Text messaging is an easy way to keep in touch with customers, but it is also easily abused. Customer communications cannot be combined with marketing messages unless a customer has already agreed to receive marketing. Permission is not required to send customer communications, but it is a good idea to let customers know about it ahead of time. The Data Protection Ombudsman provides useful guidelines for appropriate communications and direct marketing to customers.
In one case handled by the Consumer Agency, a company had been sending unwanted text messages to a customer. They constituted direct marketing in the customer's opinion, but customer communications in the company's opinion.
Customer communications refers to contact for keeping the customer informed about the status, continuation, or alteration of the selected service. A text message from a garage saying that repairs have been completed and a car is available for pickup, for example, is customer communications rather than direct marketing.
The difference is significant in that the Act on the Protection of Privacy in Electronic Communications generally requires asking the recipient for consent before direct marketing can be sent. A mobile phone is a personal communications device, so it has a special place in legislation when it comes to marketing communications.
It is not necessary to obtain express permission for sending customer communications, but it is still a good idea to let customers know about it ahead of time. Under the Consumer Protection Act, when a consumer commits to becoming a customer, he or she must know what the customer relationship involves.
When a text message service is being implemented, it is important to inform the consumer before he or she joins that the service uses text messages for customer communications. If this information is not supplied, the contract term may be considered unfair. Even if marketing is not the issue, the consumer has a right to determine how the cell phone is used because it is a personal device. The Data Protection Ombudsman also recommends that consumers be informed if a company intends to use electronic customer communications.
One case involved a parking service for which payment could be made by calling a service number on a mobile phone. First it was necessary to join the service on the Internet, by phone, with a text message, or by buying a prepaid-style credit voucher from a convenience store. The customer received instructions that stated informational text messages would be sent about improvements to the parking service. The messages were mainly of a customer communications nature, with information from the company about service expansion to new areas, free parking times offered by the city, etc.