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October 03, 2008

My Website Calls Your Cellphone

I run a scheduling application for a group of sixty professionals where they pick their work schedule for the next year and then block vacation periods based on a roster and availability rules. When one person picks their vacation the next one can begin, which involves time latency and it generally results in a rather lurching process.

The web application is well accepted and the audience seems to like it. They make their picks more efficiently then previously, and they don't have to be physically present with "the books" anymore. The online picking process goes faster, and the remaining inefficiency is the time it takes to notify people that they can begin their pick.

Last year I implemented email notification - when person 12 picks, person 13 gets an email informing them it's okay for them to commence - and that reduced the time delay, but not significantly.

This year, after person 12 picks, the application sends a text message to person 13's cellphone (if they've opted in). This has been well received; initially just a few early adopters opted in, but there's been positive word-of-mouth and it's catching on.

The website needs to know the participant's cellphone number and their cellphone company, then it sends an email in SMS format to the phone number at the cellphone company. For instance, for cellphone number 724.555.1212 at Verizon, the email is 7245551212@vtext.com.

Some higher-end web applications have embraced SMS messaging - for instance, Southwest Airlines will provide you text message updates on flight arrival times. This seems like a killer crossover app that extends one media system (the web) into another media system (the cellphone). Generationally, I think that younger people may be more comfortable with it, but I think that the non-text-message crowd will be seduced by it. The trick from the marketing perspective is to use the text message to deliver messages that the user sees as very-high-value, or as a Harvard Business Review said about CRM "the goal is to woo them, not stalk them".

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