How Electronic Notifications Work

By: Dave Roos
A laptop with mail signs coming out of the screen.
From fraud alerts to appointment reminders, electronic notifications have numerous real-world applications. imran kadir photography / Getty Images

The increasing use of SMS messages (text messages), voice mail and e-mail has made it possible to continuously be in touch -- no matter the location. Many businesses are relying on these technology tools to reach customers. For example, banks notify customers of unusual activity on their account, airlines alert passengers to delays or gate changes, and retail stores send sale reminders to frequent shoppers.

These communications are called electronic notifications.


An electronic notification is any automated communication received by e-mail, phone, text message or fax. Electronic notifications have thousands of applications for businesses, governments, schools and individuals. Some of the simplest and most common electronic notifications include:

  • News and weather alerts received as text messages on your cell phone
  • Travel offers received as e-mail as part of a frequent flyer program
  • Automated political surveys conducted by phone
  • Targeted marketing campaigns sent via fax

In this article, we'll explain the many benefits of electronic notification, list some of its applications and describe how it works for both large organizations and individuals.

Many companies and organizations such as emergency management agencies and universities are signing on with third-party electronic notification services for their mass communications needs. With these subscription services, organizations can instantly and securely communicate with thousands of employees, customers, clients and constituents across all communication platforms.

Third-party electronic notifications services save organizations time and money because they automate nearly all of the communication process without requiring companies to invest in costly personnel, hardware or software. Organizations simply subscribe to the off-site service and manage all contacts and communications through a desktop Web interface.

Automated electronic notification also provides a way to easily analyze responses. For example, a CEO can send a voice message inviting all international managers to an online training session. The automated system will collect all the responses and present the CEO with an instant list of attendees.

This automated data analysis is particularly useful for marketing purposes. A company can announce a promotion or new product over a variety of platforms and easily track which messages and platforms generate the most purchases.

Next, we'll look at some of the most useful applications of electronic notification for both organizations and individuals.


Applications for Electronic Notifications

Here are some examples of how different industries use automated electronic notifications to streamline communications and data analysis.


Credit-card companies can send instant fraud alerts to their clients at the first sign of irregular card use or large purchases. Banks can notify clients when their account is close to being overdrawn. Investment banks can send an e-mail reminder when a client's CD is due to mature.



For online retailers, notifications make it easy to inform customers about the status of their purchases. They can send confirmation e-mails when a customer's credit card has been charged, a shipping alert that notifies customers when the product leaves the factory or a voice-mail message that alerts them when the item is ready to be picked up in-store.

Customers can also sign up to receive new product alerts and special sales promotions from their favorite stores.


Hospitals and neighborhood doctors can send appointment reminders to patients, lessening the risk of missed or forgotten appointments. Pharmacies can call or e-mail customers when their prescription is ready, or even send them a refill reminder.


Automated electronic notifications mean easier communication between manufacturers, retailers and customers. Out-of-stock alerts, product-recall alerts and delivery confirmations all make manufacturing logistics run smoother. Large manufacturers can maintain contact with truck drivers and delivery personnel to alert them of severe weather or traffic delays.


Marketing firms can reach a larger audience by surveying customers across different platforms. They can track promotion campaigns to analyze their effectiveness. And without sinking into spam tactics, marketers can target new customers with high-volume online ad campaigns.


Students and professors can receive instant class cancellation alerts. In case of severe weather or a campus emergency, crucial warnings can be sent to all faculty, staff and students across all available platforms simultaneously.

Travel and Hospitality

Airlines can send customers instant flight-delay notifications or important travel warnings. Frequent flyers can receive special flight promotion e-mails. Hotels, restaurants and cruise lines can keep valued customers informed about special deals and last-minute promotions.

Applications for Individuals

More and more people are tapping the power of electronic notifications to stay organized, informed and in-touch 24/7. Here are just a few ways that individuals use automated electronic notifications:

  • News, sports and weather alerts
  • Web calendar reminders
  • National security and severe weather alerts distributed by emergency management agencies
  • Text messages from the local blood bank when your blood type is needed
  • Automated wake-up calls or event reminder calls
  • Traffic and accident alerts
  • Public transportation alerts so you know when your bus is running late
  • E-mail newsletters and special promotions from select companies

Next, we'll explain exactly how electronic notifications work for both large organizations and individuals.


Third-Party Electronic Notification Services

Many companies subscribe to a third-party electronic notification service rather than handling all mass communications in-house. Here's how those subscription services work.

  1. Employees of the company or organization access the electronic notification system through a Web portal on their desktop. No extra software or hardware is needed.
  2. Employees use the Web portal to add individual contact information to the database, including phone numbers, e-mail addresses and fax numbers.
  3. The Web portal allows users to organize contacts into groups and subgroups. Often you can upload contacts and groups from existing e-mail programs like Microsoft Outlook.
  4. When it's time to initiate a notification, users can log onto the Web portal or access the system by phone for sending voice messages.
  5. Users then choose which platform they want to use to send their message. Most electronic notification services include text-to-speech capability so a written message can also be sent as audio to phones.
  6. Once the message is typed or recorded and sent, it arrives at the off-site headquarters of the electronic notifications service, where servers instantly send the message off to the chosen recipients.

It's also extremely easy for individuals to set up electronic notifications. Most Web sites and services that offer e-mail, text and phone alerts will simply require a user to fill in their contact information, select some simple preferences, and that's it.


For example, to receive SMS news alerts from your local newspaper:

  1. Go to the Web site of the newspaper.
  2. Click on a link for "text alerts."
  3. Fill in your name, phone number and mobile carrier.
  4. Check boxes for the types of news you want to receive: international, sports, dining, et cetera.
  5. Now you'll receive a text message each time a relevant story is posted on the newspaper's Web site.

Less Paper, More Control

E-mail and Web-enabled mobile devices have already significantly changed the way companies conduct business and the way individuals stay informed and in touch.

The next logical step is a paperless society, and electronic notifications provide the backbone for such a system.

Individuals could control all correspondence from a master account, choosing how and when to receive bank account notifications, news, tax forms, airline tickets, sales promotions and personalized medical information­. They'd no longer have to toss out a stack of junk mail or wait in another line at the bank, the pharmacy or the airport ticket counter.

For more information about electronic notifications, check out the links on the next page.