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To Text, or Not to Text, That is the Question

By Mike Esposito

Did you know that texting has been around for 25 years? However, it didn’t become really popular until the early 2000s. According to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), more than 1.9 trillion text messages are sent in the United States every year.

If your dealership isn’t texting your customers, your messages may not be getting to them at all. Around 98 percent of text messages are opened, compared to just 20 percent of emails.

Texting is used in dealerships for two purposes: personal communications and marketing. If you have a texting platform, it’s important to know the best practices for each method before you begin using it.

Most people already know that marketing texts have to be in compliance with Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) regulations, which require businesses to get prior written consent from customers before texting them. Specifically, the TCPA prohibits text messages sent to a mobile phone from an auto-dialer.

Calls and texts that are manually dialed are exempt from this rule, which means your employees are allowed to send personal communication texts to your customers.

But just because you can legally send a text, does that mean you should?

Texting is highly personal. Most people text with friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances. Have you ever received a text from a stranger who introduces his or her self, and wants to connect? It may be considered intrusive.

However, if a customer reaches out to you first, or is physically at your dealership, that’s a different story.

For example, when a customer arrives in your service lane, have your service advisor ask them if it’s okay to text them when their car is ready. If the customer says yes, then it’s OK to send a personal message via text, but it’s not OK to send a marketing message via text. If you recall, to market via text requires written consent.

Logically, the very next question should be “Would you be interested in receiving special offers and coupons via text?” If the customer says yes, then you’re allowed to send them a welcome text that’s CAN-SPAM compliant. If the customer chooses to opt-in at that point, you’re allowed to market to them via text.

Building a texting opt-in list adds a powerful weapon to your marketing arsenal, especially for service. More than 80 percent of adults send text messages on a regular basis, so it’s a great way to convey important information and stay top of mind.

However, building your text list takes time because it’s a largely organic process. Also, you want to be really careful with your list so you don’t start driving your customers to opt-out.

When it comes to SMS marketing, there are three best practices that every dealership should follow:

Send relevant messages

Imagine that you just had an oil change done at your local dealership. A week later, you receive a text message with a coupon for 10 percent off an oil change. That message isn’t relevant to you at all! You’d be annoyed, wouldn’t you?

Similarly, if you just purchased a vehicle from a dealership a year ago and you receive a message for a Labor Day blowout sale, you may be tempted to opt out.

Segmenting your database and sending relevant, targeted messages is important to do with every marketing channel; however, I think it’s most important with texting, because it’s such a personal and instant connection.

Limit marketing messages to two or three a month

Many SMS marketing companies may tell you it’s okay to send a text message every week, but I’m not so sure. I think when it comes to text messaging, less is more. Besides, if your messages are relevant, you shouldn’t need to send out too many of them.

Marketing doesn’t always have to mean selling

Marketing is about relationship building. No relationship can survive when one partner is only interested in what the other can do for them. When it comes to customer loyalty, you have to give in order to get.

It’s OK to send out coupons and offers, but be sure to also send campaigns that give information and ask for nothing. Examples may include:

Most of these campaigns can be automated based on a certain trigger in your DMS. For example, appointment reminders can be sent out three days before an appointment.

Over time, you’ll see which text campaigns get the most clicks and responses, so you can fine tune your marketing. Is your dealership using SMS marketing to connect with customers? If so, what are the campaigns that you have found to be most effective?

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