Mobile-Originated Message Actions: Keywords, Automated Action Words and Carrier-Required Words

Messages that are sent from a mobile device into our system are called "mobile-originated" messages or "MO" for short.  When these messages are sent the TextPower system reacts differently depending on what the contents of the message are.  The following is a summary of the various types of MOs and how they are processed in the TextPower flow.

The TextPower system uses three different types of words that cause an action to occur on a mobile number.  These different words all get texted to us by the mobile user and they all have different uses.  It's important to understand the differences between them so that you can properly guide your customers.  

Keywords, Automated Action Words and Carrier-Required words are not case-sensitive.  The required verbiage will often be abbreviated in order to keep the message to 160 characters or less.  Note that this is the number of characters allowed by cellular carriers in any standard SMS text message (not only Keywords, Automated Action Words or Carrier-Required Words).

You can specify a message containing more than 160 characters if you wish but be advised that you will be charged for each 160 character-segment (e.g., a message or 170 characters will be charged as two messages).  Also note that older phones, typically called "flip phones" or "feature phones" or "standard phones") will receive messages greater than 160 characters as multiple messages and that they may not be received or displayed in order.  

The following types of automated response messages are available on the TextPower system:

  • KEYWORDS: If you are using one of TextPower's shared short codes your keyword is the way that we identify numbers on our system as belonging to you.  When a message comes from a mobile number containing that keyword we route it to your account.  You can view it as the apartment number in an apartment building; the shared short code (such as our 85700 short code) is like the address of the building.  If someone told you the address but not the apartment number you'd know where the building is but not what part of it they live in. Keywords work the same way.  

    - Keywords can be either all alphabetic characters or all numbers but not a mix of the two (although we do have special uses for mixed alphanumeric keywords they do not apply in 99% of our customers' situations).  

    - Keywords cannot be the same as any of the Action Words or Carrier-Required words noted in this article.  

    - Keywords must contain at last three characters.

    - When creating a Keyword be conscious of how auto-correct may affect it on a smartphone.  For example you may want your Keyword to be "OPTIN" but that may be problematic because if you type that into the text messaging field on a smartphone it will correct it to "OPTION."  If your customer attempts to text "OPTIN" and it becomes "OPTION" before they send it they will receive an error message because our system will not recognize "OPTION" as a Keyword.  In short, test the Keyword on your own smartphone to make sure that it is not auto-corrected to something else.

    - If you are using TextPower's bulk upload process for opt-ins the Keyword won't be as important because most customers won't see it or have to know it.  Keywords have become more important for internal use to segment opt-in lists than for external users.   

    When you choose a Keyword your customers will text this Keyword into your short code, 10DLC or text-enabled toll-free number (which is one of the reasons why we recommend an easy-to-remember and easy-to-type Keyword).  We recognize the Keyword and assign that number to your account.  When the Keyword is texted to us several things occur:

    1. The number is placed on the "opt-in list" for that Keyword.  When you send a bulk message to your entire list of opted-in numbers this number will now receive a message.  And after a number has been added to the opt-in list TextPower will recognize that number and properly handle any messages that arrive from it (knowing as "mobile-originated" or "MO" messages).

    2. A predetermined response, called a UserReply, which must contain certain verbiage required by cellular carriers (consult us for assistance in constructing these keyword responses), is sent in response to the mobile-originated message containing the keyword.  Special note: UserReply messages, along with the AutoWelcome, HELP and Opt-out messages, can now be as large as 320 characters instead of the previous limit of 160 characters.  

    3. Note that there are ways of designating parts of your lists as subsets by using "tags" or "groups" and that you can send to just one group so not all of the opted-in numbers will receive every blast message.  

    4. When the Carrier-Required Word (discussed below) "HELP" is sent from that phone a message constructed specifically for that keyword will be sent in reply.  

  • AUTOMATED ACTION WORDS: These are words that are customized by TextPower to cause a specific action to occur, typically in regards to our utility customers although other actions can be made available.  Action words can be added at your request (a small fee may apply) and are sent by mobile numbers that are already opted into a keyword because otherwise our system would not know which account the action request is associated with and we could not properly route the message.  Action Words are also treated as "structured" MOs, meaning that when email forwarding of MOs is set up if you enable the function to allow only "free form" messages, MOs containing these action words will not be forwarded.  They will not be considered "free form" messages.

    Typically when TextPower receives a mobile-originated message with one of these Automated Action Words we forward the contents of the message to the partner that the utility company uses for their outage management (OMS), billing or customer information system.  When the partner who runs, for example, the OMS, receives the content of the message that we forward to them (using a computer-to-computer process called a "POST") they take action on that word and then may direct TextPower to send a reply to the mobile user.  

    The utility member might text "out" for example and then TextPower sends that to the partner running the OMS.  That partner will recognize the word "out" and then match the phone number from which the message was sent (which we include in the POST) to their account records.  They will create an outage ticket in the same way that a ticket would be automatically created after a phone call to an automated or manually operated system.  The messaging system can then be queried by the user with the Action Word "status" which we will also forward to the OMS operator and the OMS operator will check the status in their system and direct TextPower to send a specific reply containing the most updated information.  

