Sending text messages over your mobile phone is no longer the minority activity, it seems everyone is jmpng on the bndwgn.
Barely a year ago, sending text messages by mobile phone was, for most people, a novelty.
The main customers were reputedly children, students, and people in night clubs who couldn’t talk because the music was too loud.
But suddenly it is the traffic which is booming. In June 1999, just under 600,000 text messages were sent in the UK. Just a year later, there were 500,000,000 sent.
If for no other reason, this is big business because the mobile networks are charging their customers up to 12p a message.
In Scandanavia and Finland – trailblazers for so much of the mobile phone industry – simple transactions such as buying cans of drink or car washes can be paid for by text message, also known as SMS (Short Message Service).
And now in the UK, a variety of businesses are spotting the potential of communicating directly with existing or future customers.
Oxfordshire-based estate agent Chancellor’s now sends a text message to house buyers, alerting them when a new property has come on the market. It will also send landlords a message when rent has been paid into their account, and keep vendors up-to-date with how their conveyancing is going.
Reed recruitment agency sends messages to its clients to see if they are interested in new vacancies.
Next week a CD store is to start sending messages to registered customers, telling them of new releases. Customers will then be able to ring the store and hear clips of the album played to them, then place an order over the phone if they like what they hear.
The potential for companies to communicate with their own staff is being explored by one major pharmaceutical firm. It has integrated a text message system with its e-mail system so if needed, its workers can be reached wherever they are.
The growth in SMS has occurred without the weight of advertising and hype which accompanied the launch of WAP.
This popularity, says Joanne Derby of new media marketing company Red Message, which devises methods for companies to communicate via SMS, is down to its simplicity.
In a world where the technological possibilities seem to be expanding every day, SMS is something people understand. You type a message; you receive a message.
Faced with the wealth of technology, the important thing for business was realising what was actually going to work, she says. “SMS works. There’s so much that can be done.”
“The whole thing about mobile information is that you don’t need to surf as you’re walking down the street. A simple message is enough.”
Richard Dineen, an analyst with telecommunciations consultants Ovum, agrees. “Some things work, and some things don’t,” he says. But he warns that careless targeting of customers by businesses could be counterproductive.
“If it’s a matter of customers signing up for people to receive information, then they will be happy to receive content. But if they hadn’t signed up, it could be quite intrusive because the mobile phone has become a very personal item,” he says.
In other words, spam is a no-no.
“It’s up to businesses to know their customers.” But whatever the future of business-use of SMS, it’s clear that the mobile networks will be getting to know their customers very well indeed over the next few years.