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Using Outbound SMS

Mitchell Paul-Soumis Updated by Mitchell Paul-Soumis

Read Time: 8 mins

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Proactively reaching out to your subscribers builds trust, reduces support interactions, and facilitates positive interactions when customers contact you. Being able to establish a consistent chain of proactive messages can be challenging, as each customer can prefer different means of communication. Built on the same backbone as Messages in Sonar, Outbound SMS provides a flexible, reliable way to keep in touch with customers, whenever needed.

Two-way communication through the Outbound SMS feature isn't possible. Instead, the Signature system is put into place, which provides your customers with the information they need to contact your team directly. These signatures are pre-configured, and will be covered in more detail throughout this article.

Setting up Outbound SMS

Permissions

Before getting started with the configuration, your user roles will need to be adjusted to account for the permissions required to use the Outgoing SMS feature.

Super-Admins will have access to this feature and all relevant permissions. Only non-Super-Admin user roles will need these permissions enabled.
If a non super-admin will be making modifications to the Quiet Hours feature, they'll also need "Update the SMS settings" permission enabled

For a role to be able to send messages, the minimum permissions of Create a new SMS message and View SMS messages must be enabled.

If you plan to make use of Triggered SMS Messages, additional permissions are required, located in the Misc. Settings category:

Activating the Feature

The SMS feature is part of the Sonar Billing feature-set, and controlling the feature's active status is through the Settings page:

  1. Click on Settings
  2. Expand the Sonar Billing section
  3. Click on Sonar Billing
  4. Toggle the “Enabled” option

How it works

Once enabled, Sonar's SMS service can be used to reach out to customer Contacts with their SMS-enabled mobile numbers. Each sent SMS message will be billed based on the number of characters contained within the message.

Like a text message sent from your phone, Sonar's Outbound SMS feature follows the Short Message Service standard. In a single send, the first segment can be 160 characters, with each subsequent bundled segment having a maximum of 145 characters, before splitting again.

SMS messages are configured and can only be sent as Triggered Messages or Mass Messages, unlike emails, which can also be used for direct communication. For SMS messages to work, you'll need to:

  1. Deploy Companies, and Departments alongside them.
  2. Define SMS-capable Phone Number Types.
  3. Set SMS signatures, which are used to add custom sections to the canned messages.
  4. Ensure account contacts opt-in to receiving SMS messages.
  5. Make sure your account has a positive balance (and preferably auto-buy) in the Sonar Billing section.

Setting up Signatures

Before sending any messages, signatures need to be configured. These text snippets are appended to any message sent from your Sonar instance, and provide a personal touch to each interaction with your customers. To meet regulatory requirements, the option to unsubscribe through SMS must be available. Because of these requirements, and to minimize the impact on message length, Sonar provides a set list of available Signatures.

Signatures are configured from the “Communication Tools” page, under the “Configure” button:

Opening the “Configure Signatures” modal, you'll be presented with a list of current signatures, and the option to create a new one:

An SMS signature consists of 3 components:

  1. An instance-unique Name for the signature
  2. A Department selection, with departments available based on their existence in your instance.
    1. Based on what information was provided alongside the Department when it was added to your instance, this field will determine what phone number and email address values are dynamically substituted when an SMS Message is sent.
  3. An SMS Signature, available from a pre-defined list that will autofill variables. The available signatures are:
    1. Reply STOP to unsubscribe.
    2. Need something else? Call |DEPARTMENT_PHONE_NUMBER|. Email |DEPARTMENT_EMAIL|. Reply STOP to unsubscribe.
    3. Looking for more information? Call |DEPARTMENT_PHONE_NUMBER|. Email |DEPARTMENT_EMAIL|. Reply STOP to unsubscribe.
    4. Have a question? Call |DEPARTMENT_PHONE_NUMBER|. Email |DEPARTMENT_EMAIL|. Reply STOP to unsubscribe.
    5. Need to chat? Call |DEPARTMENT_PHONE_NUMBER|. Email |DEPARTMENT_EMAIL|. Reply STOP to unsubscribe.
    6. We're here to help! Call |DEPARTMENT_PHONE_NUMBER|. Email |DEPARTMENT_EMAIL|. Reply STOP to unsubscribe.

There are two additional options, allowing you to set the created signature as the default for Mass Messages, Triggered Messages, or both.

Opting-in Contacts

After Phone Number Types have been defined as SMS capable, those numbers need to be added to customer contacts, and opted-in to receive SMS messages.

