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Businesses Get Text Savvy

The next text message you get may not be from your BFF, best friend forever - saying they'll BRT be right there. Instead, it could be from your doctor's office or local library. WOSU reports some businesses are moving away from snail mail notifications to quick and easy texts.

If you have an upcoming dental cleaning the following texts could pop up on your cell phone: "Save the date for your dental appointment on Tuesday, October Fifth at 7:15 a.m. with Watermark Dental" signed Dr. Culley. Or this reminder: "Your appointment at Watermark Dental is tomorrow! Please confirm at this phone number. Thank you!"

Nicole Leite manages Watermark Dental. The practice began sending out text message alerts to patients about two months ago.

"We are transitioning away from post cards. We've had some difficulties with patients not receiving them even though they were sent out. And, also, people need an instantaneous reminder more than a long-term reminder, I have found," she said.

This kind of service is becoming increasingly popular among all industries. Studies show it takes about six seconds to read a text message versus the 79 seconds it takes to listen to a voice mail. Leite said it's just more convenient.

"Often times when I phone them to remind them of their appointment, I interrupt what they're doing. They have to take time to call me back," she said.

And texts, Leite said, save the practice time and money.

"Obviously there's the postage and the post cards and the time to take to address each one. Even when I generated them through the computer it was still a time consuming event. So this allows me to automate that system by using our database, and anyone who is scheduled for a particular time receives a text message and an email or either," Leite said.

The texts are a free service that comes with the practice's membership to the American Academy of General Dentistry. Otherwise it would cost anywhere from $100 to $300 a month depending on the package.

A quick Internet search will find dozens of providers offering similar services with plans as low as $30 a month.

Communication has been trending toward the digital arena over the past decade. Frank O'Brien, who owns New York-based marketing agency, Conversation, said it's easy to see why. He said 97 percent of text messages that are received are read - and nearly 99 percent of them are read within an hour.

"The opt-in methods for receiving these texts requires several steps requires several steps. So you know that someone who has opted-in actually wants to receive them so they're far more effective than other mediums such as email or traditional advertising," O'Brien said.

Even libraries are using text messages to contact its members. Mary Ludlum directs Grandview Heights Public Library. She said users began opting-in to the text messaging service about six months ago.

"Anything that you would get either a phone call or an email message, and so that might be something that's on hold, that you have an overdue, we even have pre-overdue messages. It's just sort of a warning. Oh, it's coming, it's coming. And so that helps people bring back things on time," Ludlum said.

While Ludlum said the text messages provide immediate contact, they are not the be all and end all for communication.

"As you can imagine, the text message can't have lots of words. And so it doesn't give you the complete information. And so we can give you the complete message in an email," she said.

Since the service is new, Ludlum said most interest has been from new members. Of the 16,000 library users who get emails, only 171 are signed up to receive text messages.

"It's popular, but I think it will grow," Ludlum said.

Some businesses may worry if they move toward text messages and away from direct phone calls and handwritten post cards, they'll be perceived as impersonal. Watermark Dental's Nicole Leite said they considered that.

"We initially thought about it at the beginning of the year, but were hesitant because it's a more impersonal contact, in some ways, than a direct phone call. But we've actually found it to be far more effective," Leite said.

O'Brien argued text messages are more personal than phone calls, because today many calls are computer generated. But O'Brien advised businesses to balance between new and old methods of communicating.

"Human beings still like to touch and feel things. So a dentist may not send a reminder card, but they may send a newsletter or another piece of marketing material just to make sure they have that human connection," he said.

And not to fret, if you do not want to get a text message, or you do not have the means to receive one, most businesses are happy to send out that post card or give you a call.