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Business SMS opt-ins: What they are and when you need to use them

Nina Godlewski
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Texting your customers is a unique opportunity to help run your business more smoothly. But before you can text them you must conduct opt-ins for every customer. There’s confidence that can come from knowing your customers want to text with your business and have consented to hearing from you. Not only are opt-ins necessary, getting the opt-in will help protect your business.

We know opt-ins can be a bit confusing and complex for a few reasons. So we’re going to cover everything there is for you to know about them and business texting.

What are opt-ins and why are opt-ins important?

Chances are you’ve been on the receiving end of an SMS opt-in before. Business texting is wildly popular, and after all, 90 percent of texts are read within three minutes of being received. It’s no wonder businesses are turning to texting over email.

Ninety percent of texts are read within three minutes of being received.

If you haven’t received an opt-in via SMS, you’ve probably consented to one via email. These messages are how businesses ask for permission to contact their customers and explain why they’ll be texting their customers.

Your opt-in message might explain how you’ll be using your customers contact information for marketing, support, or logistics. If you use a messaging service like Textline, you’re texting existing customers, who have already given their number willingly. This can serve as permission from your customer but if you want some extra confirmation you can utilize a formal opt-in process. Formally asking for an opt-in won’t create friction in the business text messaging process either. More than 99 of Textline HIPAA customers that get a response to their opt-in message get a positive opt-in.

Part of the reason opt-ins are so important is that they can help establish a relationship of trust with your customers. You can know they trust you to respect their time and privacy. You can further demonstrate this by not spamming them, and not contacting them until you have their consent. Opt-ins are important to the success of your business, 46 percent of customers say they would opt in for texts from e-commerce or retail businesses.

What’s the difference between single opt-ins vs. double opt-ins?

The easiest way to think of opt-ins is to think about signing up for text messages from a company or business. You go online and you submit your phone number somewhere, or maybe you fill out an in-person lead form. If that’s the only thing you need to do to prompt messaging then that would be considered a single opt-in.

If there’s a second step though, like you get a text asking to verify your phone number or to verify that you want to text or be texted by a company, that would be considered a double opt-in. That’s because you’re confirming your number twice and indicating that you’re open to two-way texting communication.

When you need to get opt-in, or double opt-in

You should get a single opt-in for any scenario in which you’re texting a customer or lead. Businesses are required to get permission for any text messaging, including two-way conversations.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act sets the rules for what kinds of texts can be sent in the United States between businesses and customers. The rules stipulate that your business must have acquired a customer’s contact information on your own. Buying lists of customers to text is prohibited. A failure to get opt-in before texting can result in a fine of at least $500, you can read all about the punishment for failure to get op-ins here. Not to mention it results in a lack of trust around your business and could potentially damage customer relationships.

Additionally, opt-in requests can not be baked into opt-ins for other channels. Meaning if you’re asking a customer whether you can contact them by email and by SMS, you need to have them separately agree to each one of those channels. You need to explicitly ask for permission to text and be clear about how their phone number will be used.

For more secure situations, or if your business deals with sensitive information, double opt-ins would be appropriate. You should also make it clear to your customers that they can opt-out at any time, and explain how they can go about doing so if they wish. There are some standard words that are universally accepted to trigger an opt-out for you to abide by. Those words include: unsubscribe, stop, no, end, and opt-out. If you use Textline, these trigger words would be managed for you. You can find more details on opt-out and texting regulation from the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.

How to get opt-ins via business texting

There are a few common ways you might go about getting a single opt-in from a potential or current customer. We’ll cover them below and explain who you might conduct each one.

Lead or contact form

Your lead form, or a form you use to have your potential customers request more info, could function as a single-opt in. If a customer fills out a form that stipulates you would use their phone number to text them, they’re volunteering their phone number for your use. Texting can convert new leads for your business, so it’s worth making sure you've got an opt-in from customers to use it.

The best way to cover yourself would be to have some details or fine print noting how their phone number will be used for your business. Your customers would then check a box, or sign, to indicate that they agree to that use. You’d want to do this because there might be some confusion around why signing up for a call means their number can be used in other ways as well. Adding an explanation up front could help prevent any confusion or distrust.

Example of a contact form noting how contact info will be used for their business
This example from Remote Year, shows the opt-in button for customers to receive emails.

The first time you actually text the customer and ask whether it’s okay for your business to continue texting them is what turns this into a double opt-in. With Textline, this double opt-in is called Pro consent. If they consent via text, then you’ll have two confirmations that they agree to having texts from your business.

Example of receiving consent via text, a double opt-in
An example of a double opt-in.

Lead or customer texting you directly

You can get a single opt-in from a customer if they choose to text your business first. When the customer initiates the conversation, they're deciding to give you their phone number. Then the first time you initiate a text and ask if it’s okay to text them serves as your double opt-in. This is particularly relevant for anyone who has to abide by HIPAA regulations. You’ll still want to get that double opt-in for the extra security and store that consent somewhere as well.

Example of getting a single opt-in from a customer when they choose to text your business first
An example of a HIPAA compliant, double opt-in.

You can display your business texting number in a few different ways. One is by creating a widget on your website that can serve to show your business number in an eye-catching pop-up.

A verbal confirmation

Another way to get an opt-in is through a simple phone call or an in-person conversation. If you’re on a sales call you might ask a customer for permission to text them, or ask them to text you. This would serve as a verbal confirmation that they’re willing to be texted by your business. Be sure that if you get a verbal opt-in, you record it in some way for liability reasons. If you opt for an audio recording, follow state laws about recording customers.

If you’re looking for a more concrete opt-in you could text the customer during that call to make sure you have the number correct, or you might text them the opt-in immediately following the call. You can then send them an initial text asking for an official written opt-in. You might also send an opt-in during that call to get that confirmation that they received the text.

First-time texting a customer

One of the most common scenarios Textline customers find themselves in is having customer phone numbers and adding texting to their workflow. They then need to get consent to text, because, like we mentioned an opt-in to receive calls isn't a blanket opt-in to receive texts too. Many businesses have their customer’s phone numbers for making calls, but if you add texting you need consent for that as well. You might decide to simply text a customer and ask for permission to text them. This would be a single opt-in in any instance in which you got a customer's phone number and are just introducing texting.

If you decide to contact your customers this way, you should be sure to introduce yourself (one of the steps to writing the perfect business text) and ask if it’s okay to text. This is a case when you would want to send a clearly worded message that would explicitly say that you’re asking for permission to text. You could also link to terms and conditions of texting with your business if you feel the need to explain further.

A good example of this would be a company that had contacted its customers by phone or email before and is now adding texting.

Example of asking for text consent in an initial message
An example of having a customers phone number, but just introducing texting.

SMS opt-ins: The bottom line

When it really comes down to it, it’s best for your business to get opt-ins from your leads and customers. Not only will it create a higher sense of trust between you and the customer, it will help keep their information secure.

They’ll know that you’re only texting them because they agreed to it, and you’ll know you have their trust. Deciding whether to go for the single or the double opt-in might be a little more difficult but a good guide is, the more sensitive, the more opt-ins.

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