Integrating SMS into your Workflows

man writing on white boardIntegrating SMS into your Workflows

Integrating text messaging into your business workflows allows you to increase engagement and provide a responsive and personal service to customers.

SMS remains a very effective channel for reaching customers. Gartner reports that SMS still retains a 98% open and 45% response rate. Mobilesquared data shows that 95% of SMS messages are read within 3 minutes, with the average response time being just 90 seconds. Contrast this with email, which Mailchimp says has an average open rate of 21%. With numbers like these there’s a compelling case for including SMS in your workflows and business processes.

What can SMS Workflows support?

There’s scope for including SMS in your marketing and operational functions. Companies use it to support things as diverse as lead generation, safeguarding, appointment reminders and even real-time two-way support conversations to help nurture their relationships with customers.

The benefits of doing so include better response times, better engagement, more personal communications and supporting better conversion rates.

System-to-system SMS (A2P SMS) is also becoming more common, with numerous Internet of Things platforms supporting critical and timely automation into monitored systems.

The SMS Works toolbox

Where can I build SMS into my workflows?

The best way to see where SMS can fit into your business processes is to build a series of Customer Journey Maps, to ensure that you’re focussing on providing the right experiences to meet all of your customers’ needs.

This is a tried and tested method and can be quite fun – get people into a room with post-it notes to work things through using the following method:

  1. List each of your customer’s touch-points with your business
  2. Define their desired outcomes at each touch-point (i.e. what they’re trying to get done)
  3. List the current gaps in their experience at each touch-point
  4. Define the opportunities you have to optimise the experience at each step

You should emerge with a clear idea of what you’re trying to do, and a handy reference to return to as you build out the workflow. Once you have visualised your workflows you can consider how to fill the gaps. To do that you’ll need to define the following:

  1. Understand what data you will need at each step in the process
  2. Define what a successful outcome looks like and the data indicators you will use to signal that outcome
  3. Map your customer journey onto your current system capabilities, to understand where work needs to happen and expose the technical gaps
  4. Look for the right providers to fill the gaps you have

Options for including SMS in your workflows

SMS may be the right way to plug gaps in your outbound communications to customers or for their communication back to you, or both. Let’s break down the ways in which SMS can be integrated into your processes, with a brief summary of the benefits, so that you can choose the right methods for you in each case:

Sending text messages

SMS APIs These allow SMS capabilities to be built directly into your systems. Most providers offer code libraries or copy & paste snippets to suit the programming languages your team already uses, so that logic can be baked right into your existing workflows. An SMS one time password service is a typical use case.  
Bulk SMS Platforms These provide web interfaces where you can maintain lists of contacts, schedule delivery of campaigns, and monitor delivery. This can help you run your campaigns at scale, and offer services that save you time building your own integrations, with intuitive user interfaces for managing conversations.  
Email 2 SMS By sending a simple email in a predetermined format your messages can be transformed into SMS and delivered directly to customers’ handsets. This allows you to do the work where it’s already taking place and requires no additional technical knowledge for team members.  
SMS Auto Responders These are entirely automated, and allow you to send messages automatically in reply to incoming SMS messages.  

Receiving text messages

Virtual Reply Numbers Virtual mobile numbers, dedicated to you, allow people to send SMS messages to them without the need for you to have a corresponding handset or SIM card. Incoming messages are forwarded to you automatically as soon as they arrive, along with any metadata that you’ve configured on the reply numbers, so that people know where each communication fits into your process.
SMS Short Codes 5-digit short codes can be used to encourage people to send simple SMS messages to. They allow you to specify a keyword, and any incoming messages using that word will be instantly forwarded to you. These are useful for supporting your campaigns and making it people to start their engagement with you.
Webhooks A URL on your system that allows other systems to send data to you, triggered by actions taking place elsewhere. Webhooks that receive notifications when an SMS is received can be very powerful, as they can contain not just the original message and the sender, but supporting information you may want to use to classify your numbers, along with a record of the last communication sent to a customer.
SMS to Email Most SMS platforms can forward incoming SMS to your nominated email address, so that they can reach the right group or individual in a timely fashion.
SMS Forwarding You may wish to directly forward SMS to individuals and groups if the nature of their content is critical.
Conditional Forwarding Depending on the time of day, you may wish to route your incoming SMS differently, to suit the location of your team or the urgency of response required.

