Not every piece of new customer experience (CX) technology has the potential to completely replace a tool most of us use every day. Yet that’s what’s possible with rich communication services (RCS), the customer texting solution that could replace SMS and MMS for good.
What is RCS?
RCS, or rich communication services, creates an application-based style of text messaging inside a phone’s native texting app. It is set to replace SMS and MMS messages and let Android users send messages akin to Apple’s iMessage or Facebook’s WhatsApp.
But in addition to affecting the texts you get from mom, dad and grandma, RCS will also affect messages from verified brands like your pharmacist, favorite retail store, daycare and more. Brands can actually build amazing experiences in a customer texting app rather than just sending boring, text-only messages.
How is RCS Different Than SMS and MMS?
RCS is different than SMS and MMS in several ways. When it does eventually replace SMS, RCS will introduce several new features to customer texting, including:
1. NO MORE SHORT CODES OR 800 NUMBERS
With SMS and MMS today, sending messages from companies to a customer requires a short code (usually five or six digits), a longer 10-digit number or an 800 number.
As part of RCS’s branded experience, it allows businesses to replace these numbers with their company name. They need to request a verification from Google, a carrier or an operating system first. But then, instead of getting a message from 123456, you might get a message from Acme Bricks, and that message may come with Acme Bricks-branded colors and elements.
2. NEW OMNICHANNEL FEATURES
RCS doesn’t just change colors and the “from” line. It also allows brands to send pictures, videos, maps, buttons and other elements that can interact with your phone’s native applications.
MMS offers some of this technology. Whenever you send an image or video through text, you’re using MMS. But RCS offers a wider variety of options. And as a branded, verified experience, customers feel more secure and in tune with what they’re reading. As a brand develops its template with buttons, videos and longer, non-constrained messages, it creates an overall experience you can’t fully get with SMS or MMS today.
3. SIMPLIFY TO INCREASE ENGAGEMENT
By asking customers to reply with a specific set of words, brands risk customer drop outs or misuse. But tools like Facebook Messenger and other apps have let customers pick automated replies for years. Some SMS apps have started introducing this feature, but the replies are suggested by the native application, not by the business sending the message.
RCS lets brands offer their own suggested responses. Instead of having to type in “Yes” for certain two-way conversations, customers can just tap a button. And instead of having to download a video and heavily use a data plan, the technology lets customers just click links and use them inside the native app.
The content’s richer. The experiences are easier. RCS makes communication effortless and more effective, whether it’s brand to customer or person to person. Even at this early stage, it’s a limitless, build-it-how-you-can-imagine type of experience inside the app, rather than just sending text back and forth.
How Will RCS Affect Customer Texting?
It’s easy to see the impact of RCS for some types of businesses. If a patient has multiple prescriptions available for refill, for example, they can visually see, pick and choose the prescriptions they would like to refill now, rather than going through a large list one by one via SMS. Clicking on each prescription reply button to say, “Yes I want to refill this,” adds a new visual element and makes the process much simpler.
The engagement rates on RCS are high. Without the use of natural language in SMS, businesses put the effort on customers to reply to a text, spell everything right and add the correct context. RCS just makes functions and calls to action easier to comprehend.
Now, customers can simply press buttons, play videos, download bar codes and more. That reduces effort and makes customers more likely to use the messaging service. We’ve played a part as an early adopter contributor here at Intrado, and our customers’ engagement rate with RCS sometimes reaches five or 10 times greater than SMS.
Will RCS Replace SMS in Person-to-Person Texting?
The history of RCS is longer than most people think. It grew more quickly in Europe and took a couple extra years to expand into North America. However, Google has been marketing RCS as the next best technology since 2015. Initially, they expected to use it for their chat applications, specifically for person-to-person communication.
On the wireless front, it took time to get carriers on board. With so much competition, carriers were hesitant until more questions were answered. Who gets to set the price point? Which company will set the limits? Who must do the work? How are they going to make it interoperable between carriers?
But in late 2019, the four major carriers announced the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative, a decision to work together to move this technology into their platforms. They set no timelines, but Google proactively took the next step. After the announcement, Google pushed out person-to-person RCS to all eligible Android phones.
So person-to-person RCS is in limited use today, and the carriers seem to have identified person-to-person as the place to start. But with how much value RCS brings to brand-to-customer messaging (and likely new revenue streams for carriers and operators), the move to replace SMS in brand-to-customer communication will surely not fall far behind.
RCS Strategies: Make the Most of a New Technology
More and more companies are starting to take note. They’re enticed by ideas to replace SMS, become verified, cut out short codes and do something different. But before getting started, companies need a plan for what they want to achieve. Consider RCS both from the outbound perspective of brand to customer and from the inbound perspective of customer to brand.
1. BUILD INBOUND CUSTOMER FLOWS
With RCS, customers can just search their phones for their pharmacy, hotel or train station. But don’t expect customers to dictate every interaction. Create a strategy and build inbound flows for different types of customers that allows customers to feel like they are having a natural conversation with a human support staff member. Think about how you want to interact with customers and when, and give customers the ability to communicate in the way they want. This is what we call “channel of choice”.
2. DESIGN AN EXPERIENCE
If you created a new app, how would you want it to look? Customers don’t have to download anything to use RCS, but the app-like interface lets you show what you want within their native messaging app. How will the inbound and outbound experiences differ? Consider these factors to make it easier for customers to confirm appointments, download coupons and complete other common tasks.
3. TALK TO COMPLIANCE TEAMS
Bring the legal team into the discussion early. Because RCS is so new, lean toward the most restrictive definition of compliance, especially in healthcare or finance. So far, there isn’t a push to make RCS more secure than existing technologies. It’s better to discuss any potential legal or compliance issues early on, rather than needing to pivot strategies later.
4. FIND A PARTNER
To replace SMS in customer texting and send RCS messages to thousands of customers, you’ll need a messaging provider. First, choose a partner who already has a plan for RCS. Second, consider a managed provider with RCS experience like Intrado. We’re here to help design the experience that’s best for your customers, and we’ve already got some ideas to share after testing out RCS with our clients.
RCS: The Future of Customer Texting
Customer texting has taken many forms over the years. From single-message outbound blasts to directed response to two-way conversations with agents, businesses have seen the value of texting with customers for years. RCS is the next step in this progression, and as it comes to replace SMS and MMS, businesses will be equipped with new ways to make customer interactions easier and more engaging than ever.