Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) – an overlooked marketing tool?

Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD, also known as quick codes) is a GSM protocol that can be used for text message communication. It’s very similar to SMS (Short Message Service), but it’s a bit more particular. For starters, USSD messages are limited to 183 characters. Moreover, USSD messages establish a real-time connection between the mobile phone and a network or server.

Even if they don’t know it, most people are more familiar with USSD than they might think. All phone numbers that start with a * and end with a # are USSD codes, and these codes serve to establish a USSD connection to a server. 

They’re a common way to get information from your GSM provider, and they’ve been used for a long while. But USSD codes can be used for so much more. 

A Short Explanation Of The Process

Whenever a phone number dials a USSD code, the request is sent to a USSD gateway. From there, it’s sent to the merchant’s application, which sends a response back through the same relays. 

A very common use of USSD is for requesting information about a mobile phone subscription, such as traffic data left, or supplementary costs. The same principle can also be applied to requesting information about a bank account balance.

A great perk of this system is that no application needs to be installed for USSD codes to work. This makes them widely available to anyone, regardless of whether or not they have space on their device (or even a smart device to begin with).

Mass Communication Campaigns

USSD is a great way to send messages in bulk, without cluttering a company inbox. Compared to SMS messages, USSD communication can be configured to only go one way, or to only accept specific types of responses. 

Alongside a character limit however, another limitation when it comes to USSD messages, is that they don’t support multimedia content. Communication is therefore limited to alphanumeric characters. 

Confirmations And Prompts

Another use for USSD is for companies to confirm orders, and prompt users for information. Since USSD messages can be automated, They’re commonly used by food delivery services to confirm an order, or by courier services to notify recipients of a package’s situation.

They’re also great for prompts. For example, when users need a code for two-factor authentication processes. Companies can send the code via USSD, simplifying the whole (very important) process.

Customer Feedback

Feedback surveys can be very cumbersome to navigate. But when they’re done via USSD, they have a higher chance of being filled out. That’s because USSD doesn’t support complex questions and answers. Again, the medium is limited. 

So it’s a great tool for quick customer feedback. For example, an automated USSD conversation can be enabled after a customer support call. The customer will then be able to rate the representative they were assigned, so the company can get quick feedback.

Moreover, there is support for USSD communication in a lot of Customer relationship management software, meaning you can make USSD a seamless part of the normal marketing mix.

USSD As Digital Payment

One of the most prevalent uses of USSD, especially in developing countries, is as a digital payment method. And it can work in two ways. When the USSD request gets to the payment application, it can either charge an online payment system account, or add the cost to a user’s phone bill.

For example, the *99# code is widely used as a third-party “mediator” of sorts between different banks. Users can easily call that USSD code, provide bank account details, and authorize a transfer that way.

Other times, USSD is part of a mobile banking application. When authorizing a payment, users of Flutterwave can choose USSD as a confirmation method. They don’t even have to exit the app and get back to the outdated USSD interface. It all works from inside the Flutterwave app.

Developing countries can’t boast a wide adoption of digital payment methods like banking cards, or mobile banking applications. There are even regions where ride sharing applications like Uber could work, but deployment is difficult since users don’t have bank accounts. In Nigeria alone USSD transfers totalled more than 1 billion USD each month.

That’s why USSD payment methods are extremely successful. They rely on widely adopted infrastructure, and offer a means for market forces to take over and bring growth to a region. 

And for companies that want to expand in regions where banking adoption is low, USSD can be a valuable tool for growth.

Conclusion: USSD And Growth

USSD is an invaluable tool for economic growth in areas where banking doesn’t have the same success. Its seamless integration with other online payment processors, and even just phone carriers, makes it a versatile solution that can be easily applied to a range of different business sectors. For businesses looking to expand into developing country markets then, or looking for easy approaches to customer feedback and communications, USSD integration has a great deal of potential that is often overlooked.

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