Is it Professional to Text a Client?

Joe Weinlick
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Companies must get written permission from clients before sending text messages to their phones. This permission is often part of an acceptance of terms of service or is gained by clients signing a permission form as part of signing up for other services. Once permission is granted, judicious use of texts is a recognized relationship-building tool that can be used to good effect.

Life Time Fitness realized the huge sales lead potential from text messages and sent its clients messages through their phones. The company was later sued for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a law that prohibits companies from sending customers unsolicited texts without first obtaining written consent. As many as 600,000 affected customers could receive a $100 cash reward or a free, three-month membership at any gym. Life Time Fitness settled out of court for $15 million, but the litigation could have been prevented entirely if correct permissions had been sought before any messages were sent.

Other companies have also been sued using the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, such as HeartLand Automotive and Papa John's. HeartLand spammed 2.1 million mobile phones with text messages, resulting in a $47 million lawsuit. Papa John's was sued for $250 million after a company it partnered with to send SMS marketing did not get written consent from customers to send and receive these messages.

Obtaining prior, express written consent from each person to allow text messages is the only way to prevent legal action in this field. Companies that already have individuals' mobile phone numbers cannot request this written consent as an afterthought. Customers can only be contacted by text when they give permission first and then give companies the phone number.

Marketing firms and sales departments must remember two important factors with respect to these types of lawsuits. The federal government considers companies that provide SMS messages for marketing purposes to be common carriers, so the companies that provide the service do not get sued. It is always the lead company that did not receive prior written permission that becomes the defendant in these cases. The second thing to keep in mind is that companies that provide these types of services may make a lot of money knowing this exemption from the law, and these firms may try to fool larger companies into doing something illegal.

Text messages represent great ways to break through to a sales lead, especially when used in conjunction with social media posts through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. SMS messages even allow marketing departments to customize sales pitches to specific clients. However, firms must be careful when obtaining permission to use a mobile number as a means of communication.

Text messages to clients are valuable, simple ways to communicate. This method allows firms to track the capabilities of marketing departments and target advertising to clients. To avoid lawsuits, companies must take steps to obtain written permission to send texts before beginning a campaign.


Photo courtesy of Joi Ito at Flickr.com

 

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