Will SMS ever become mainstream for small business?

I got a reminder yesterday from my dental practice.

By text message.

Here’s how it read:

Ewan, this is just a reminder that you have an appointment tomorrow at 10am. [insert name of practice]

Good service, no?


I was very impressed. They’d obviously taken my phone number and decided to follow up with a text. We’re all sold on the concept of text reminders, I hope.

We’re all, I hope, feeling a bit of private satisfaction on behalf of the mobile industry as a result. Isn’t it good to see the local dentist adopting the medium? It’s finally MAINSTREAM!

Well, no.

Here’s the problem.

The surgery’s secretary types each message out by hand. On a rubbish 5 year old Pay-As-You-Go handset that must have belonged to the dentist originally.

This is their business critical infrastructure.

I’ve seen the poor lady typing out the messages. Every single one is custom typed! The phone numbers are stored in a paper-based diary.

Goodness me.

The moment I discovered this I felt a huge stab of mental pain.

What’s the problem here? Why haven’t they got some-kind-of-system to do this for them?

Well, for one thing, they’re still stuck on a paper-based calendar for the booking and management of appointments. So there’s no easy way to automate.

And there’s no desktop on their desktop. No web browser to use the array of desktop text alert services that I could list out. There’s quite a lot of barriers. You need a desktop machine, you need the practice to be computerised, you need a plugin text service, you need the secretaries to be trained…

How depressing.

Still, it’s good to see the medium getting a bit of use.

One final point. A lot of these text systems that you see nowadays — for example if you’re getting your haircut, some of those systems have automated text messages — a lot of them have no reply function. They’re simply broadcast messages with no return-ID set. So you can’t reply at all.

I do actually quite like the fact that this poor secretary has had to hand-type the message to me… because if I need to change my appointment, I know I can reply and that she will see it.

Now and again if I’ve had time, I’ve actually written back and said thank you whenever I’ve had a reminder.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

13 replies on “Will SMS ever become mainstream for small business?”

hummm, a very simple web page that has a phone number field and a text box field could make their job a lot easier.

To automate they could use a sql table linked to a dts or ssis daily job that looks up the table and automatically sends a text message to anyone that is due one.

All in all a few hours work… but then they need the front end screen to enter the details… yada yada yada 🙂 (maybe they could use a spread sheet! yes, that would work just as good)

its all pretty easy stuff to set up and it gives them a good return for their efforts

I think what youre seeing is the mainstream adoption of SMS as a business communication tool. The challenge is that on it's own it's not enough to warrant investment in a PC with Internet access.

My local bike shop has the facility to send text messages out from their till system but because the till software vendor has put a crazy price on the messages, hoping I guess to try and make some extra money from the service, they don't use it. Instead the junior mechanic is instructed to type out reminders on his phone if he has any left on his bundle.

I, as you know, am a huge advocate of the reply path. Using virtual mobile numbers pays huge dividends in customer service. It's also a very, very cheap way for call centres to handle customer enquiries,

System receives a message from customer, automatically sends a message back setting their expectations 'Thanks for your message. One of our team will contact you within the hour'. Customer goes about their business. Call centre staff can call or text the customer back when ready to help them.

It smoothes out the call centre traffic spikes and means the customer isn't stuck in hold-music-hell

Bloody hell, my friend Neil Stevens even offered this service free to his local dentist in Ilkley, paid for by me. But they couldn't re-organise themselves to do it!
I've set up a simple system using AQL to use to get in touch with kids teams small adapt and it could be used by Dentists!

Companies like iTAGG are pushing this hard. We get new signups every day from the likes of dentists, and our control panel makes it a lot easier to manage both sending and a reply path. But yeah between us and our competitors I reckon we still only have a fraction of the UK businesses out there. An awful lot more to go yet before all those poor receptionists can rest their little texting fingers!

Here in the United States small biz are nowhere with SMS. is our new company (I'm the CEO) going into beta tomorrow solving the “dentist” and local merchant opportunity with a super-easy interface. And of course, we offer full two way capabilities. Anyone out there with experience in another part of the world I'd be thrilled to network with. Drop me a line at


I think SMS has already been used extensively by small business owners and my dentist have been using SMS effectively to remind his patients about the scheduled meeting to get teeth fixed.

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