In today’s world, communicating via text message is often faster than connecting with someone over the phone. However, when a business becomes involved with texting customers, compliance issues can result in potential lawsuits, if not handled properly.
“First and foremost, you shouldn’t be blasting out text messages unless everyone you’re sending them to has essentially raised their hand and you can prove that they’ve done so to receive that message,” says Matt Cagle, vice president of operations at CompliancePoint.
Cagle helps compliance companies manage risk regarding privacy, data security and compliance. Over the past decade, Cagle has consulted with hundreds of companies on how they communicate, as well as how to manage risk and compliance.
“[Compliance] is pretty broad,” Cagle says. “When we typically talk about compliance, you’re trying to demonstrate adherence to a specific set of standards, whether that would be federal or state regulation requirement, or an industry standard.”
According to Cagle, companies that text message customers face issues compliance regulations are not followed.
“You, as a consumer, if you get a call or text that you didn’t consent to, can file a lawsuit individually against the company,” Cagle says.
If a company is looking to communicate with customers through text message, Cagle lays out guidelines that need to be followed in order to avoid a possible legal run-in.
Get approval before you send.
Did you know that you have to obtain consent from your customers in order to send a text? While a customer provides his or her personal information during a visit to your dealership, the customer must be informed of text message communication service prior to receiving a message, Cagle says.
“The first issue that companies run into is just understanding the requirements to send the message in the first place—there’s a lot of class action activity in the moment,” he says.
While some technology programs can automatically send out text messages quickly and efficiently without someone within the dealership having to write the message, this can damage a business when a text message is sent out without the customer’s approval beforehand.
Cagle explains that many companies rely on technology and text messaging to connect with their customers on a regular basis, and while that’s great for efficiency, companies need to pay attention to who they’re sending those messages to.
He suggests that businesses create some form of record acknowledging that the customer has approved receiving text messages from the dealership. Afterward, the agreement should be filed, whether it’s a piece of paper or a phone recording.
“They’ve got to have the record to be able to defend themselves,” Cagle says.
Give customers the ability to opt out.
In the instance that a customer agrees to receiving text messages, it’s essential that there’s an option to opt out of the message. By giving customers the ability to opt out, it keeps customers in control of messaging and lessens the chance of a potential lawsuit.
“The second issue that often trips companies up is stopping the texting when someone opts out,” Cagle says. “It sounds simple, right? You say ‘stop’ or you click a link and check the box to no longer receive messages, but companies—especially those with multiple vendors—often struggle to do the basic process of accepting or honoring those, and centralizing them so that anyone sending texts on behalf is able to bounce against that opt out list before the messages go out. That’s what leads to consumer complaints and ultimately enforcement actions.”
When a customer receives a text message, it is essential that he or she has the ability to quit receiving services.
“You want to give very clear instructions on how they can opt out,” Cagle says. “You’ll often see companies using the terms, ‘Reply STOP to quit if you no longer want to receive messages,’ and it’s critical that the company is very explicit with these directions.”
According to Cagle, there have been situations where customers may try to use different phrases to make the messages stop and try to take legal action after messages continue.
“There’s a cottage industry of professional plaintiffs out there that try to respond with misspellings or other terms indicating they no longer want to receive messages and, often, companies are reliant upon their text message technologies to catch these inbound replies and automatically add them to the opt-out filter, but the system will just look for ‘STOP’ and, if something else comes in, it’s not going to flag it.
“Some people try to bypass that and ultimately file lawsuits.”
To avoid issues, Cagle suggests creating a centralized opt-out list that includes the consumer’s phone and the date of the opt-out request. Once the customer opts out, future messages should be stopped, Cagle says.
“Most text messaging platforms provide the opt-out list functionality and can streamline the process for suppressing against the opt-out list prior to launching each text message campaign,” Cagle says.