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Why agents should not overlook SMS marketing

February 18, 2013

(Published in TTG 28.11.12)

There’s no doubt we live in the era of the smartphone, and travel companies have long been getting creative when interacting with clients on their mobiles, designing apps to grow loyalty or using social media to spread their marketing messages.

Yet agents and operators should not yet discount texting, and follow other industries’ leads to see how they are upping their game to better engage with customers.

Play by the rules

“SMS works, and 99% are opened within five minutes. With apps, you have to opt-in if you want to receive messages from the company,” says Robin Eyre, marketing manager at SMS specialist Collstream. However, before embarking on creative SMS campaigns, there are a few rules to adhere to.

Henry Cazalet, director of Text Marketer, whose customers include Dawling Travel, Sackville Travel and Liberty Travel, says whatever you’re doing at the start, keep it simple. “In 160 characters, you have to make it clear who you are, what your message is, and give clear instructions of what to do next,” he says. “And always make sure you include an opt-out in the text message.” Another essential is to ensure your website is mobile friendly, if any texts contain links to your company’s website.

Get creative

Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can then experiment. Eyre cites one customer, Manchester City FC, that used SMS to great effect. Recording the voice of manager Roberto Mancini, fans would later leave the stadium, only to be called by the manager himself – reminding them to buy tickets for the next game.

Travel could do a lot worse than to adopt this kind of method, Eyre suggests. Holidaymakers recently back from their two weeks in the sun, courtesy of Thomas Cook, could get a call from Jamie or Louise Redknapp – who featured recently in the operator’s campaigns.  The audio would suggest booking their next holiday, using Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) – leading that person to say “yes” to receiving an email with the latest offers.

Eyre believes the model would work well for adventure operators, using the likes of Bear Grylls or Charley Boorman. If not selling, the voice could simply encourage the customer to take part in a post-purchase customer satisfaction survey. “The celebrity voice introduction is attractive,” Eyre adds.

The right message

Another area in which SMS technology is evolving concerns upselling and itineraries. Hotels, for example, can send a confirmation of purchase, then upsell before or during the stay, sending a text such as: “Don’t forget you can book a river cruise with us…”  Cross-selling is another opportunity.

Meanwhile, discounts codes are growing in popularity (see box), with 68% of people agreeing in a Text Marketer survey that they would like to receive these from a company. With itineraries, while it’s difficult to text an entire schedule, travel firms should be sending the basics (such as date, time and airport). All of this is good customer service, says Eyre. To go one step further, travel alerts warning of traffic sent by a travel agent would also work well, as well as emergency numbers for the country the customer is travelling to.

Incoming texts

However, it’s not all about targeting existing customers, and there is a range of uses for encouraging potential customers to send their own text. Tui has a dedicated 24/7 call centre in Coventry that fields texts sent in globally. The service is more popular with its overseas customers, and lets them ask questions via SMS, such as “What excursions can I do in Cuba?”

The insurance sector, meanwhile, has harnessed MMS technology, with policy olders able to instantly send a photo of their damaged car, after an accident. The same principle, Eyre says, could be applied to tourists – perhaps unhappy with the quality of their hotel, or damaged luggage, and able to let their agent know.

And incoming services can also help grow your database, says Cazalet. “In newspapers, some of the back page travel adverts can be uninspiring, so as a response mechanic you can simply ask readers to text the word ‘travel’ or ‘ski’ followed by their email, and they’ll be sent more information. A reply text would state: ‘Thanks for your text, please check your inbox’.”

Full reporting is also essential – to track the success of campaigns that use unique IDs, or to identify which phone numbers are no longer in use, out of range, or the phone switched off. Full reporting is also needed if an IVR payment scheme is in place, to determine how much revenue comes from a campaign. Whatever marketing approach your company takes, or method you use for growing your database, you might be surprised to find it could pay to put texting into your technology mix.

Is it worth it?

Cazelet says testing the waters is cheap – citing 500 text credits from £18.50. At a bigger level, Eyre highlights a Championship football club client, which sent a campaign of 14,573 messages at a cost of £473.19. This campaign generated 828 sales, which at an average ticket price of £25 generated revenue of £20,000. The take-up rate was 5.7%.

Apart from price, there are other factors to consider. Make sure the tool is web-based, as speed can be of the essence. Cazalet says travel companies could even act as a news service, and claims it is possible to react in 10 minutes using Text Marketer, should travel restrictions suddenly be lifted in a destination

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