Establishing a close and consistent connection with customers is essential, not just for building relationships and reinforcing brand awareness but also to increase engagement and maximise revenue opportunities for your business. To do this, you need to send messages via the channels customers like to use - and that may include SMS.

Even if you don't use SMS for business messaging right now, you should consider having it as a fallback option in case your messages go undelivered via your main communication channels. Read on to learn all about SMS fallback and how it's useful in specific situations.

What is SMS fallback?

SMS fallback is a backup option for when a message you're trying to send over another channel fails to send. It's a good contingency plan for businesses using internet-based messaging channels like WhatsApp, Messenger or push notifications as their primary communication method. Enabling SMS message fallback allows these types of messages to be sent as traditional texts instead - which are transmitted via mobile phone networks, not over WiFi.

Why do messages via a primary communication channel fail?

The main reason internet-based or over-the-top (OTT) messages fail to send is the internet connection being slow, poor or non-existent. Such messages can also 'bounce' due to server failure or device incompatibility. For example, it's not possible to send an iMessage (from an Apple device) to an Android phone.

How does SMS fallback work?

You can automatically resend messages as SMS if your OTT messages aren't delivered. Here are some examples of how and when the SMS fallback mechanism might kick in.

Example 1: push notifications sent as SMS notifications

Say you want to entice a potential customer back to your online store with an abandoned cart mobile push notification. You trigger the push notification at your end, but it doesn't get delivered immediately because the recipient doesn't have their web browser running on their device.

An abandoned cart reminder should be sent fairly quickly - while the customer is still contemplating buying your product. In this case, you could send the reminder via text, and it'll arrive virtually instantly.

Example 2: RCS messages falling back on SMS messages

Rich Communication Services (RCS) is a messaging protocol developed by Google for Android devices. It allows users to experience dynamic conversations in the native Google Messages app with features like image sharing, read receipts and typing indicators. However, some older Android devices don't support RCS messages  – only regular text messages.

If your RCS message hasn't been sent, you'll see a status that reads 'not sent' or 'trouble sending'. If you've enabled fallback for SMS, the message status will read 'sent as SMS'.

Example 3: iMessage text sent as an SMS message

The most common reason for an iMessage being sent as SMS is because the recipient doesn't have an Apple device. iMessages can only be sent between iOS users. When SMS is used, the message appears in a green bubble instead of blue. (Note: Apple users will also receive SMS messages if iMessage is turned off on their device.)

SMS backup: a possible complication

SMS is a text-only channel - you can't send images or emojis without the message being converted to MMS, which costs more. If you intend to set up SMS as a fallback, you may need to alter your message content or increase your communications budget.

Example SMS fallback abandoned cart reminder

Seven reasons why you need SMS fallback

Having an alternative messaging channel on standby is essential - here's why your backup should be SMS:

1. Reliability

SMS is a trustworthy backup option that hardly ever fails unless the sender or recipient can't access cell network reception (let alone an internet connection) due to being in a remote area or extreme weather conditions.

2. Useful in emergencies

Texts are good for crisis communication, where other channels have broken down due to a natural disaster, technical issues, or a security breach.

3. Fast messaging

SMS is a speedy alternative to instant messaging apps. You can inform recipients in almost real-time, not just about emergencies but other time-sensitive situations like upcoming appointments and limited-time promotions.

4. High deliverability

Everyone with a mobile phone can access SMS without downloading a third-party app, giving you excellent reach. According to Tõnis Kirsipuu, Messente's Head of Connectivity, "As long as you use a reputable SMS provider with strong networks and internal routing systems, you should benefit from high delivery rates, ensuring important messages don't get lost in transmission or go undelivered."

5. Cuts possible losses

Using SMS as a fallback means there's less chance of communication breakdown, helping you keep your workforce running smoothly in an emergency. You can also maximise customer revenue opportunities by ensuring transactional and promotional messages are received.

6. Omnichannel communication

Businesses today should be using multiple channels to reach customers. SMS is an integral part of an omnichannel communication strategy since it's fast and convenient to use.

7. Wins customers’ trust

SMS messaging offers reliability and consistency, making it easier to connect with customers and win their loyalty in the long term.

Why would anyone turn off SMS fallback?

Some mobile phone users choose to deactivate text fallback on their devices so that OTT messages don't automatically convert to text messages. Here's why:

  • Unexpected or unwanted charges - this can happen when recipients don’t realise that a back-and-forth chat conversation has automatically switched to SMS and has resulted in charges.

  • Not on an SMS plan - not everyone subscribes to text message packages offered by network providers. For these people, the cost per SMS could be expensive.

  • Storage issues - users might not want texts to clutter their inboxes and take up limited space on their mobile devices.

  • To avoid MMS – if someone sends an image, file, or even an emoji, the text can be converted to MMS (costlier than SMS).

  • Channel overwhelm - some recipients just don't want to be available on every communication channel.

How to toggle SMS fallback on or off

Both senders and recipients can toggle SMS backup on or off at a device level. Here's how on Apple and Android:

iPhone: open the 'Settings' app, scroll down to 'Messages', find 'Send as SMS' and toggle the button to activate or deactivate automatic SMS fallback.

Android: open the Google Messages app and click the profile button at the top right. Go to 'Message settings', then 'RCS chats', where you'll find the button to toggle on or off an option called 'Automatically resend as a text (SMS/MMS)'.

Person tapping mobile phone screen

SMS: a traditional yet indispensable channel

Using traditional text messages as a fallback for push notifications or instant messaging is a good strategy for businesses that want to avoid a breakdown in communication and ensure that important or time-sensitive messages are delivered.

SMS is essential to omnichannel communications due to its reliability, speed and accessibility. It's also straightforward to set up and cost-effective - with Messente, you'll only pay for the messages you send; no hidden fees or tie-ins.

Get started with our business text messaging service.