SMEs need to rethink the SMS: Here’s why

By Greg Chen

CEO of Mobiz, Greg Chen discusses how SMEs can still benefit from SMS when utilised properly.  

When it comes to communicating with their customers (something which is vital to the growth of any business), SMEs have a wider array of options available than ever before. More traditional formats such as email compete with seemingly innumerable instant messaging, social media, and chatbot offerings. 

With so many available options, SME owners with limited resources can find themselves feeling overwhelmed and even paralysed, unsure which channels to pursue. 

While each of those channels has advantages and potential value, it’s worth remembering that one of the most effective has been around since 1992. 

SMS offers almost unparallelled reach, particularly in the South African context where mobile reigns supreme. But, if SMEs are to make the most of it, they need to rethink their approach. 

The power of SMS

Before digging into what SMEs can do when it comes to revamping their approach to SMS, it’s worth digging into what makes it such an important channel. 

First off, South Africa has long been (and remains) a mobile-first country. As of 2019, there are an estimated 90-million mobile connections, with smartphone penetration at over 80%.

And while tens of millions of South Africans now have smartphones, the truth is that many of them do not use these devices to their full capability. 

High data costs paired with the tough economic choices people have to make (data or food) means that most smartphones are effectively offline most of the time. 

That means any communication channel that requires customers to be online risks reaching them at the wrong time, or not at all. 

In that context, SMS just makes sense. 

SMS doesn’t require the customer to be online and, importantly, doesn’t cost them anything to receive. 

Moreover, it’s incredibly effective. Research shows that 98% of all SMSes are opened and that, on average, it takes someone 90 seconds to respond.


A fresh approach 

But in order for SMEs to use SMS effectively, they can’t use the same approach companies did when SMS first went mainstream. 

Trying to cram as much information as possible into 160 characters is a recipe for disaster. At best you’ll fail to provide the kind of value that people have come to expect from customer communication. At worst, you’ll actively turn them off your business. 

SMEs should instead learn from the best communicators in the enterprise space when it comes to SMS. 

Rather than viewing the SMS as the medium for delivering their message, they should see it as the hook for something more personalised and visually appealing. 

Using Smart SMS technology, SMEs can direct customers to personalised web pages, with specials, offers, and discounts that are relevant to them. Importantly, they can do so at zero data cost to the consumer. 

In effect, the SMS plays the same role as an email subject line would, with the personalised web page acting as a souped-up version of the email body. Unlike email, however, the text won’t get drowned out in someone’s inbox. 

Start building databases now 

It’s clear, therefore, that SMS offers incredible potential when it comes to allowing SMEs to reach their customers. 

In order to make the most of those opportunities, however, it’s vital that SMEs start gathering customer data as soon as possible. 

That means providing incentives for customers to sign up to a database. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever for SMEs to set up loyalty programmes and newsletters, ensuring that they are able to build up the kind of data that allows for personalised communication and be top-of-mind with their loyal customers. 

Combine that data with relevant, visually appealing, personalised communication and your typical SME will find out what South African enterprise players have known for some time now: when it comes to customer communication, SMS is pretty tough to beat. 


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