Rich Communication Services (RCS) are here - What you need to know

By Chris Drake, CTO, iconectiv

Chris Drake, CTO, iconectiv

Imagine a group of people in a chat session engaging with various businesses to purchase movie tickets while chatting, book a restaurant reservation or see directions all in unison. That is pretty rich. In the past year, the advanced messaging protocol known as Rich Communication Services (RCS) has gained momentum with a forecasted growth of approximately 160 million monthly active users across 50 mobile network operators (MNOs) today to more than one billion by 2019. Many of us have seen RCS in various past incarnations. Ultimately, these earlier attempts never caught on in the face of over-the-top messaging apps such as Snapchat and WhatsApp.

"RCS offers a rich experience for business-to-consumer engagement with capabilities are like those of an app but with the simplicity and convenience of SMS messaging"

As its name implies, RCS offers a significantly richer experience for business-to-consumer engagement through texts on smartphones. Many of its capabilities are like those of an app but with the simplicity and convenience of SMS messaging. It can serve as a multimedia engagement channel capable of supporting high-resolution pictures, videos and audio. It can also enable many other features, including reservation tools, online shopping and payment options, real-time account management and customer care, shipment and tracking, etc. Artificial Intelligent (AI) enabled chatbots are possible, too, and can provide a unique group chat experience where multiple users can communicate with a business and receive information or complete transactions at the same time.

GSMA, Google and several major service providers have been at the forefront of driving this technology. GSMA established the Universal Profile standard in 2016—a single, industry-agreed set of features and technical enablers supported by 60 organizations, including major wireless carriers. Google is developing a ubiquitous RCS platform that supports SMS and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), third-party RCS networks and RCS-compliant clients on Android smartphones plus several service providers have run pilots, including Sprint and Telcel México. Many other service providers are exploring RCS pilots as well.

There are several reasons enterprises will likely find RCS very appealing and CIOs need to be prepared. There is the real possibility that RCS will replace many of the brand apps that go largely unused yet still proliferate on consumer devices. The ability to use AI-driven chatbots with RCS could provide a bigger opportunity to develop a truly rich experience without having to spend money on additional personnel and customer care to drive conversion and revenue. Ultimately, RCS will provide a compelling way for businesses to engage their audiences while allowing them to cut costs, drive revenues and increase retention.

While the value to enterprises is significant, there are still several issues CIOs need to consider as part of any brand’s RCS implementation, including:

• Fraud Avoidance

Brand integrity will be critical to maintaining customer satisfaction and an unimpeded adoption of RCS. As such, these great RCS capabilities will need to be presented securely. Like business-to-person text messaging, brands connecting into this community need to be clearly and uniquely identified to end users, verified that they are who they claim to be and be insulated from impersonation. Otherwise consumers may be duped into making payments to impostors, subjected to offensive content or their identity data may be exploited, along with various possible risks to personal safety.

• User Consent

Participation in this form of consumer engagement is dependent on the highest level of business integrity. Just like voice and SMS brand messaging, RCS will require consent by end users, which is a focus of regulatory bodies concerned with consumer engagement via telecommunications. For example, the FCC’s Telephone Consumer Protection Act outlines how companies must have permission not just to send marketing messages to a mobile number but also to have explicit consent to contact the owner of that number. It also requires easy user opt out.

• Customer Experience

As brands build out engagement tools using RCS they will need to understand consumer capabilities and preferences in order to provide the best user experience. They will even need to consider whether a communication is best suited to the various features of RCS or if a simple SMS will suffice. They also need to consider the fact that some consumers do not have a device or operation system that provides access to RCS-based technology. It is also possible that not all users in the chat would welcome the same degree of data consumption. Enterprises will need to be able to personalize the use of RCS features and even default back to SMS where solutions such as Short Codes – secure 5- and 6-digit numbers for brand engagement—can be utilized.

As RCS continues to rollout, we should see these considerations take shape with enterprises deciding how they will use the technology. Given the major players involved and the potential for significant ROI, the industry and participating brands need to be attentive to these issues. Otherwise, brands risk alienating end users and will miss out on the increased revenues and retention that can result from this rich engagement experience.

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