Monday, September 10, 2012

Due to the ubiquity of mobile devices, SMS text messaging is an ideal medium for government agencies to keep citizens apprised of important news. A recent story in Mobile Marketer, highlights how the Orange County Transportation has used text messaging to inform passengers of bus scheduling and reduce operational costs in doing so.

Bus schedule information is one the most important communications the OCTA provides to bus passengers. To date, the OCTA had relied on printed schedules to communicate with passengers. The increasing costs of paper and the organization’s decreasing budget forced the organization to reduce the amount of printed schedules.

As a result of the reduction of printed schedules, customer calls to the their Customer Information Center had increased to approximately 18,000 calls a week, with a cost of $2 per call. This uptick in calls was costing the OCTA nearly $144,000 per month.

With these costs it was clear that the OCTA needed a more cost efficient alternative to provide their bus schedule. In a survey of their passengers, 75 percent of passengers have mobile phones, and 64 percent of them have text message capabilities. These survey results show that SMS mobile notification could provide a more cost-effective solution that catered to the majority of bus riders.

Based on these results the OCTA developed the Text4Next program to utilize the growing use of mobile media to provide this information to the customers. The program utilized triggered messaging to automate text responses to customer inquiries.

Once the customer sends a text message with their specific bus stop number and bus route number to the short code OCTAGO, the OCTA’s bus system scheduling platform responds back to the customer with the next three arrival times their bus will arrive at that stop through the OCTAGO short code.

To build awareness around the campaign the OCTA used guerilla and traditional marketing tactics. They promoted the program with the “Text4Next Street Team” who wore t-shirts around schools and showed students how to use the program, as well as creating promotional video and replacing bus stop signage Text4Next instructions.

In addition, more than 1,800 email subscribers were sent a blast announcing the program. Automatic voice messages from the CIC provided callers with information about the program and its time saving potential.

By implementing this new text-messaging program, OCTA was able to provide customers with up to the second schedules at a more cost-effective level. Whereas each call to the CIC cost to the OCTA call center cost on average $2, the aggregate cost of the Text4Next service was developed, at a per call text charge of ten cents, resulting in a substantial cost savings.

After the program was fully implemented and gain some momentum, the weekly number of calls to the CIC dropped from an average of 18,000 calls per week to 10,000 calls per week. In total the Text4Next program has saved the OCTA more than $350,000 since its launch. To date the number of unique monthly users has increased to 19,000 new users a month. These numbers indicate that the service is positively received by users.

In using an existing SMS gateway platform and configuring it to work with the internal scheduling systems, OCTA was able to avoid costly development costs and deliver immediate communications to their passengers in a cost-effective manner.

The Text4Next program has worked so well that the OCTA is now expanding the mobile notification to include commuter train schedules in Orange County.

To learn about how your organization can utilize SMS to communicate to deploy emergency notification and text marketing campaigns, feel free to contact our support team at 877.897.3473 or learn more here.