Mar 8 - Text Notifications & Verizon
For many years we've allowed you to enable text message notifications. When you are scheduled, or receive an email, you can also get a text message notification. Unfortunately, after many years, Verizon has recently made a change that stops many of these text notifications from being delivered.
Free SMS Gateways
Official text messages are not free to send, however many cell phone companies provide a special service called an SMS Gateway. Instead of sending a text message, we send an email to that carrier's SMS Gateway, and they convert it into a text message. You have to know a person's cell carrier to be able to send the email to the correct address, but this is how Planning Center has sent text messages for free for so many years.
Without warning, Verizon has stopped delivering at least some of the messages that we send through their SMS Gateway. We know many of them are not getting through, but we've also had reports that some are still working. We've been working for the last 2 weeks to figure out what we can do to fix this, and though we improved it for a bit, they changed something and it got worse again. After more communication, including contacting Verizon, the company that handles our email deliverability ultimately told us there isn't anything we can do to fix this, so we've put a notice on any profile that has Verizon selected.
The first thing to remember is that these text messages are notifications in addition to the emails that are already going out. All the actual emails are still being delivered, so your communication is still being delivered reliably. The only thing that has stopped are the text notifications of those emails.
The fastest thing we can do to attempt to replace the free gateway texts, is add features to our mobile app for iOS and Android. Services mobile already receives push notifications for scheduling requests. We are quickly working to send the other types of text notifications as app notifications. This will include the ability to more easily manage all Planning Center Services messages in the app, and see how many unread messages you have. We hope to release this update in 2-3 weeks.
Some people have had success contacting Verizon and asking them to unblock these text messages. We're not sure how long this might work, but you are welcome to try. Our messages come from different numbers all ending with @s.pcos.ms. This would have to be done by every person using Verizon, and obviously is not a great solution.
Paid Text Messages
There is a company called Twilio that will allow us to send actual text messages, but it is not free. We are considering adding an optional integration with Twilio that any church can sign up for and then pay for the text messages they send. We don't love this solution because once again, these text messages are just notifications, and it seems silly to pay to receive a text notification when you can already get the email and (soon) app push notification for free. Almost all other apps only send notifications via email or push notification to an app.
There are some other complications to this solution. First, at the moment, this mainly affects Verizon, and sending to many other providers is still free. So you'd have to start paying for all texts, even the ones that could technically be free still. Second, different Planning Center apps are already considering future features to enable actual text messages (not just notifications). If we make a decision now, it will possibly negatively affect more-useful future features that allow sending full-content text messages, not just notifications.
And finally, this won't be easy, would take us quite a while to implement, and will slow down other features we're excited to bring you. This option isn't out of the question, but we need to put more thought into it, and are kind of hoping that emails & app notifications will be enough. Plus it's possible that even if we decided to move forward, we'd run into unforeseen roadblocks and email & app notifications would have to be enough anyway.
We're really sorry and honestly bummed out over this change. We wish we would have had notice to have a backup plan implemented before this happened, but unfortunately, there's not anything we can do to perfectly fix this for Verizon customers. We're also not sure why some messages seem to be delivered and others are not, and don't have a way to verify this ourselves.
It's also quite possible that in the coming months, other providers will follow suit. We're working to bring you push notifications for all emails to our Services mobile app in the next couple of weeks, and in the meantime, regular emails are still being delivered to everyone, even if most Verizon users don't get text notifications for them.