Since its debut on the market in the 1990s, SMS has achieved global domination as the fastest, most reliable mode of communication for information exchange around the world. 

Despite its ubiquity and immediacy, the format hasn’t changed significantly in its almost 30 years of existence  — but that’s about to shift in a big way with the advent of Rich Communication Services (RCS). 

RCS, a GSMA-endorsed protocol, enables rich multimedia (video, audio, high-res images, and of course GIFs), improved group chat functionality, read receipts and typing indicators, the ability for businesses to send real-time updates, and more.

That’s the technical side of it. The big picture is that RCS is the biggest upgrade for mobile messaging, since, well, ever. It’s SMS, super-charged; think iMessage-like functionality without the need of for a specific device or a third-party app. 

Here’s why businesses should be paying attention:

RCS will become universal. The reason is twofold. SMS is a proven smash hit, and RCS delivers 10x the value of SMS. The second reason, is a result of the current momentum.  When we see Google, along with the largest operators in the world and thousands of creatives, brands, and various players in the mobile ecosystem experimenting with use cases using a technology that is 10x better than an already established smash hit, it’s just undeniable. Unlike platforms such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, RCS is native to a device’s built-in messaging app, meaning there is absolutely no friction for end users to adopt the technology — and although RCS has been around since 2007, Google’s 2015 acquisition of RCS-enabled provider Jibe was the shift that majorly signaled RCS as the next evolution of mobile communications. Since then, the tech giant has been steadily rolling out RCS to all Google devices, messaging platforms, and Google Fi, with 2019 its most aggressive push yet. 

While Android currently holds the majority of the RCS market, Apple support for RCS will obviously be a very big driver in high iPhone penetration countries. In addition, all top five US and European operators support RCS and want Apple to join, and given that Apple thrives on delivering strong use cases, our judgement is that Apple is likely follow suit. 

Overall, the future for RCS is bright — and profitable: the market is positioned to be worth $16B by 2023 and that’s excluding all the potential new revenue streams related to advertising and search.

RCS will replace apps. An RCS message has basically the same functionality as an app but it doesn’t require a download. Instead it’s delivered to your native message inbox when you need it. As most enterprises know, it’s only the top 10-20% of their customers that bother downloading their app. RCS gives them the possibility to offer the same functionality to the remaining 80-90%. Imagine, for example, being at an airport and having your flight cancelled with an airline you don’t often fly with. RCS messaging can provide you with a message for rebooking your flight and a free meal voucher in the same message. Customers can receive excellent customer service at a fraction of today’s cost to the airline. We project that a significant portion of app ad web development budgets will soon move to messaging. 

RCS will replace phone calls. With RCS, messaging becomes conversational and your inbox becomes searchable,. Customers can simply search for the brand or “chatbot”  they want to interact with in their inbox. No need to find a phone number or email address. All conversation history with the brand is saved for later reference. Given that preference from younger generations is increasingly to use messaging apps over phone calls for communication this is a big thing. It’s also the easiest format to automate, and therefore the lowest cost per contact for the brand.  

RCS is measurable. RCS gives businesses one of the most crucial ingredients for implementing successful marketing tactics: more data. SMS had some limited trackable metrics — enough to show how powerful the channel is — but in addition to these, RCS can provide real-time feedback about when messages are not only delivered but also read and when the customer is actively typing. 

Getting more transparency into these metrics will allow brands to inject more immediacy and usefulness into the conversation, prompting customers to engage faster and more frequently. 

RCS brings new opportunities to engage and connect. SMS is already an all-star marketing channel, with stats that leave email and social in the dust — 98% open rates (according to Mobile Marketing Association), 45% response rates (according to Sinch), and a direct connection to the device individuals use most in their daily life. 

That’s especially impressive, considering that SMS functions exclusively as a push channel and offers the ability to send only 160 characters in text format. RCS sees dramatic CX improvement, allowing communications to be light years more reciprocal and dynamic. Here are just a couple examples: 

  • Expanding beyond 160 characters gives brands the ability to utilize the power of videos, pictures and any other form of rich media. 
  • By making messaging conversational, two-way communications are dramatically streamlined. Businesses can program conversations and leverage the power of suggested replies to boost engagement. 
  • A searchable inbox empowers customers to reach out first and interact with brands without phone numbers or email addresses 
  • By embedding CTA’s and links in rich media format, RCS gains app-like functionality and creates more interactive experiences without requiring any downloads. 

Here’s the caveat: The new bells and whistles provided by RCS are incredibly exciting, but when you strip it down to the fundamentals, mobile works because it is one of the most intimate and direct access points to your customers — especially since the channel has historically been used for interaction with family, friends, and loved ones. 

This is a good thing! That means customers are already psychologically primed towards receptivity when your campaign lands in their inbox. However, understanding this context, it is even more imperative businesses treat their access with respect. Messaging has the highest potential to increase customer satisfaction but, when used disrespectfully, it also has the highest potential to decrease customer satisfaction. Spamming customers on their phone will end up hugely counterproductive and can potentially damage the relationship. 

Thoughtfully think through which of your business needs would most strategically leverage the power of mobile messaging. Real-time updates on a service? A reminder to schedule or confirm an appointment? A notification that your home delivery will arrive in 1 hour with an option to reschedule? RCS simply adds new dimensions and functionality. At its heart, mobile communications is best served by being as authentic, personal, and helpful as possible.

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