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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.

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