communication challenges show how versatile SMS messaging can be.

The Castle Triathlon Series sees an average of 9,000 competitors as well as their supporters attending its sporting events, which are held at rural stately homes or chateaux. Not only does every competitor need to be kept fully updated with critical information about the event, including directions, weather updates and last-minute changes to schedules, they also need the ability to register, reserve camping or parking places and agree to terms and conditions.

The event organisers find that SMS messaging is the best way to keep athletes informed as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible. When competitors register for the event they are asked to provide mobile phone details so that Castle Triathlon Series can contact them in the run-up to the competition. Two weeks before the event attendees receive a text message reminding them of key location and timing information. This SMS provides anticipated weather conditions and water temperature, enabling competitors to come prepared with the right kit. It also informs them of their race numbers, enabling fast-track registration upon arrival.

There are no bells and whistles with Castle Triathlon Series’ messaging platform; instead, the virtue of the system is in its very simplicity. The adaptability of text messaging has also literally saved the organisers from disaster: one of the events was held far out in the country, beyond the capabilities of satnav systems. When the organisers realised that many participants were having difficulties finding the venue, they were able to despatch an SMS to give them exact directions for the final leg of the route. This highlights another key advantage of SMS messaging: the fact that it does not have to rely on a data network to operate.

“We’ve found that using SMS prior to the event makes the whole experience easier and more enjoyable for everybody,” says Patricia Reilly, Registration Manager of the Castle Triathlon Series. “The messages are well-received by our athletes, who find the information helpful and relevant, and who appreciate the non-intrusive nature of the communication. It acts as gentle reminder that they need to take certain actions and arrangements in preparing for our events.”

A final text message is sent to thank everyone for taking part, and directing participants to the website for further post-event news and announcements.

Granted, the Castle Triathlon Series is a fairly unique type of business with very specific communication needs; however there are lessons here for any business. Correctly done, SMS messaging can foster fantastic relationships with your audience. The key is to keep communications informative, relevant and sparing. Texts are quite an intimate form of communication, so it’s vital to get the tone correct: personal without being intrusive. If businesses can master the art of SMS messaging, they have every chance nosing ahead in the endless race with their competitors.

Dr Pieter Streicher is MD at BulkSMS.com.

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