When I purchased my car more than 10 years ago, it involved several visits and phone calls with the dealer before all my questions were answered. Today, dealerships and other industries are speeding up communications with mobile-focused tools, including SMS messaging. In 2014, there were 5.2 billion mobile phone users worldwide, representing 73 percent of the global population, according to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers Mary Meeker. And while most people ignore emails, more than 90 percent of people read a text message within the first three minutes of receiving it, reports research firm MobileSquared.
Given that people keep their phones by their side nearly all the time, it's no surprise that businesses are using short message service (SMS) to communicate with their customers. For auto dealerships, SMS messaging is a way to quickly engage potential car buyers.
"Mobile is ubiquitous and more and more shoppers are turning to text messaging for their customer service needs," maintains Seth Berkowitz, president of car reviews site Edmunds.com.
Earlier this month, Edmunds.com launched an SMS feature for its app that allows dealers to communicate via text with customers who opt into the service. The feature is powered by the mobile startup CarCode, which Edmunds.com acquired last year. CarCode assigns a local phone number to a dealership and customers can text the dealership through the app or a button on Edmunds.com. About 4,000 dealerships have signed up for the texting feature.
Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable communicating with dealerships via text, according to Morpace Omnibus, a market research and consulting firm. Last year, in a survey of about 800 people, nearly half of the respondents said they were very interested or somewhat interested in corresponding with the dealership via text message after a vehicle purchase. This was up from 37 percent in 2011.
However, the last thing consumers want is to receive spam text messages, making it crucial that companies tread carefully when embracing SMS messaging. "Especially with something as personal as a mobile phone, you want customers to feel comfortable communicating with you," Berkowitz says. Companies should only contact customers who have opted in to receiving text messages; use SMS messages sparingly and allow customers to indicate when they would like to receive a message as well as opt out.