7 Things You Must Know Before You Text Your Customers

Texting has become a more and more popular mode of communicating with business customers and potential customers. Texts are fast, easy, convenient, and your customers may even initiate the conversation. But there are many traps for the unwary lurking in the texting relationship. Here are seven things to consider before the next time you text with your customers.

You may have to have permission. The Federal Communications Commission has rules prohibiting unsolicited commercial text messages by auto-dialer. That’s quite a lot of jargon, so in translation: you cannot send text messages automatically to many people (let’s call those “mass texts”) that each customer did not give you permission to send. If you are trying to convince the people you are texting to purchase something (e.g., notifying them of a sale), that permission has to be in writing. If you are not trying to convince them to purchase something (e.g., notifying them that you have shipped their order), that permission may be either oral or in writing. The exception is emergency situations, when you may send mass texts without permission.

Emails sent to cell phones as texts are subject to CAN-SPAM. The Federal Trade Commission has rules governing commercial email messages that are sent to cell phones as text messages. You may not have even known that this was possible, but it is, and there are rules about how to do it right. You have probably already heard of the CAN-SPAM regulations. They say that if you send an email that is commercial (as opposed to informational or transactional), you must:

  • Not use false or misleading information about who sent the email.
  • Use subject lines that accurately reflect the content of the email.
  • Identify the message as an ad.
  • Provide a valid physical postal address.
  • Provide information about how to opt out of receiving future emails from you.
  • Honor opt-out requests within 10 business days.
  • Monitor what others are doing on your behalf—you are responsible for your vendors.

Emails sent as text messages must comply with both the FTC’s rules about content and the FCC’s rules about permission. Importantly, CAN-SPAM applies no matter how many email messages you send. Even a single email you send directly to an existing customer as a text message would be subject to the CAN-SPAM rule.

You have to include certain information. For plain old mass texts of the non-email variety, you should provide information about who is sending mass text messages and about how to stop receiving them. For emails sent as texts, all of the elements of CAN-SPAM compliance have to be included.

Direct texting is less complicated, legally speaking. If you are sending a text to a specific customer with information about something you are doing for the customer, the regulations discussed above do not apply, at least for now. Texting is a communication tool, and you can generally use it as a communication tool. This is true whether your customers are other businesses or individual consumers. That said, you may want to let your customers make the first move when it comes to texting; not everyone appreciates this mode of communication.

Texts can be saved forever. As with all written communication, consider that texts can be saved forever. Be conscious about what you put in writing.

Consider your timing. There are the obvious courtesies of not sending texts to your customers outside business hours unless they have initiated the conversation. Beyond that, make sure you do not send text messages at a time when you know your customers might be doing something where texting could be dangerous, such as driving. Bad timing could cause a tragedy.

Charges to your customers. Although cellular plans with unlimited texting have become ubiquitous, not everyone has this feature. Make sure you aren’t sending so many texts that you could cause a problem for customers who still use older plans. You don’t want to annoy or alienate them.

Updated to add Bonus #8: Beware misdirection. As with email, be very careful not to send a message to the wrong person.

What do you think? Do you text with customers? Has it been a good experience?

Updating Your Outdated Terms of Use

You just looked at your business website’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy (I’ll use the word Terms to refer to both of them together) for the first time in ages and realized that they have been in place since the (first?) Clinton Administration. It’s time for an update. What do you need to consider?

Don’t copy and paste. Terms should be tailored to your website. Your site will need different terms depending on whether you accept posts from users, how you want users to be able to use the site, what kinds of information you collect from users, whether you wish to allow sharing, and more. If you merely find a website similar to your own and copy its Terms, you risk creating Terms that you do not wish to bind your users, let alone your business.

Follow any requirements for your industry. If you are in an industry that is subject to regulations, you should make sure that your site’s Terms allow you to follow those regulations. For example, some industries are required to keep certain records about customer interactions for a certain amount of time. Make sure that your Terms disclose that you are keeping those records, and for how long.

The FTC regulates privacy policies. The Federal Trade Commission has been very aggressive about enforcement of privacy policies for the past few years, and it updates its regulations fairly regularly. Make sure your attorney looks at the latest regulations in drafting your Privacy Policy.

State laws. If your website is aimed at residents of more than one state, make sure you are complying with the laws of every state you are doing business in. California has generally been the most aggressive state in terms of legal regulation of website Terms.

Consider your timing. Pinterest has recently become a very popular site. If you want to, for example, update your Terms to allow you to share your users’ content via Pinterest, you will have to choose your timing carefully. If your current Terms do not grant the license needed for such sharing, you will need to make sure that your users are bound by your updated Terms before you add a “Pin It!” button or other means of sharing to your site. Otherwise, you may be risking a law suit for facilitating the violation of your users’ copyrights.

Inform your users of the update—email them if you can. It has become more and more common for websites to provide some notice before changes to their Terms go into effect. One might even say it is swiftly becoming a standard practice in the industry, especially for social sites. Facebook has a Site Governance Page where users can learn about and weigh in on changes before they are made. Pinterest gave its users more than two weeks’ notice, both by email and by notice on the Pinterest website, that it was going to make changes to its Terms of Service (and still makes the old terms available on the site in case users want to know how they have changed). Google gave users more than a month to review the changes it made to the Terms for its many services, informing them via pop-up when they visited a Google site as well as via email. If at all possible, you should take similar steps to inform your users of your changes. You don’t want your business to be left behind, if for no other reason than your users will expect this level of service.

Updating your Terms requires some consideration, but can be a painless process with the proper planning.