Making your text messages more effective

framing sms texts ux Mar 17, 2021

Text messages are a big part of how organisations communicate with customers.

So you do you get them right?

Behavioural science of text message effectiveness

Not only are text messages a cost-effective tool, but there’s a significant amount of behavioural science available that proves how effective these messages can be.

In one study, the UK Behavioural Science Team were able to reduce missed medical appointments, or no-shows, by 25%.

The best performing message pointed out how much the no-show cost the National Health Service (NHS).

Figure 1. Best performing NHS text message (Hallsworth, Berry, Sanders, Sallis, Vlaev & Darzi, 2015) 

The NSW Behavioural Insights Unit had similar success with a message about what was at stake, reducing missed health appointments by 20%.  


Figure 2. Best performing text message (NSW BIU, 2015)

Outside the realm of health, the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA) increased the number of jobseekers reporting on-time from 53% to 66%.

While all their message variants worked, the best used a “gain frame” which reminded people this would help them receive their payment on time.


Figure 3. Gain frame message and personalisation variant: BETA "Effective use of SMS: timely reminders to report on time" (2017)

And in some very exciting news out of the States, researchers in the Behaviour Change for Good program have increased rates of flu vaccination by as much as 11% using texts messages that leveraged the endowment effect.

In other words, by saying a dose had been “reserved” for them, their sense of ownership was heightened, and they didn’t want to miss out. 

As one of the researchers Alison Buttenheim described,  “Telling a person the flu shot is ‘reserved for you’ suggests that this particular dose of the vaccine already belongs to them, and if they don’t claim it, they’ll actually be losing something. So it invokes loss aversion, as well as a sense of reciprocity—the provider has gone to the trouble of setting aside the vaccine dose, and it would be rude not to take it.”

How to get text messages right

Clearly, text messages are important, to both our businesses and our customers, so how to get them right? 

This topic was inspired by a text I received the other day by the Skin cancer clinic I attend.

It certainly got my attention, but not necessarily in a good way.  Can you see why?

The text address. It was from “Recalls”. As anyone who has ever had cancer screening knows, getting a “recall” is not great. It means they want to investigate further.

Was that what my message revealed?  No.

I was simply due for my 6-monthly review. 

This business was unnecessarily – and I hope inadvertently – scaring its customers. And if they were like me, scaring us into a state of avoidance.

So that’s why this article is important.

I want you to consider how you communicate with your customers over text, and how to get it right.

Let’s look at three tips to get you started.

Three tips to improve your texts 

Tip 1. Sender identity

As we’ve just seen, small bits of information like using “Recalls” as the sender can have an impact on the recipient.

Better to use your business name.

My vet…well, my dog’s vet really…does just that.

Two advantages of doing this:

  • You appear as your business rather than a random phone number when they are scanning their messages.
  • You save precious characters to use for the message itself.

If you don’t want to do this, then at least make sure you explain who you are early in the message. 

Unfortunately, Australia Post are assuming I know who they are.

When identifying yourself I’d recommend the approach on the left, where the business name appears in the first line rather than the example on the right, where it is in brackets at the end.

Sure, only a dentist would be talking about a dental check-up, but I need to know it’s MY dentist, not a spammer.

Tip 2. Simple and clear Call to Action

Making it easy for your customer to do the thing you want them to do is central to your success.

And that means providing a clear and easy Call to Action (CTA).

Here’s Australia Post again (at least they've identified themselves this time), letting me know a parcel is coming.

They want their customers to let them know if they won’t be home, in which case they will reroute the delivery. An important text which could save their drivers a significant amount of time.


"Reply ASAP". Aside from creating visual clutter, what is ASAP in this context? 5 mins? 2 hours?

Then, "reply with 2 if someone will be home or 3" if no one’s home.

The problem here is they haven’t specified a time. Someone might be home in the next hour but not after that.

A better option would have been just to say “3. Take it to a post office”.

Aside from confusing CTAS, some organisations just forget to include one entirely.

Sure, CPA Australia has made opting out simple but where's the hyperlink to renew? That’s the whole point of the text.

Contrast that with a how my acupuncturist communicates. It’s nice and clear what I need do if I need to change my appointment.

3. Help them to help you

Asking for a response to the text can be a powerful way to invite the engagement of your customer.

Here Australia Post are trying to simplify their message. No longer “select 2 or 3”, now it’s just reply “Y”.

Better, not still not ideal.

The problem is their use of an affirmative answer, “Yes” to a negatively framed question “Nobody home?”.


“Yes, nobody is home” is a difficult statement. It mucks with processing fluency, our ability to quickly process information.

In natural speech people are more likely to answer “No, nobody will be home”.

It should be “Anybody home to receive the item?” No.

Inviting people to confirm a response back to you can enhance their memory of the exchange. 

Important if you want people to remember an appointment. Which my hairdresser does, and does well. 

They seek confirmation from their clients to ensure the message is seen. It reduces the risk of no-shows from people ignoring or saying they never received the message. They’ve possibly overdone the ALL CAPS but you certainly get the importance of calling them to cancel.

Of course, there’s more to say on text messages and on how you can best communicate with your customers (and if that’s something you’d be interested in let me know in the comments), but I hope these three tips will get you started. Remember:

  1. Identify yourself
  2. Provide a clear and simple CTA and
  3. Help them help you.

Until next time, keep behaving.


 You might find interesting:




UK BIT hospital study:

NSW BIU hospital study:

BETA jobseeker payment study:

BCFG flu shot: and study.


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