    These Action Words can be used to streamline operations, reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction.  Customers want the convenience, speed and accuracy of text messages instead of waiting on hold.  Our text messaging system, with its extensive application of Action Words, helps utilities provide an excellent service while reducing their costs.  

    Automated Action Words can include, but are not limited to:

    1. OUT or OUTAGE: Used by utility customers to report an outage by simply texting the word "out" or "outage" to the shared short code or toll-free number used by the utility for the text-based outage reporting service)
    2. BLINK: Used by utility customers to report their service was interrupted but is currently functioning.  This assists the utility dispatch staff in identifying conditions that are not full outages.
    3. STATUS: Used by utility customers to request a status update of the outage that they have previously reported or which as been reported to them via a text message.  
    4. BAL or BALANCE: Used by utility customers to request the current balance of their account.  Note that this function is dependent upon the integration of our system with the utility's billing system.  
    5. Any others that you define - such as ACCOUNT, BILL, BALANCE, CHAT, CONTACT, MAP, etc.
    6. Any of the words above preceded by the pound sign ("#") - #OUT, #OUTAGE, #BLINK or #STATUS.  

  • CARRIER-REQUIRED WORDS: These are words that are highly structured and will generate an automated response from the TextPower system.  The responses are structured, too, as they must require certain verbiage mandated by cellular carriers.  These Carrier-Required Words include:

    • HELP - a response containing information about how to contact the company to which the keyword is assigned:
      • The keyword for which the HELP message is responding
      • Email address
      • Toll-free number if one exists, a regular phone number if not
      • The maximum number of messages that they will receive in selected period; senders can choose to categorize it by the day, week or month.  A typical format would be "Msg&Data rates may apply. Max 10 msgs/week. QUIT to opt-out."

    • STOP or QUIT or CANCEL or END or UNSUBSCRIBE - any of these words will cause the number from which it is sent to be opted out. No messages can be sent to this number until it opts back in.  Note: These opt-out commands are also functional in other languages so some other words may be blocked.  You will be advised if a word is blocked from keyword usage when you request it.

      There is ONLY ONE WAY for a number to opt back in after it opts out and that is to text the keyword from that mobile device.  No other method that can be used to opt a user into the system including a file upload/sync or an API will cause the number to be opted back into that keyword.  This is done to protect you, TextPower's customers, from possible TCPA violations by inadvertently adding a number back into an opt-in list and sending a message to it after the user has opted out.  

      (NOTE: There is a "master override" API call, "ClearOptOutStatus" which can be used to opt numbers back in after they have been opted out.  This API call requires the user to proactively specify that they want this number opted in and to fill out a form in advance of using the API call assuming liability for the action.  The responsibility for re-opting a number into your keyword this way is the sole responsibility of the user (you) and could be the cause of a TCPA violation if the mobile user has not specifically requested your assistance in having their number re-added to the list.  Using the "ClearOptOutStatus" call should be used with great care.)

      Special note to customers using their own toll-free number (TFN) instead of one of TextPower's shared short codes: The recommended method for mobile users to opt-out is by sending QUIT or CANCEL instead of STOP.  This is due to technical limitations of the TFN network:

      The difference between QUIT and STOP is subtle and applies only to toll-free numbers.  When someone using a TFN texts STOP the message is trapped at the carrier side and never gets to TextPower.  That means that we don't know the customer is opted out so we don't remove them from the opt-in list.  There is no risk of a TCPA violation in this case even though the number has not been removed from the opt-in list because if we attempt to send a message to that number the carrier blocks it.  The difference is that if the customer used STOP to opt-out and then wants to opt back in they have to send UNSTOP first followed by the keyword.  
      If the mobile number sent QUIT to opt-out it gets through the carrier network to us and we register it as a standard opt-out.  Then when they want to opt back in they can just send the keyword (they don't have to send "UNSTOP" first).  The other word that works the same way is CANCEL.  CANCEL gets through to us, too, and registers as an opt-out.  
      We think that having to send UNSTOP before sending the keyword to opt back in after opting out is confusing to the mobile user.  That is why we encourage people to use QUIT.  
      TextPower regularly petitions the cellular carriers to make STOP work on TFNs the same way it does on short codes.  As the success of that is uncertain (predicting what carriers will or will not do is impossible) we are encouraging all of our customers - short code and TFN users alike - to use QUIT instead of STOP so that there is a common user experience across the entire TextPower system.
      NOTE: There will be occasions when you want to temporarily stop sending messages to a mobile number (or the mobile user requests it) but want to avoid forcing the user to text the keyword to resume receiving messages.  TextPower offers a simple "suspend" and "resume" function that allows you to control this.  
  • NO MATCHING WORDS (also referred to as a "free form" message) - If a message arrives from a mobile device that does not match a keyword, Command Word or Action Word it is still available for reading by TextPower customers.  You can have all MOs forwarded to any email address or have them sent via POST to any computer/server.  You can also view these "unstructured" MOs on the TextPower portal by logging in and selecting the menu item Message Data>See Rec'd Msgs. For more detail about this function see our FAQ "Can I forward inbound (MO) text messages to an email address?"