As we move into 2020, momentum around RCS (Rich Communication Services) is growing. The new communication channel, an upgrade to SMS, which allows brands to offer richer interactions for their customers, has started to see greater traction with businesses. Recently, we have seen Google announcing plans to roll it out to Android users across the US while, closer to home, all major UK mobile operators have announced their RCS launch dates, and big-name brands such as Virgin Trains and Vodafone have launched their first services. Although handset manufacturers need to support the channel in greater numbers, industry analyst Mobilesquared forecasts that there will be more than 1bn global active RCS users by the end of 2019, rising to more than 3.2bn by the end of 2023.
Today’s consumers are much more likely to engage with RCS messaging than with SMS, as demonstrated through early trials with Vodafone, Pizza Hut and Walgreens. People react well to RCS because it allows them to communicate with a brand in the same way they use their favourite apps, through tapping not texting.
RCS and the other next generation of messaging channels like Apple Business Chat and WhatsApp tackle some of the drawbacks of the existing digital channels. Email is visual, ubiquitous but not interactive; SMS is ubiquitous, limited interactivity but not visual; mobile apps are interactive, visual but not ubiquitous. RCS, Apple Business Chat and WhatsApp promise to be highly visual, interactive and ubiquitous.
We’re fast approaching a tipping point for adoption and brands should start giving serious consideration to making RCS a part of their customer communications strategy for 2020. Specifically, there are four key benefits brands will enjoy from RCS.
1. Richer media
RCS makes all the features and benefits of consumer messaging services available to businesses. Picture messages, videos, group chats, location sharing, typing indicators, interactive carousels and even file transfers are all supported. It’s also more convenient for the customer than SMS; in many cases, customers simply need to tap to indicate their choices, rather than type out a full message.
Naturally, this opens up new avenues for businesses to make it easier for customers to interact with them. A retailer might send out videos to showcase new products or help customers locate stores, while an airline might offer a fully digital check-in experience with tickets, flight updates and on-demand terminal maps.
2. A conversational approach
RCS also enables more conversational interactions as opposed to SMS. Rather than one-way text messages designed to simply update the customer, RCS allows customers to have a conversation with brands directly. For product returns, customers could simply message the retailer who would then provide various return options which can be replied to via a single tap. If businesses then combine RCS with the latest AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies, they can create truly automated conversational experiences from end to end.
3. The confidence of ‘blue-tick’ verification
An added benefit of RCS is the improved security it offers customers. In today’s environment, customers are wary of sharing their personal data as phishing and smishing attacks become increasingly common over SMS and email. Sending a customer an ‘out-of-the-blue’ SMS message with a link might make them think the message is suspicious, deterring them from opening or responding to it.
With RCS, if a customer wants to interact with a provider, they’ll have ‘blue tick’ verification to let them know their message has been received, and the chat will be framed by the provider’s official branding and colours. This can give customers more confidence they are speaking to the brand, rather than an impersonator, and making them more likely to engage as a result.
4. The ability to measure success
Historically it has been difficult for marketers to accurately measure the open rates and success of SMS campaigns. With RCS, marketers have visibility over read receipts and click through/engagement rates giving them a clearer sense of the number of customers responding to each campaign. Early adopters are already enjoying the benefits – Vodafone was recently able to see that 80 per cent of messages sent in a trial campaign were opened, for example.
A strategy for hitting the mainstream
Vodafone’s trial campaign resulted in a huge jump in the number of responses, with 25 per cent responding (as opposed to just one per cent when a similar message was sent via SMS), reflecting the fact that consumers have a real hunger to move from text to tap. On this and other evidence presented at the GSMA forums over the last year, we can expect to see RCS become an increasingly popular channel for businesses. In the UK, RCS is winning the backing of consumer-facing brands, and telecom industry leaders are beginning to look for ways to collaborate, laying the groundwork for mass adoption to become a reality.
We look set for a very exciting year of RCS experimentation ahead, as we see more addressable handsets in the market and the start of a migration from apps to messaging channels. For businesses and IT departments, they now need to think about how they can effectively integrate RCS into their existing customer communications strategy. Executed well, it promises to deliver the richer and more interactive mobile experiences to consumers.
Jay Patel, Chief Executive, IMImobile