Studies reveal that the mobile phone has become a legitimate tool for enhancing financial inclusion and continues to support mobile payments, m-commerce, m-banking and other financial transactions. With the birth of the Unstructured Supplementary Services Data, also known as USSD, it has made life within the communications technology a whole lot easier. This makes USSD one of the best available communications technology to deliver mobile financial services to low-income customers.
What is USSD?
USSD, also referred to as “Quick Codes” or “Feature Codes”, is a Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) protocol that is used to send text messages. A platform where the information is transmitted through the GSM network onto a basic mobile phone. The USSD uses codes made up of characters that are available on the mobile phone.
USSD applications are also supported by all phones and do not rely on the complicated processing hardware required by demanding platforms such as iOS and Android. For example with the purpose of financial inclusion, when you dial a number that starts with * and ends with #, you are using USSD. USSD is similar to its companion, Short Message Service (SMS). To date, it is a vital communication service controlled by mobile network operators at a low cost and even without requiring access to the user`s SIM card.
What is USSD used for?
Although the USSD is now a decade old technology, within the world of mobile marketing it is still a very powerful application tool for promotions, balance checks, conducting surveys, generating leads and much more. USSD is commonly used today for checking mobile airtime and data balance enquiries or to receive one-time passwords or Pin codes. The application was created to allow users to interact directly from their mobile phone.
USSD operates in real-time, meaning it allows for two-way communication of information as long as the communication line stays open. Meaning it will generate queries and answers virtually instant.
How exactly does USSD work?
USSD is not complicated; in fact, it was created to make life easier. For those generating a query from a cell phone user (such as a balance enquiry) it will entail the following procedures:
The request is sent from the cell phone by the user
The USSD gateway forwards it to your USSD application
The application responds to the request and repeated in reverse
The response goes back to the USSD gateway
Content is then displayed on the user’s phone screen of that response
Responses contain a maximum of 182 alphanumeric characters.
Is USSD Out-Dated?
There is a multitude of smartphone apps and online communication programmes now available. The truth is, that despite its simplicity, USSD is one of the few truly inclusive mobile technologies available. This is a vital factor when it comes to cell phone communication in emerging markets, such as South Africa. Smartphone adoption across Africa (as a percentage share of total SIM connections and not population) is about 35%. In some countries, it is far less – averaging only 25%.
This means that if your business only runs online campaigns through a mobile-responsive website, or an Android or iOS mobile app, the biggest percentage of the market you can ever hope to reach is 35%. Presuming that everyone who owns a smartphone also has a data package to which many do not (or is it expires before the month is up). This all translates into a vast number of people currently not on your radar.
So the best option is to consider more universal ways to reach your customers, such as SMS, voice and USSD. Which might be categorised as the dinosaurs of communication but hold a wider reach than many online campaigns are unable to attain. However, one of the key benefits of USSD over the other two platforms is that it gives you far greater flexibility in terms of usage.
What are the benefits?
- USSD works on all phones
- It’s free for clients to use and highly cost-effective for you to implement and run.
- Highly interactive
- Rapid exchange of data – up to seven times faster than SMS.
- No Internet connection or data needed.
- USSD codes work across all cellular networks.
- It is not mobile software or SIM-based. This means it can run without either, or just needs a connection to the GSM network.
- Easily customised to suit business needs.
Also, many South African countries have used USSD as one of their marketing campaigns successful. Brands such as Hungry Lion (a popular fast food franchise) who launched its Lucky Bucket campaign in 2014, that resulted in a 37% increase in brand engagement, and sales growth in the double-figures. Or Ariel Washing Powder, who’s Impossible Made Possible campaign resulted in a response rate of 300% over target, and it was the only South African campaign to be commended at the DMA Global Echo Awards in New Orleans, and runner-up, worldwide, for the Best Use Of Mobile Award.
How iTouch can help you
iTouch is a prominent technological communications provider, offering the USSD as one of their Enterprise Messaging Products. We believe that it is an ideal medium for companies with large consumer databases and the desire to maintain an interactive relationship, for customer retention and business growth.
Several of our clients require urgent communications sent out to their customer base as a result of COVID-19 and the impact associated thereto. As such we are committed to prioritising this requirement and have our teams available beyond the usual call of duty. If you feel your request demands this of us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org