How to create real-time customer engagement

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Reaching every customer using mobile technology has become one of the most relevant communication tools today. This is where USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) plays a significant role in providing marketers with an interactive and real-time platform for engaging one-on-one with their customers. By Tony Smith,  managing director at Oxygen8 SA


This very popular and consumer driven platform allows users to access various services through the use of a code on their mobile devices. It is fast, simple and cost effective.

The use of USSD has taken mobile marketing to another level. Through USSD, companies can create mobile surveys, polls and competitions because of the ability to include questions in a form of a menu. USSD is very effective in that it works across all phones, network carriers and is also accessible in remote areas which has brought companies closer to their customers.

The USSD campaigns have enabled businesses to drive new revenue streams, improve customer engagement, build brand awareness, and increase customer loyalty by implementing a custom built solution based on the client’s requirements.

What is great about USSD messaging is that it creates a real-time connection during a session. The connection remains open, allowing a two-way exchange of a sequence of data. USSD is far more responsive than services that use SMS. This method is fast and familiar to the mobile market – as it is mostly used for Please Call Me and airtime recharging.

A unique advantage

How USSD can be used for business intelligence

We recently created unique USSD codes for one of our electronics clients who wanted to gain a deeper insight into their customers. Consumers who purchased the product were prompted to dial 120456#. The consumer was then taken to a screen to enter in their unique code supplied on the packaging to validate their entry. The next couple of strings came up where consumers were prompted to answer the necessary questions. Once the consumer completed all the strings they were then taken to a ‘Thank You’ page.

There has been great success with the use of the USSD medium. The best example of a USSD application is M-Pesa, a mobile transfer service that was created in Kenya in 2007. It was devised to allow urban workers to send money home to their rural families, who had little or no access to banking or postal services, but owned or could access a mobile phone.

M-Pesa has been so successful in Kenya that it has over 10.5 million active monthly subscribers, who have transferred over $5.9 billion since October 2012 – March 2013. This success is also achieved through using the platform effectively.

In addition, USSD allows for mass usage and has other various functionalities, from accessing news headlines, feedback and services, games, weather updates, sports scores and fixtures, advertising listings or directories

The Do’s and Don’ts

Customers prefer communication that is short and precise. With its interactive navigation ability, it is important not to cram the USSD strings with too much content, as you need to keep the customers engaged throughout the entire session. Content has to be structured in a way that customers do not lose interest. Companies need to make sure that the entire session is kept under two minutes to avoid sessions timing out as this will impact the user experience.

Whilst USSD is a very simple, user friendly and a non-activation process, it is very crucial that USSD campaigns are implemented and monitored continuously for effective results. USSD can assist a brand to build profiles of their customers.

It is a simple navigation process, but with faster response times and lower costs when compared to other tools. USSD is a very powerful tool as it has a high success rate with a low technological barrier to entry.

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