Short Codes vs. Real Phone Numbers: Everything You Need to Know

shortcode blog

Not all business texting is created equal. Lots of business software comes with built-in short code texting. A short code acts like a megaphone — the conversation only goes one way. Phone numbers, on the other hand, support real human conversations. Giving your customers the choice to text or call a real phone number strengthens your brand and customer relationships in a way that short codes simply can’t.

Text short codes used to be the only way for SMS providers to offer high-volume text messaging campaigns, so even SMS providers and industry insiders are surprised to learn that high-volume business texting (sometimes called A2P SMS) is available on landlines, VoIP and toll-free phone numbers.

I’m new to this. What’s a short code?

A short code is a little phone number, usually four, five, or six digits long, that is only used to text. They’re excellent for one-way communications like marketing blasts, two-factor authentication and alerts, but they’re not great for real human conversations. For example, radio stations that use short codes often run into problems with listeners trying to text back or even call because it doesn’t work.

A shared short code is exactly what it sounds like. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of companies use the same little number to send texts. It’s cheaper than a dedicated short code, but it’s risky. The carriers don’t officially support shared short codes, and they’re shut down all the time for phishing, spam and bad content. When consumers try to look up who is texting them, they can’t find it because there are too many brands sharing the same number. As you can imagine, spammers love shared short codes.

Why would you want to switch from short codes to texting on a toll free phone number?

Short codes are a well-established technology, and they’re great at what they do best: high-volume text marketing blasts. However, in many cases, texting on a real phone number is a better choice.

  • Dedicated short codes are really expensive, between $500 and $1,500 a month before messaging fees. For comparison, a real toll-free number costs $2 a month.
  • Approval process. Real phone numbers can be provisioned for texting the same day you apply, but a new short code can take 2 months or more before it actually works.

But I have access to a shared short code for free through my CRM, so that’s fine, right?

Wrong! The short code that comes built into your CRM or business software is designed to do one thing, probably appointment reminders or bulk notifications. Remember, it’s like a megaphone. It doesn’t support real human conversations or help build stronger customer relationships.

  • Text or call. Short codes are designed to blast consumers, and they don’t support natural human conversations. Customers can’t even respond back to a short code with a free-form text, they have to use programmed keywords like a robot. By promoting text or call on your existing business line, you give customers a choice to use the channel they’re most comfortable with to have a real conversation with you.
  • Brand recognition. A few businesses have well known short codes. For example, you might know that 40404 is Twitter. If you don’t already have a short code, or if you’re on a shared code, it’s better to have a real phone number that works with caller ID and is already published. One great example: Nestle is able to promote “call or text” to its toll free customer support line, and it’s already printed on food labels and packaging!

Short codes aren’t bad, but they were designed for one-way business-to-consumer communication. If that’s what you’re looking for, text short codes offer a great channel.

However, if you want to strengthen your customer relationships, work smarter, and give your customers a choice to text or call, a short code won’t work. Two-way texting on a real phone number supports real human conversations so you can connect with your customers quickly the way they prefer.

Are you looking for an SMS provider that can help you switch from a shared or dedicated short code over to a toll free number for A2P texting? Download our matrix comparing dedicated short codes, shared short codes, and toll free phone numbers for A2P texting.

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