Other technologies you can integrate into SMS

Short URLs You may want your customers to receive links in text messages. These can take up a lot of space (a single text message is just 160 characters). Short URL services can provide you with a shorter link to put into your messages that will redirect to your system when they are clicked. This allows you to include things like Google Tag Manager in your links, so that you can track uptake and responses to your messages, without worrying about the length of the SMS that will be generated.
QR Codes QR Code generators can allow you to encode SMS messages that can then be scanned by customers. These will automatically compose a placeholder SMS message to a number of your choice, making it simple for customers to start conversations with you.

man in blue long sleeve shirt holding white smartphone


Photo by QArea Inc. on Unsplash

What are the attributes of a successful workflow?

Look at your Customer Journey. Steps that are right for automation are:

  1. Simple
  2. Predictable
  3. Repeatable

You can begin by automating the most obvious steps, performing small experiments, and expand out from there. The best practice to apply to each of your communications is as follows:

  1. Keep it concise – 160 characters or fewer
  2. Keep it personal and relevant
  3. Keep it compliant – offer opt-outs for marketing communications
  4. Focus on actions and next steps, include a relevant URL or phone number
  5. Long URLs should be shortened using service providers

How to achieve an SMS integration in to your workflows

Your Customer Journey Maps should give a clear idea of where the gaps in your current communications exist, and be highly suggestive of the best approach to filling them. In turn, this should offer strong hints of the right technology approach in each case. They may not all have the same answer, so it’s important to consider whether the best approach is to build, buy or partner at each step. Here we list out the options you have at your disposal, so that you can select the mix that’s right for your particular context:

1. Build your own Integration

The majority of your work may take place on your internal CRM or fulfilment system, where you have the context of the other communications or data that are key to your business processes. You’ll probably want to keep people working there, so that there’s minimal cognitive switching cost between applications. A good SMS API should offer you all of the capabilities you need to send and receive text messages directly from your existing applications, and Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) providers such as Twilio can provide hooks into multiple communications channels.

2. Industry-specific solutions

Most industries have dedicated software providers that design to cater to the specific workflows commonly encountered by organisations in that sector, whether it’s recruiting, vehicle maintenance, or even dog grooming. There’s probably a solution out there which can meet 80% of your needs, and these often include SMS integration out-of-the-box.

3. Marketing Automation Platforms

Most of the large marketing automation platforms offer integrated workflow builders with supporting SMS providers (e.g. Hubspot Campaign, Salesforce Journey Builder). If this is where your data, communications and transactions occur is makes sense to integrate SMS directly here.

4. E-Commerce Platforms

If you’re supporting your e-commerce store, most platforms provide marketplaces which allow you to extend the core SMS functionality that’s usually provided out of the box for things like cart abandonment and shipping updates. These should be plug-and-play solutions.

5. No-Code Automation Platforms

The rise of web and mobile-based automation platforms now allows almost anyone to integrate systems together to trigger workflows when events occur in the system of their choice. Platforms like IFTTT and Zapier allow you to knit together almost anything you can imagine. It’s worthwhile remembering that each of the transactions on these platforms comes at a price, which will add to your overall workflow costs.

6. Internet of Things (IoT) platforms

Like the no-code automation platforms, solutions are now emerging which allow you to knit disparate hardware systems together, so that they can interact. This might include sending alerts to technicians when sensors are triggered, so that someone can attend to rectify issues. Providers such as, Node Red and ThingsBoard are active in this space already.


Once you have an understanding of your customers’ needs you can design the right experiences that will benefit from SMS automation, and select the right combination of approaches to suit your business.

The SMS Works helps you to integrate SMS text messaging directly into your own applications, giving a wealth of options for you to send and receive messages, with relevant metadata and flexible routing to help your teams be as efficient, helpful and responsive as possible. Get in touch with us today to discuss your needs.

SMS still smashes all other channels out of the park.

Jo Lane – Mobile Squared, October 2020

author avatar
Phil Warner Technical Director
Co-founder and Director of The SMS Works, a low cost and powerful SMS API for developers. About Phil.