By John Lauer, CEO, Zipwhip
Business texting, which includes texting to toll free, landline, and VoIP numbers, is thriving. Even major brands have the confidence to trust, and invest in, the business texting ecosystem on their existing phone numbers. As seen in Figure 1, Nestle is printing “Text or Call” on their consumer packaged goods (such as Drumsticks) so that consumers can text in their questions. Google is baking business texting into core products with the new AdWords “Click-to-Text” beta (Figure 2). Allstate’s insurance agents are texting their customers proof of insurance and accepting photos of accident claims in real time, all using their existing office phone numbers.
For nearly 50 years, innovation in toll free meant introducing a new 8XX number range. Three years ago everything changed when Zipwhip, in partnership with the wireless operators, invented texting on toll free numbers. Today the market for toll free texting is healthier than ever and is going through rapid growth as represented by a 300% annual increase in texting volume, as seen in Figure 3, and an 8x growth on active text enabled toll free lines since 2015.
What propels all this success is an easy and effective phone number verification and on-boarding process that allows businesses to start texting from their full base of numbers. For example, Ford Motor Company has thousands of dealerships across the country with a wide mix of phone numbers. If Ford had to follow a separate process to text enable each landline, VoIP, and toll free number with a convoluted approval process from each regional network, it simply wouldn’t happen.
Texting on toll free is a small subset of the total addressable market of non-wireless phone numbers as shown in Figure 4. In fact, toll free phone numbers equal only 16% of the wire line market share. This is another reason why considering the best process for number verification on toll free is to approach it with a process that works for any business number, which is how the industry has grown so swiftly to date.
When it comes to verifying number ownership, the process is fast, secure, and effective. For every new customer we sign up, Zipwhip makes a phone call to the number being provisioned and has a real human-to-human conversation to ensure that our customer is the actual phone number owner. Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Microsoft all use the same process to verify users’ identities because it’s both easy and effective—they simply call or text a user’s phone to verify ownership. Figure 5 is an actual screenshot of Microsoft’s verification process for an Azure account where they let you choose “Call Me” to verify your phone number.
We recognize that shared-use phone numbers require a different process, and we work with the owners of these numbers on an individual basis to authenticate and route their messages correctly. It is important to stress that a shared-use number does have a single owner. For example, 1-800-PAVEMENT is a shared use number, but it has a single owner. The shared use is simply a result of US Pavement Services’ go-to-market strategy. The definition of shared use can run the continuum from a very specific geographic use case such as 1-800-PLUMBER, which is leased in different cities, to a technical use case like Google, which assigns the same 800 number to thousands of businesses for AdWords tracking and then remaps those assignments daily. Zipwhip follows a multistep pass/fail test process to identify the actual owner of the number and ensure only the owner can text enable a shared-use number.
The health of the toll free texting industry and the security measures in place to protect it are strong. The wireless carriers hold Zipwhip accountable for consumer safety with strict security requirements and SLAs. We authenticate every landline, VoIP, and toll free phone number to ensure consumers connect with the same business entity whether they call or text. We support CALEA-compliant tools to assist law enforcement requests. We also globally enforce the STOP layer, which gives consumers the option to opt-out and block any phone number from texting them. All of these processes and safeguards have created an ecosystem that is trusted.
Toll free texting is growing. As it grows, scammers are going to try to leverage texting’s power. Those issues are already being addressed. The biggest threat to consumers is an epidemic of phishing schemes, which registered TFN owners actually enable. These scams attempt to trick consumers into sharing sensitive information and can cause measurable harm. The scammers don’t have to thwart the owner verification process because they use legitimate toll free phone numbers. In fact, phishing scams make up 21.6% of the outbound traffic on one of the leading toll free texting API providers, but Zipwhip intercepts the scam traffic before it’s delivered. Zipwhip contracts with the market leader in digital security, Adaptive Mobile, to proactively identify phishing scams and shut them down before they impact consumers. We take the same proactive measures against spam.
As I write this, CTIA is updating the industry guidelines to keep pace with changes in the market. We’re constantly striving to stay ahead, too, crafting solutions like toll free RCS (Rich Communication Services) and mobile SSL certification, which is a new solution for solving phone number identification. That’s the end goal: build a trusted texting ecosystem while driving true innovation. Building an SSL certificate equivalent for phone numbers is exactly that. This would give consumers the ability to see a lock icon next to trusted phone numbers within their texting app, similar to how your browser shows a lock icon for trusted websites. There are discussions underway in the texting industry right now for creating this SSL certificate layer. As you can see in Figure 7, this creates a true layer of trust for the consumer because they can click to verify identity.
To conclude, texting on toll free is working great and the future is bright. Businesses are streamlining their communication channels with customers and consumers are enjoying the ease of text. As an integral part of the texting ecosystem, Zipwhip is committed to ensuring a safe and trusted channel for years to come. This requires continued innovation, collaboration with industry partners, and an emphasis on keeping the medium free of spam and phishing schemes. All of these efforts are taking place today.