24 Jun 2018 | Chris Barley
When was the last time you answered a phone call? From somebody you didn’t know?
Automatically answering a call is becoming a lost habit, and making outbound calls can also sometimes be a chore. The phone call has lost some of the convenience and spontaneity that has made it such an attractive communications tool. In an age where we expect instant connection and rapid response, a call nowadays more often promises delay, or the ringing of a tiresome sales desk.
A message on the other hand has very different characteristics. It has the advantage of being potentially either asynchronous or real time – it’s acceptable to delay a response, but if both parties want to treat the contents as urgent, the message can be escalated to immediate status.
Messaging also helps save time. Whereas we used to pick up the phone to connect, now we have the option to discuss a subject via message, and set up a call at a more convenient time for a more detailed discussion. Uninvited calls that barge into our day and demand our attention are usually ignored, and often we may tag the caller as inconsiderate with our time.
That’s why customers now increasingly want to use messaging to connect with businesses. People can communicate in their own time, on their own terms.
In addition, business texting gets attention, fast – with a 98% read rate, texts easily outperform email’s open rate at 20%, and 90% of texts are read within 3 minutes. And with the introduction of customer service bots, there’s an immediacy about messaging that’s just not there with other channels.
The evolution of text
Up to now the humble text has been very successful in living up to its name – it is, after all, just a message with some text.
But now that’s going to change with the introduction of RCS (Rich Communications Services). This new standard will turbo boost the text to compete with WhatsApp and other OTT (over-the-top) message services.
RCS is a Google initiative which provides the technology to upgrade the mobile carriers’ existing SMS networks. The detail of this tech is outside the scope of this article, however in brief it provides enhanced messaging features for the carrier, as well as an upgraded SMS message client for the user’s smartphone.
It’s being introduced for Android smartphones by a range of carriers – in the UK, the 4 dominant mobile operators are expected to launch by Q1 2019. Similar timescales exist for the rest of Europe. It’s also expected that Apple will enable RCS on iPhones in the near future.
So how is RCS going to change texting? Common features such as read receipts and group messages will be possible, as well as some other interesting features:
Branding Show your company logo and graphics in the message header to provide identity and verification, enabling the recipient to trust the contents
Quick response buttons Suggest actions via buttons in the body of the message eg make a payment, open a calendar or map, make a call, review an order
QR codes Include QR codes for tickets and coupons, for events and special offers
Rich media experience Attach videos and animated gifs to provide a more powerful message to consumers
Businesses texting will soon be able to create unique 2 way conversations that are dynamic and interactive, enhancing the sales and support experience, and extending the reach of a business’s products to any consumer with a smartphone.
That’s a lot of consumers when you look at the global SMS market – as an SMS upgrade, RCS has the potential to reach 4 billion users. So with smart phones becoming ubiquitous (even in developing markets), you can now replicate an in-app sales experience without any app costs, and have the potential for it to be available to a multi-billion user market!
And more importantly, you don’t have to encourage your customers to download anything – all they have to do is open their native SMS client.
The future is multichannel
Early results from RCS trials show 20x higher conversation rates (Source: Vodafone), and customer sales up by 25% (Source: Subway).
So in the next 12 months there is likely to be a completely new opportunity for businesses to reach out to their customers and establish a new, more effective channel for sales and support over SMS. Indeed, 82% of brands interviewed said they were interested in RCS (Source: Mobilesquared) as a future communications channel.
But its not just text messaging that is evolving – popular OTT services such as WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage (or Apple Business Chat as it will be known) are due to introduce new features for business by end of 2018. These include the ability to connect to business systems so that multiple messages can be shared and managed amongst sales and support teams.
Of course, phone and email will still be key channels for reaching out to customers for sales and support. But the use cases for communications channels are changing as the capabilities of messaging offer a better fit for our busy work and social lives.
Businesses now need to try out these new channels, and adapt to what works best for their market. Consider the problems, challenges and questions your customers already have – offering multiple touch points could well make life simpler for you and your customers.
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