RCS (Rich Communication Services) — the next-generation, media-enabled successor to SMS — is set to expand its coverage through 2020 and beyond, with 237 operators expected to roll out an active RCS service by the end of the year. RCS messaging offers unbeatable functionality with the ubiquity of SMS messaging. Group chat, rich media and two-way communications can be delivered directly to a user’s phone via the same built-in messaging app as regular texting, with no need for any additional apps or hardware.
In our last article, we talked about the basics like rich content, improved interactivity, and chatbots. Here we will talk about how these can work together to create a new, unique user experience that supports core commercial operations. We will also discuss some of the technological wizardry going on behind the scenes that helps bring extra value to enterprise messaging — and ensures its efficacy.
New levels — and new kinds — of communication
The conversational experience unlocked by chatbots — automated, AI-driven agents that communicate with customers on a business’ behalf — enables unprecedented levels of interaction that enhance brand and marketing activities. Innovative companies are already exploring more advanced use cases that take advantage of these same functions.
Restaurant chain Subway has used RCS messaging for familiar marketing tactics like special offers and coupons, seeing a 60% CTR thanks to rich content. But on top of this, they have also made it possible for customers to order their favourite sandwich via RCS. Users can customise their order by “talking” to the chatbot, which will ensure the order is ready to pick up the moment they walk into the store. They don’t even need to have cash on hand — with payment integrations, including direct carrier billing, RCS users can pay directly from their phone.
Making sales via RCS is facilitated by the implementation of rich cards and carousels. These are a unique highlight of RCS. They allow a company to present customers with different products or services, along with various options for each — such as getting more information, customising options, or purchasing right away.
Conversational commerce — making sales and conversions via a communication channel — is a fundamental value proposition for RCS, and one it has been designed to support since UP 2.0. Being able to sell anytime, anywhere, within the handset-native messaging app, opens up new possibilities, not just for marketing or customer service, but also for core business functions.
The “all-in-one” channel
The various tools offered by RCS can be woven together to create a single cohesive customer experience. For example, an events company might send a promotional message to a subscriber who can respond (using a quick reply button) and be shown a list of upcoming concerts. Each concert can be displayed using its own rich card with an image of the artist and links to learn more or be taken straight to purchasing options.
Once they’ve selected a concert, the user can choose their seats and pay within the same messaging session. They can then receive their ticket as another RCS message, complete with QR code and options that let them manage their booking or launch their map app so they can easily find the venue. Because all this happens within the RCS channel customer friction and attrition are kept to a minimum, making for a highly efficient channel — fewer drop-offs mean each message is more valuable.
Using these features can be surprisingly simple, as providers are keen to build intuitive message creation platforms and simplify the process of building, iterating, and launching campaigns. Enterprises can build chatbots without any programming experience, thanks to drag-and-drop interfaces that speed creation and allow companies to adapt templated “scripts” to their purposes.
Analysis and data
Behind the scenes, RCS continues to offer advantages over competing channels, particularly SMS. RCS can show click-through rates and interactions, giving marketers a better idea of how their creatives are working. This also means that marketers can examine drop-off points during conversations, to see where the chatbot can be improved.
Past interactions can also be analysed to provide targeting data, and RCS can make use of existing targeting such as read receipts in new and exciting ways. This extends to real-time targeting. Take, for instance, the Subway promotional campaign discussed above — the company used geolocation data so that proximity to a particular location would trigger a message offering a deal on a Sandwich. This made the message more compelling and increased traffic to stores, since the people receiving it were those close to a Subway outlet.
The key difference between SMS and RCS is that the latter is delivered over an IP connection. In other words: a smartphone’s data connection. This is what makes it able to transmit both rich content and usage/reporting data. It also means that RCS messaging is encrypted, making it more secure than its predecessor.
Various APIs allow for easy and flexible integrations between operators, messaging providers, and brands. RCS can be delivered as part of a multichannel suite, such as GMS Business Communications Suite, ensuring it can support a broader, integrated marketing strategy while also simplifying the use of SMS as a fallback option (should a user be unable to receive an RCS message).
For enterprises, RCS messages themselves are routed through a MaaP, or “Messaging as a Platform,” which does several things, including enabling advanced features such as suggested replies and rich cards. You can read more about the MaaP here, but what is most important to know is that it is crucial to making RCS a key enterprise messaging tool. This includes verification services.
A verified Sender ID restricts branding and interactive features to authorised senders only. This helps prevent spam and maintains the quality of the channel (spammers can be identified more easily, and/or cannot send rich messages) while fostering consumer trust. Thanks to RCS Sender IDs, when a user receives a message, they will see branding materials and colours as well as the name of the sender. And they will know that these things are a clear indicator that the message comes from a legitimate source. As such, RCS is much less susceptible to fraud.
A new global standard
The industry standard for RCS, the GSMA Universal Profile, sets out how these features should be implemented, ensuring messages can be delivered simply and securely to subscribers on any network — or in any country. This interoperability ensures that RCS will retain the ubiquity and reach of SMS while offering so much more to both subscribers and enterprise users.
Having said all this, RCS does not yet have market dominance. The technology cannot yet match the ubiquity of SMS, although it is spreading quickly, with multiple operators deploying in 2019. This is continuing in 2020, with the total number of operators offering RCS expected to rise to 237 by the end of the year, according to experts Mobilesquared.
Currently this still only applies to Android devices, nevertheless the support of Google, Samsung, and especially the GSM Association, is driving wider adoption and greater standardisation. When a saturation point of Android users has been reached, it is very likely that Apple will enable RCS in their iMessage app.
To further quicken the growth of RCS, Google has launched Google Guest, starting in the UK and France, expanding into the US, and over the course of 2020 they will expand further across Europe. Google Guest effectively allows users to access RCS even if their operator has not yet launched the service (the idea being that once the operator does so, Google will return users to the operator’s network servers).
The future of messaging
In many ways, RCS represents an evolution of SMS. It is an operator-provided channel that offers a direct connection to a subscriber’s handset. But it also offers something qualitatively new, thanks to its combination of features pioneered by various messaging apps, unique innovations, and the ubiquity and familiarity of SMS.
The array of tools available make RCS incredibly flexible. Inventive marketers can create better, more engaging, more productive campaigns. Forward-thinking companies can provide stellar customer service, build loyalty, and even drive new sales. If, as RCS’ most optimistic supporters believe, the technology can reach the spread and dominance of SMS in the next year or two, it may well be set as the messaging channel of choice.