Learn About Transactional Messaging

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain what transactional messages are.
  • Differentiate between promotional and transactional messaging.
  • Identify the two ways transactional messages are triggered.

Connected Customers Demand Connected Journeys

With smartphones in the hands of nearly every person, you’re connected with your customers like never before. And these connected customers expect a positive experience whenever they interact with your brand, so you need to make sure you’re delivering seamless customer experiences across all of your channels—websites, social media, mobile, and in person. 

On top of that, your brand must also deliver a seamless experience across all areas of your business, including sales, service, and marketing. According to the State of the Connected Customer Report, 70% of consumers say connected processes—such as seamless handoffs or contextualized engagement based on earlier interactions—are important to winning their business.

Since today’s consumers expect real-time communications from brands they interact with, you want to be sure you’re sending personalized messages in real time whenever a customer purchases a product, makes a donation, or requests information from your company. A great way to manage these mission-critical communications is through transactional messages.

What Is Transactional Messaging?

We’ve all received them, right?! The email confirmation that arrives immediately after we make a purchase online. The text message that hits our phone asking us to verify our identity to access a website. Transactional messaging is an incredible tool for sending the most important messages while also increasing customer engagement. And it can make a big impact.

Transactional messages are deployed to an email client or mobile device in real time, resulting from a transaction initiated by a person or system. These messages contain information about the transaction or event. The primary intent is not for promotional reasons, but to deliver critical information immediately.

This includes order confirmations, account alerts, identity verification, time-triggered reminders, and password resets. The bottom line is that your company must be able to quickly respond to customers’ ever-changing needs for information and services, otherwise you risk losing their business.

Transactional messages need to be delivered in a timely manner in order to effectively inform and communicate with customers. And, at the same time, these messages must honor compliance and data privacy.

So how does a transactional message differ from a promotional message? 

Promotional messages (sometimes referred to as commercial messages) are sent to a list of subscribers who have opted-in to receive promotional/marketing-type content from your brand. Examples include newsletters, sale notifications, new product announcements, event invitations, and inspirational updates.

Transactional messages are sent in response to a user’s interaction with your website or business or service. Examples include shipping notifications, account alerts, and identity validation. These messages are often critical in nature, but that’s not to say you can’t promote your brand in a transactional message! (More on this in the upcoming unit.)

The biggest difference between promotional and transactional messages is that users don’t have to opt-in to receive transactional messages from a brand; an action by an individual or a system is the trigger. A promotional message is sent to a subscriber—someone who has given explicit permission to receive email from a brand—while a transactional message is sent in response to an action.

Transactional Message Triggers

A transactional message can be triggered in two ways: by a person or by a system.

Messages triggered by a person are non-promotional messages that confirm the completion of a process, with the expectation of immediate delivery. Examples include:

  • Order confirmation
  • Password reset
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Account verification
  • Opt-in requests

Messages triggered by a system are non-promotional messages, informing a person of an event, with the expectation that the message will be sent as soon as possible. Examples include:

  • Shipping notification
  • Appointment reminder
  • Weather alert
  • Financial alert

Let’s look at an example of each way transactional messages are triggered.

Person Initiated

Veda, a customer of Cumulus Financial, needs to access her bank account on her mobile phone but she’s forgotten her password. She requests to reset her password using her email address, which is already stored in her credit union account. She receives an email immediately asking her to verify her password change request.

This is an example of a person-initiated single message confirming the completion of a process with expectations of immediate delivery. The credit union can push the password approval back to Veda in real time.

System Initiated

Robert is a patient of McKenna Health. He opts-in to receive SMS text messages to remind him of upcoming appointments. While at his doctor’s office, he makes a 6-month follow-up appointment. One week before his scheduled appointment, Robert receives a text message asking him to reply Y to confirm the upcoming appointment, N to cancel it. 

This is an example of a system-initiated single notification message triggered by an application within a specified time period. McKenna Health is able to automatically generate text notifications one week prior to a specified date to those patients who have opted-in as an easy way to confirm or cancel upcoming appointments.


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