  1. Open the customer's account
  2. Navigate to the Contacts tab
  3. Open the edit menu
  4. In the Edit Contact modal, check the “SMS Opt In” box to complete the customer's enrollment
If multiple contacts are opted in to SMS Messages, they will all receive SMS Messages when sent to the account.
Opting Contacts Out

Customer contacts can be opted out of receiving text messages in two ways:

  1. Deselect the checkbox from the "Edit Phone Number" modal
  2. The customer can reply STOP to any text message sent from your instance, which will also serve to opt them out in your instance.
    If the customer does opt out in this way, they can opt back in by messaging “START” to the same number. This method of opting in and opting out will affect the customer's number across any instance this number may exist in.

Sending SMS Messages

SMS messages can only be sent as Triggered Messages or as Mass Messages. Individual messages, such as a ticket reply, are not possible through Sonar. To send a message, you'll generally follow these steps:

  1. Check the “Send as SMS Message” box
  2. Select the outgoing Phone Number, if applicable
    Phone Number selection will only be available if multiple sending numbers have been configured for your instance. At this time, only the default sending number is supported
  3. Select the Saved Message applicable to the situation.
    Unlike Email Messages in Sonar, SMS Messages can only be sent with predefined Saved Messages. A full list of available messages can be viewed by navigating to ConfigureSaved MessagesSMS Messages tab.
  4. Select the SMS Signature you'd like attached to the outgoing message.

There are slight differences between Mass and Triggered SMS Messages. For more information, refer to the relevant section.

A sent SMS Message can take up to 5 minutes to be received by the customer.

Sending Mass SMS Messages

Mass Messages are relatively restricted, as they are subject to strict guidelines and regulations. To minimize the risk of Sonar's SMS service being flagged, Mass SMS Messages use preconstructed templates, and you may select one of three Saved Messages:

  1. Planned Outage
  2. Unplanned Outage
  3. Unplanned Outage (no restoration ETA)

Selecting any of these three will modify both the available filters, and the Outage Start and End fields being displayed.

When a Mass Message is sent, a confirmation message will appear, confirming the number of customers that will receive this message, and that charges will occur:

While this message does state the total number of accounts that qualify to receive the message, there is no guarantee how many contacts on those accounts are opted in to receiving SMS messages, which may affect your cost. After sending the Mass SMS Message, check the “Sent SMS Messages” to confirm which contacts received the message.

Sending Triggered SMS Messages

Triggered SMS Messages can be configured with 'Quiet Hours" preventing messages from being sent during specific hours. A similar feature is planned for Email Triggered Messages in the future.

Triggered SMS Messages operate a little differently when compared to Mass Messages. Rather than configuring the SMS Message directly, you configure the Trigger, which will automatically set the SMS Message. Before a Trigger is set, the SMS Message field will be blank and unmodifiable, as pictured.

Once a trigger is selected, the Saved Message will be automatically selected, with the only customizable elements being the phone number (if multiple are added in your instance), and the message signature.

Viewing Sent SMS Messages

All sent SMS messages are viewable from the “Communication Tools” page, followed by the “Sent Messages” tab, and “SMS Messages” sub-tab:

This page contains a table that lists most information you'll need to monitor and troubleshoot your SMS Messaging:

  1. The Recipient Name and Contact Type column provides information on whom the message was sent to
  2. The Related Entity column provides the account, or in some cases, Network Site, name.
  3. The Phone Number column provides the phone number the SMS was sent to.
  4. The Body column provides a “View” button, which can be clicked on to view the message sent to the customer, with the variables filled in.
  5. The Status column provides the current status of the SMS Message, which can be any of the following:
    1. Delivered
    2. Failed
    3. In Progress
    4. Insufficient funds
    5. Pending (Waiting to be processed)
    6. Sent
  6. The Reject Reason column
  7. The Created column

Configuring Quiet Hours

Note that Quiet Hours will only prevent Triggered SMS Messages from being sent. Mass SMS Messages will still be sent to all SMS recipients when created, regardless of any Quiet Hours setting.

Quiet Hours are a configurable option for your Triggered SMS Messages, designed to provide you with options to ensure your customers do not receive text notifications within a span of time. This setting allows configurable time windows to ensure compliance with contact requirements in your serviced jurisdictions. Setting up Quiet Hours is simple — from SettingsSonar BillingSMS Settings you just need to fill in a Start and End time. These configured times are always in your system-configured time zone.

The Maximum time range for your Quiet Hours is 12 hours. Attempting to save a Quiet Hour range larger than that will simply fail.

Once added and saved, any Triggered Messages will remain in a “Pending” status, viewable from Communication ToolsSent MessagesSMS Messages:

The current settings for Quiet Hours will always be displayed at the top of the Sent SMS Messages table and from any account's Correspondence tab, and will be visible to anyone.

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