Handling inbound SMS and responses

How to handle your inbound SMS messages with keyword auto-responses and Help Desk conversations.

Beth-Ann Sher avatar
Written by Beth-Ann Sher
Updated over a week ago

Now that you’ve set up this powerful communication channel, learn how to handle any inbound SMS messages from your customers. This can be entirely automated, or you can unlock a whole new channel for your support team, quickly responding to SMS messages through your Help Desk with all your conversations in one place.

Inbound SMS can come via:

  • SMS replies - A customer reply from an outbound SMS message you sent.

  • Customer initiated SMS contacts - If you’ve shared your SMS number as a support or contact line, a customer can start an SMS conversation with you.

These can be handled in one of two ways:

  1. Keyword Auto-responses - When customers message a specific keyword, they can receive an automated response.

  2. SMS Conversations - If you have 2-way SMS conversations turned on, then for non-keyword messages, a new conversation will be created in the Help Desk where teammates can reply.

We’ll go through how to set up both of these options.

Keywords and auto-responses

Many inbound SMS messages can be handled with auto-responses and actions using common keywords such as HELP, INFO, STOP, START etc. To find keyword responses, go to Proactive Support > Settings > SMS and click on Automated keyword responses:

Default keywords and behaviors



Default Auto-response



Opt-Out from Marketing SMS

[Workspace Name]: You have been unsubscribed from SMS marketing. No more marketing messages will be received from this number. Reply START to re-subscribe.

This is a compliance required keyword and the response needs to be explicit about the customer being opted out and what they can do to resubscribe.


Opt-in to Marketing SMS

[Workspace Name]: You have successfully been subscribed to marketing messages from this number. Reply STOP to unsubscribe. Msg & Data Rates May Apply.

These keywords automatically opt a customer back into receiving SMS. The auto-response message should confirm this.



[Workspace Name]: Reply STOP to unsubscribe. Msg&Data Rates May Apply.

These keywords have no action but should direct the customer to information about where they can get help, how to unsubscribe, and ideally why they are on this list.

If no keyword is recognised


[Workspace Name]: This keyword was not recognized. Reply HELP for help, STOP to unsubscribe. Msg & Data Rates May Apply.

If you don’t have 2-way SMS turned on, this auto-response will be sent. It should explain to the customer that their message was not received/read and direct them where to go instead.


All US SMS Blocked

You have been unsubscribed from SMS. Msg&Data Rates May Apply.

In the US, carriers handle the STOP keyword for toll-free numbers. If a customer responds STOP then the carrier will block any further SMS messages from us to that recipient.

We encourage you to use other opt-out methods in the US such as the Preferences Center but to avoid carrier filtering, the STOP keyword must be included in messages.

Note: Actions are behaviors that happen alongside the SMS auto-response being sent.

Editing keyword responses

Inbound keyword responses are always turned on. You can edit the default responses to make them fit your brand and tone, as long as they still fit the keywords a customer sends.

To edit a response, hover over a keyword group row and click the edit icon next to the default response:

This will open an SMS response composer where you can click to edit the auto-response text:

Note: Auto-responses are text-only and can’t include any emojis or attributes. We recommend keeping an auto-response under 160 characters to avoid splitting the message into multiple segments and incurring extra charges per message.

Custom keyword responses

You cannot create your own custom keyword responses in your SMS settings however if your Intercom subscription includes Workflows, you can create a channel specific workflow to send a response based on the content of the Users inbound message. You can also set up conditional branches based on the keywords mentioned:

Inbound SMS conversations

When a non-keyword inbound SMS message is received, you can choose to have that message trigger a new Help Desk conversation over SMS with your teammates.

With true 2-way SMS, you can make the most of those key moments when you have your customers' full attention - and use them to convert, activate, and retain customers much more effectively.

Pro tip: After a customer sends their first message, you can trigger a Custom Bot to deflect, triage and route inbound SMS conversations more efficiently.

To turn these inbound SMS conversations on or off, go to Proactive Support > Settings > SMS and click on 2-way SMS.

Important: 2-way SMS is a global setting which either makes all non-keyword messages go to the Help Desk inbox if it’s turned on, or none will if it’s turned off.

It’s great to keep this turned on as another communication channel, but you may want to turn it off if you’re unable to monitor the Help Desk inbox, or don’t want the associated messaging costs that come from SMS conversations in the Help Desk inbox. Learn how SMS pricing works here.

Note: You’ll need Help Desk seats in your workspace to use this feature.

Inbound geo-restrictions

Customers can message your workspace phone number from another country, but due to cost and regulatory implications, auto-responses and SMS replies from your teammates can only be sent if you have an activated phone number in the country the customer messaged from.

For example, if you have a US number activated and you advertise that number on your website as a support channel, a customer in Germany can send an SMS to your number which you can receive but not respond to.

SMS keyword replies

If a customer sends a keyword reply from another country, no keyword auto-response is sent to the customer.

Note: The auto-response is still included in your outbound SMS reporting.


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