Automated SMS messaging has pulled off what may have seemed impossible: helping brands interact with customers more empathetically and effectively than ever before while slashing operational costs.
This is the business holy grail. It has led to mass rollouts of automated SMS messaging programs by customer-facing businesses everywhere and has continued to prosper in the business world because of how ubiquitous, immediate, and far-reaching it is.
Now that landscape is poised to advance—in the form of a messaging technology called Rich Communication Services (RCS). RCS uses the trusted text messaging channel and infrastructure, but can deliver messages with the graphics, video capabilities, and interactivity of apps. Handset manufacturers, mobile carriers, and companies such as Google are uniting around a version of RCS called Universal Profile 2.0. And it’s being rolled out across the world now.
What should you expect?
1. Customer experience levels will rise: CX data that reveal the power of RCS will start to trickle in over the coming months. Customer engagement data from the world’s first commercial rollout of RCS by the U.K.’s Virgin Trains backs this up.
Since last summer, Virgin Trains has been sending RCS messages to customers’ phones 10 minutes before they arrive into London’s Euston train station. The messages deliver updates for underground train services, complete with a button they can tap within the message to find more detailed information. Every customer that has provided feedback so far has given the experience a five-star rating. Not one has chosen to opt out.
Several rollouts are taking place across the world, with companies like Sprint, ITV, Paris St. Germain, and UnoTV using it to engage with customers in new ways.
2. Increase in sales conversions: A recent trial by Subway restaurants indicates prosperous times are ahead for businesses that use RCS for permission-based marketing. Last year, the international sandwich chain sent one segment of customers two offers via SMS, then sent another segment the same two offers via RCS. The wording for the offers matched exactly, but the branded RCS version included interactive buttons and product images. The conversion rate with RCS was 140% higher than SMS for a two-sandwich offer and 51% higher for a meal deal offer.
Many brands already have permission from large sets of customers to send offers via mobile messaging. This captive audience is an incredible foundation for RCS.
3. Immediacy, redefined: SMS has long been known for its high open rates, with a reported 90% of messages read within three minutes. However, this SMS data has always been gathered from customer surveys, as it can’t be extracted from the channel itself. RCS, on the other hand, provides much greater insights into delivery and read data, including precise open rates and on-screen event tracking.
4. New possibilities: RCS is an interactive environment in which chatbots will thrive. It doesn’t require the customer to install another app, and brand verification can be baked into the RCS standard.
All brands (or their messaging providers) have to do is connect a chatbot through an API. With a chatbot built into the messaging interface we’re all familiar with, automated messages won’t have to follow simple yes/no formats anymore. Instead, customers will be able to instigate conversations with a chatbot that lives in their existing messaging applications.
Conversations like this will be possible:
Customer: My car is broken.
Company: I’m sorry to hear that. Can you describe what is wrong with it?
Customer: The windscreen is cracked.
Company: Our records show it’s under warranty. Would you like to bring it into one of your local branches for a repair?
Customer: No. I don’t have the chance to get away from work.
Company: Would you like us to pick it up?
Company: Great. We can be around tomorrow between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to pick your car up. Does this suit you?
Company: OK. We’ve arranged that. Is there anything else we can help you with?
Company: OK, thanks for your time. Bye for now.
A Breakthrough Year
To be sure, 2019 won’t mark the end for SMS. In fact, use of the channel is expected to continue growing over the next few years. A 2019 study from Juniper Research predicts 3.5 trillion SMS business messages will be delivered in 2023, up from an estimated 2.5 trillion in 2019.
RCS will grow alongside it. The key to its emergence is the fact that businesses don’t have to wait for the adoption of the protocol on every phone before they start using it. The SMS fallback feature (offered by leading mobile messaging providers) means every RCS message sent can simply revert to an SMS format for audience members that can’t yet receive RCS.
By the end of the year, RCS looks set to establish itself as an important communication channel. Indeed, we’re about to witness a big B2C mobile messaging transition that starts this year and gathers pace from there.