Feb 28, 2011 (08:02 AM EST)
Clickatell Intros Text Messaging Service For SMBs

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Clickatell on Monday announced a new text messaging service designed for small businesses looking to use short message service (SMS) as a customer communications channel.

While text messaging might conjure images of hyperactive teenagers LOL-ing their way to carpal tunnel syndrome, Clickatell CEO Peter de Villiers believes the technology behind it has serious business applications -- especially for smaller firms that sometimes need to communicate urgent news to their customers. He gave as one example a daycare business that needs to communicate a last-minute scheduling change to parents.

"Are small businesses looking at this and are they using it a meaningful way?" said de Villiers in an interview. "The answer is: Absolutely, yes."

Founded in 2000, Clickatell has 13,000 customers of all sizes. The company has rolled out its Personalized Priority Messaging (PPM) platform in a new package specifically designed for small business use. Plans start at $24.95 per month, which includes up to 1,000 outbound text messages; inbound messages are free. The newest service is geared for the smaller end of the SMB market, de Villiers said, targeting businesses with between one and 35 employees that send up to 10,000 text messages per month. Clickatell offers higher-cost plans that include features such as dedicated short codes for companies with larger message volumes.

"[SMBs] are recognizing the fact that not only do their kids and teenagers use SMS more than they do email nowadays, they themselves use text messaging more often and respond to those more frequently than perhaps a very noisy, cluttered inbox or other technologies," de Villiers said. He gave as other usage examples: Medical offices looking to mitigate no-show revenue loss; Internet businesses such as a used-vehicle site that offers new inventory alerts via text; and real estate businesses that deploy SMS to manage leads.

de Villiers, who identified Sybase 365, Syniverse, and Open Market among Clickatell's key competitors, said SMS is particularly well-suited to highly targeted, time-sensitive messages. "Text messaging is not intended to be used as a mass send-and-forget technology. Certainly, folks don't like to receive an SMS message if it's spam," he said, noting that the costs associated with send SMS have helped keep the channel relatively free of junk messages relative to email and other communications channels.

Given that, it would appear that text messaging is better-suited to customer service and communications with current clients, rather than marketing to prospects.

"There is a very big opportunity to serve existing customers through priority messaging," de Villiers said. But the CEO sees customer acquisition applications, too -- but with an interesting caveat. "You can absolutely look at collecting mobile numbers and asking people to sign up through SMS. But that's assuming that you're targeting an audience beyond the smartphone data plan audience."

de Villiers said that while smartphone sales are booming, that audience is limited to higher-end consumers who can afford the devices -- and the monthly data plans required to use them. So while an iPhone app might be a good way to target the upper crust, de Villiers said, text messaging is better able to capture the broad market of wireless users. "You are excluding several million consumers by focusing only on mobile email or mobile social networking," de Villiers said.