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Action for Children is a UK children's charity created to help vulnerable children & young people and their families in the UK.

Use this Guide to help you research and test how to design and run an SMS support service for young people. It will help you think about the needs of the people you support, your workers and your service's data needs. It also shows how its possible to integrate an SMS service with your CRM.

You could apply the steps to running an SMS support service for other groups of people too.

Steps to using Twilio to allow people and workers to communicate by SMS message

Before you choose software or set up any processes, you will need to understand three types of needs

Understand the needs of people who will use your service

Define who will be using your service (the people you want to support). Talk to them. User interviews are usually the best place to start. Ask them

  • about their digital behaviours

  • what they need from a service

  • what ways suit them to communicate with a service

  • what might stop them using a service (barriers to access)

Build in your safeguarding process from the start, especially if you will be communicating with vulnerable people.

Understand the needs of those who will run the service

Talk to those who will deliver the service, such as caseworkers or support workers. Ask them:

  • what core functionality they need from a service

  • how you could send and receive messages

  • what CRM integration needs they have, such as how data should be stored and shared.

  • anything else they might need to run a service.

You can do this through:

  • requirements workshops

  • workflow mapping

  • interviews.

Understand what data the service needs to collect

Ask the question: “What information do we need to find out and record from people using the service?”

Start to gather your requirements, for example:

  • how and what data should be recorded

  • how cases are tracked and managed

  • what data you need to report on

  • if and how notes and transcripts should be available.

Run a data protection impact assessment to be clear on what data you are storing and why you need it.

Action for Children conducted a research programme with young carers and families to understand their support needs. They found that young carers were not putting their own needs first and they did not want to overload carer services or mental health services. In response, Action for Children proposed to offer a service where young people could get emotional wellbeing support in a convenient way by talking about their lives in safety, confidence and anonymity if necessary.  

The service needed to be:

  • possible to validate quickly

  • cost effective

  • easy to roll out without a lot of upfront dev work

  • easy to access for young people, allowing anonymity.

Through user interviews, ideation and prototyping, Action for Children decided to pilot an SMS helpline service for young people. They chose Twilio for SMS as they were already using the platform and it offered integration potential with their CRM.

Once you have clarified your needs, you can run a pilot service. This will help validate your concept, if people use it.


  • how long your pilot should be so that you can collect feedback and iterate the service

  • who and how many people you should test it with

  • how you will market the service, for example Google Ads or digital campaigns. Map your assumptions to identify what marketing tactics you could test.

Using a solution like Twilio, you can communicate with people using SMS (text message). Twilio Flex lets you manage the SMS texts through an online contact centre. But you may find other tools which suit your needs better, such as a chatbot service.

Twilio Flex “out of the box”. You have a queue of tasks on the left (incoming messages), the active chat in the middle and conversation history to the right. Plus, some basic functionality (snooze, transfer, end).

Action for Children used Twilio Flex to pilot an SMS helpline service for young carers called Sidekick. The platform allows young people to SMS the service for help, and any worker to reply. 

They found Twilio Flex very flexible and usable as a basic platform to manage incoming and outgoing SMS. Their (external) website team helped them configure it and created a landing page for the service. The page included opening hours and a button for sending an SMS.

Though Twilio Flex manages incoming and outgoing SMS, they used SharePoint to temporarily record case information during the pilot. They chose Sharepoint because the organisation already used it. 

They decided to rely on existing networks to promote the service. They also ran ads on Google Ads, as they though that word of mouth and traditional outreach would not be enough.

It’s important to get regular feedback from people using the service. This is to validate the concept with real people and gather insights about:

  • how people want to use the service

  • what good support looks like.

Decide how you will gather feedback. You could:

  • integrate an incentivised survey into your SMS service

  • run user research sessions throughout the pilot.

You should also do information gathering with your colleagues managing the service. This could take place as:

  • a problem solving workshop

  • workflow mapping

  • recording anecdotal feedback

  • observational sessions (watching how they work).

This ongoing research will help you to refine the messaging within the service.

Testing CRM integration

User research may also show you gaps in data and reporting. This will help you think about how to integrate the SMS service with a CRM.

Note information on things like:

  • how data is captured in case logs

  • what case management fields are missing or needed.

Action for Children tested and iterated the service for 12 months. They encouraged young people to use the service and incentivised sharing feedback. They also conducted one-to-one and workshop research with young carers who had not used the service before, to find out if they had any barriers to access. 

They also observed coaching sessions between the support team and young people and documented feedback. They used this data to iterate aspects of the service.

Using SharePoint to record case information allowed them to iterate and improve how data was recorded during the pilot, which informed requirements for the CRM build.

After 12 months, usage statistics and feedback were good enough to validate the concept of a SMS helpline for young carers.

You will need a CRM or data management system to record data collected from SMS exchanges. This can be integrated with Twilio.

Your CRM should meet the needs you’ve identified for storing and sharing data.

You should continue to iterate how you record your data as you keep learning more about your service users and organisational needs.

A case in the contact centre now. The recording panel is entirely customised based on what the service needs to record.

Having validated the SMS helpline concept Action for Children were now ready to create a contact centre as a place to manage cases more easily and store data more securely. 

The service captures the following data:

  • interventions with support workers (meaning the help someone gets after contacting the SMS service)
  • when a young person is signposted to another service
  • outcomes
  • feedback from young people.

Parent Talk, another Action for Children service, had built a contact centre in Salesforce. The Sidekick team decided to adapt this centre, customising it for their service and integrating it with Twilio Flex so it synced SMS into individual case records. This involved further customisation and a significant amount of development time.

During the pilot stage, you should now have identified and fixed issues, and validated your user needs through research and testing.

As you move from pilot to ongoing delivery you will still need development time to:

  • respond to bugs and fixes

  • gather longer term needs for the platform.

You should also keep gathering data and testing with people using the service to:

  • continuously improve

  • identify new problems

  • make sure people are still getting the right support.

You can do this by:

  • tracking interventions 

  • feedback surveys

  • reporting on themes, such as types of mental health issues. This can help build a case for new training or changes to processes.

Continue to iterate your digital marketing, to make sure you are reaching people.

The Sidekick team continue to iterate both Twilio setup and contact centre design based on staff, young people and reporting needs.

Further information