On the 24th of March, GMS’ Chief Product Officer, Virginie Debris spoke at the MEF Connects Business Messaging event about our experience in launching a Rich Communication Services (RCS) Proof of Concept (PoC) in Ukraine. GMS opted to carry out the PoC in Ukraine due to our experience there and in surrounding markets. We also wanted to explore what it would take to build a whole RCS ecosystem from scratch, where no prior campaigns had yet been launched.
Here Virginie elaborates on some of the key points of her talk, and the lessons learnt from rollout, which was a first for the CIS region.
When we laid out our plans for our Ukrainian PoC, we had high expectations, as is common with RCS. We had aimed to complete the PoC by the end of 2019, with a host of enterprises and all operators on board, and RCS working out-of-the-box on subscribers’ handsets.
The reality turned out to be a little trickier, with a number of hurdles (including a seldom-discussed illness going around) impacting our schedule and plans. However, through the blood, sweat, and tears of our diligent experts, we managed to produce multiple successful campaigns exploring a range of use cases.
Acting as an enabler during challenging times
Like most plans, ours was forced to contend with the realities on the ground.
The first challenge — which resulted in us missing our initial target launch in 2019, and being swept up in Covid — was RCS readiness. Or rather the lack of it. Like most MNOs, those in Ukraine did not have an RCS platform in place. We had planned for this and were proposing to act as an enabler from the start. What we had not planned for was the difficulty in getting the RCS functions on handsets activated.
Due to other priorities on their side, it proved almost impossible to get Google and Samsung to ‘switch on’ the RCS connectivity with GMS in their native messaging apps. Eventually, GMS decided to bypass the native apps by deploying a downloadable app which would allow subscribers (and enterprises) to finally access RCS messaging. This is a wider problem in the ecosystem, one we will all need to address — and soon — if RCS is to be a global success.
The second challenge was largely a result of Covid-19. MNOs and brands lacked bandwidth and the expertise necessary to adopt RCS Business Messaging. As operators moved to adapt to the pressures on their network created by the pandemic, they lacked the time and manpower to work with us to deploy the necessary RCS infrastructure. As a result, the number of MNO participants dropped from three down to one, which was not ideal but still gave us an excellent subscriber base for our experiment.
Enterprises likewise were busy adapting to the quarantine imposed in Ukraine, with many concerned about future revenue. Others were scrambling to adopt new business models based around deliveries and online shopping. This left them with little time to learn to create chatbots or develop scripts for them.
Circumstances therefore obliged GMS to become more ambitious. Many enterprises were interested, but required help to set up their campaigns, requiring us to act as marketing advisors and designers. Under the guidance of the brands, we built and tested bots on their behalf, easing the pressure on them and helping everyone accelerate the deployment of RCS campaigns.
By the completion of the PoC, GMS had launched RCS campaigns across 13 enterprises focused on the retail, banking, and tech industries. These campaigns leveraged the full range of RCS features, including suggested replies, rich media, rich cards and carousels, and location services.
Beauty retailer Eva used RCS for interactive promotions, sending a “deal of the day” for discounts on various cosmetics. Rich cards and carousels greatly improved the visual impact while interactive buttons simplified the customer journey, in turn improving conversion rates.
Gas/petrol station chain OKKO used rich messaging to promote their Fishka loyalty programme and help customers find their outlets. They used location services and maps to guide users to their stations, and suggestion-enhanced messaging to send updates and details about the Fishka programme.
Prom.ua is an online marketplace which used RCS to facilitate payments and reduce abandoned carts. Messaging was used to remind users that had unpurchased goods in their carts, and these messages used action buttons to streamline and simplify payment.
Lessons learnt and the way forward
At the close of our PoC, GMS had launched 13 chatbots, exchanging over 10,000 messages with end users over the course of three months.
While we are pleased with these results — particularly the degree to which users were willing to engage in conversational messaging — we believe there is more and that there are valuable lessons to be learned from the experience.
The first is that education and support is a must. Those of us hoping to pioneer RCS must be aware that our clients will need help adapting to new technology. Enterprises will need to learn how interactive campaigns work, and may need more evidence of what RCS can bring to their business. Operators will also need guidance on rollout and implementation, particularly when faced with getting RCS clients onto mobile devices.
This leads us to the second lesson — we, as an industry, need to focus more on getting RCS to work out-of-the-box, as it should. All the stakeholders in the ecosystem must work towards the same goal: ease the end user adoption of RCS. However, this leads to a chicken and egg situation. Enterprises will not be keen to invest in such new channels until the community is big enough to be served by RCS. On the flipside, MNOs will not invest in the RCS channel until there is a real business coming from enterprises. So, what is the solution? Just do it! Each of us — as members of that ecosystem — should do what we can do. At GMS, we invested in helping enterprises with chatbots, aggregating the traffic towards the MNOs and even enabling the MNOs for RCS. Other participants of the ecosystem such as enterprises, MNOs, and handset manufacturers need to play their part too.
Thirdly, we should be aware that whenever we introduce RCS into a market, we are essentially creating an entire value chain. Particularly in GMS’ case, where we work with both operators and enterprises, we are bringing both sides of the equation together, and building from scratch. This is quite a positive takeaway. Certainly, we need to work hard to ensure there is a robust business case, but at the same time we are working with a blank slate which creates a perfect opportunity to coordinate everything, thereby ensuring RCS hits the ground running.
GMS’ experience with RCS is a microcosm of the RCS rollout as a whole: a lot of ups and downs, but with some interesting results and a lot more potential to be tapped. Progress has been slower than our admittedly ambitious plans (we hoped to have every operator deploying all at once) but even those areas where reality failed to meet expectations taught us much.
We feel that our PoC has proven the value of RCS, and that GMS can deploy and manage an RCS rollout at a national scale. This gives us a great deal of confidence as we push to make RCS a working reality, beyond PoCs and test cases, as we move towards sharing our knowledge and combining our RCS experience with our established hubbing activities.
GMS has set its sights on becoming a complete ecosystem enabler, launching RCS and RBM from day zero. This proof-of-concept has shown the way and the whole GMS team is excited to further explore the possibilities.
Now, we are expecting the rest of the community to come and play with us!