Messaging Gets ‘Rich’ in 2020 With RCS

This article was originally published in The Fast Mode and is republished here with permission.

After many years of starts and stops, the end of 2019 made it clear that Rich Communication Services (RCS) are finally here.

While RCS was chosen as the standard to replace traditional text messaging over a decade ago – enabling default messaging apps to compete with the likes of Facebook Messenger with integrated calling, video, and multimedia capabilities – it took a long time for mobile operators to begin putting RCS into practice. Recently, though, a number of major operators finally agreed to a new standard for RCS, and Google has rolled out the technology on Android phones.

RCS will offer a number of improvements for the general consumer, including adding to the reach and reliability of traditional text messaging with the advanced media features that consumers are accustomed to on WhatsApp and WeChat. However, the most interesting applications for RCS will be on the business side. Here’s a look at a few of them.

What all the hype is about
Customer service is one of the most important ways that businesses affect how consumers perceive their brand – but it can also be one of the most expensive. RCS will allow companies to both improve their service while also driving down costs, with automation of simple customer interactions that previously required expensive calls to a live agent. With the advent of these modern online business processes, many companies are looking to digitally transform their businesses and are rightfully excited about the possibilities of RCS.

Soon, rich features like high-resolution photos and videos, payment options, mapping directions, and location sharing tools will be available over messaging for companies to create truly engaging and branded conversations on any mobile device. The possibilities for travel and hospitality, booking, shopping, and disruption management are also compelling, and have the potential to drive much commerce through RCS as a result of new methods of engagement through customer service. Likewise, banks will be able to leverage RCS for self-service help and account fraud prevention.

For instance, a single promotional message, such as “Receive 30% off your next purchase when you sign up for text message alerts,” can transform a standard customer exchange into a much more dynamic and personalized conversation. This can all happen through a chatbot in one message stream, without diverting the customer to a brand’s custom app or a mobile web page. Limitations like picture size, sound, and message formatting will no longer be a problem. These are the possibilities of RCS that become compelling for businesses – conversational, interactive and instantaneous communication that completely changes the way that customers interact with brands.

Let’s walk through a scenario to illustrate the future of rich messaging: a customer looking to book a hotel room. They research hotels online, book their room, and confirm the order. Shortly after, they receive a text message from the hotel chain saying: “Thank you for booking. Your reservation number is ‘X’ at our hotel property ‘Y.’” With text messaging, this would be limited to a standard one-way interaction, and would be the best the service could offer.

With conversational messaging through RCS, however, that hotel can promote its on-property amenities. The hotel can send a personalized, branded message along the lines of “To discover what’s going on around our hotel, click here,” and then – without ever requiring the customer to leave the messaging app – direct the customer to complementary partner attractions to make their stay special. For example, the hotel could help reserve a table at its on-property restaurant by simply providing a button that enables the customer to receive 10% off the final bill.

These dynamic new capabilities are driving all the buzz among the largest brands looking to digitally transform customer experience in big ways for big wins, and we expect this transformation to shape the future of commerce.

A new messaging model needs a new pricing model
Perhaps it’s surprising that RCS will need to be priced much differently compared to traditional messaging. Today, when a consumer creates a text message, it is sent to a mobile operator’s network, and the mobile operator delivers the message to the recipient’s mobile device for a fee. So text messaging functions entirely as a set of back-and-forth one-way interactions – and it’s that one-dimensional aspect of it that allows for a simple method of dictating the final price of the message.

RCS is set to be much more conversational, and thus much more complicated, requiring different pricing models. One likely possibility is that RCS messaging will be priced per chat session. For example, a business could “buy” a 30-minute chat session with a customer -pricing and use that time to offer select services via an enriched RCS experience. This method of pricing would allow both businesses and consumers to avoid paying 30 times the prior text messaging price simply because they are no longer sending just a one-way message. Another option would imitate that of digital advertising, where a business pays per impression or engagement with a customer. In this model, companies would pay based on sales conversions over RCS, since all customer actions are trackable.

The bottom line is that RCS pricing models are still being worked out. The options are being meticulously considered by mobile operators and businesses, and while there’s no clear answer yet, it’s expected that a lot of major industry players will be weighing in on this decision in 2020.

But the technology still needs to grow
While this enthusiasm is well-placed, as the pricing issue implies, RCS is really still in its early stages. As noted earlier, at the end of 2019, a lot of operators started going live with RCS. The technology is being tested and implemented, but it’s not “campaignable” yet as a single channel of engagement across the globe.

Now, in 2020, it’s likely that the market will see an aggressive ripple effect. As more operators and businesses come to understand the opportunities of this messaging channel, they will become eager to deploy connectivity as soon as possible to enable the customer experience of the future. The mobile operators that have declared that they were ready in late 2019 will be ahead of the curve and will start to see heavy messaging traffic. Hence, all signs point toward 2020 being the year that RCS starts to gain traction, with brands investing heavily in new RCS forms of customer engagement.

But that doesn’t mean businesses should just sit tight. There are a number of things that smart brands can do to start preparing for effective usage of RCS once it’s ready. Right now, businesses need to focus on a comprehensive, omni-channel messaging strategy that includes everything from RCS to WhatsApp to standard text messaging. Digital natives may prefer to chat through social media channels like Facebook Messenger while business professionals may prefer to receive their bank account updates through text.

The key is ensuring that messages can be sent across any channel, with one communications platform, using customer contact preferences as a guiding light to personalize the experience. Any business that can implement this system smoothly will find great success with leveraging RCS to improve their customer experience in 2020.

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