Interview: OpenMarket’s Andy Shirey on how RCS messaging will change the customer experience

Within the enterprise messaging sphere RCS messaging promises to deliver rich immersive experiences for consumers – great news for brands that see customer engagement and interaction as the bedrock of customer service. And after a few false starts it’s about to become a commercial reality with a growing number of mobile network operators supporting the new format and a growing number of messaging aggregators that are making it available to brands.

One such company is OpenMarket who recently partnered with Vodafone and Virgin Trains to help passengers plan their onward tube journey as the rolled into London’s Euston station. We caught up with Andy Shirey, Product Marketing Director, OpenMarket to discuss the details.

RCS messaging has been talked about for some years. Why has it been slow to market?

RCS was ‘born’ in 2007. At that moment, the potential of interactive, app-like messaging was clear to everyone in the mobile industry. But a successful RCS rollout was dependent on global wireless carriers working together to advance it. Wireless carriers don’t always work well together! So it took outside influence to get some momentum behind it – and that came from Google and Samsung some years later.

How has OpenMarket helped accelerate this process?

We work with brands which are using SMS today. We helped introduce them to RCS, provided demos and even launched pilots.  We’ve also helped bridge the relationship between wireless carriers and Maap (messaging as a platform) players like Google, Samsung and Mavanier.

On August 29th, 2018, we partnered with Virgin Trains and Vodafone to launch the world’s first rollout of an RCS Business Messaging campaign on a commercial basis. Check out this blog about Virgin Trains’s RCS programme.

The consumer expectation is for quicker responses, less friction and generally a simpler experience.

Virgin Trains sends RCS messages to customers’ smartphones 10 minutes before they arrive into London’s Euston Station. The messages deliver latest updates for underground train services, complete with interactive buttons for more detailed information. Impressively, every customer that has fed back has given the experience a five-star rating. And not one has chosen to opt out.

In terms of enterprise communication, how have consumer expectations changed? Why?

The consumer expectation is for quicker responses, less friction and generally a simpler experience. There’s a low tolerance for being put on hold by customer call centres, or waiting 5-7 days for an email response. That’s why automated mobile messaging is preferred in so many use cases. But consumers are also used to interacting with businesses through mobile apps. So combining this experience with the anytime, anywhere accessibility of mobile messaging is the logical direction for customer comms.

Have enterprises responded?

Enterprises everywhere have responded over the past few years by rolling out SMS messaging across a growing number of use cases. We’ve seen amazing results in both cost savings and improved CX. Now we’re seeing RCS first-movers thinking hard about how they can serve their customers even better. Over the next 12 months, we’re going to see some exciting CX stories.

Which enterprise functions will benefit from RCS?

Perhaps the better question is: which enterprise functions will not benefit from RCS? As is the case with SMS, we see leading companies deploying RCS for use cases across their entire organisations.  It’s perhaps easiest to envision RCS marketing use cases because of the rich media and the ability to drive conversion. Other scenarios include: calendars with bookable slots for appointments, maps for directions, tickets and voucher delivery, boarding passes, terminal maps and flight updates, and instruction videos. There’s a very long list.

It’s perhaps easiest to envision RCS marketing use cases because of the rich media and the ability to drive conversion.

How will RCS affect the use of SMS as an enterprise messaging standard?

In the near term it’s likely to increase the use of SMS as RCS helps drive more awareness about messaging as an A2P communication channel. In fact, a 2019 study from​ ​Juniper Research​ predicts 3.5 trillion SMS business messages will be delivered in 2023 – up from an estimated 2.5 trillion in 2019.

Will RCS capture budget, otherwise earmarked for apps?

Absolutely! We all know about consumer app fatigue. Then there’s the enormous expense and low ROI of most enterprise mobile apps. Airline passengers, for example, don’t want to download an airline app to receive boarding passes and tickets once or twice a year. Receiving these via RCS makes much more sense. RCS delivers similar experiences to apps for a fraction of the cost, and at a much higher reach.

OTT providers like WhatsApp are moving into enterprise messaging, what is their appeal over RCS and SMS?

OTT apps have a large audience of users, many of whom prefer to use these apps over SMS. But OTT apps are also tied to social networks and bring with them worries about data privacy. From a business point of view, OTT apps don’t have the near-universal reach of SMS. Of course, RCS doesn’t have this reach yet. But the right messaging provider can ensure every RCS message sent by a business reverts to SMS for phones that aren’t RCS compatible.

For enterprises, the messaging landscape could seem fragmented, how should they approach consumer communication?

It can seem fragmented. The place to start is with SMS because of its ubiquity, performance and cost advantage. RCS can then be rolled out using the SMS fallback option. Enterprises should evaluate their consumer touchpoints and look for opportunities to improve the customer journey – not just when it benefits the brand, but when it truly improves the customer experience. It’s at these moments that brands can differentiate.

Will Apple introduce RCS as a native function of iPhones?

Yes. It would make sense for Apple to support P2P RCS messaging just as it supports SMS today. It’s less clear if Apple will support A2P RCS.

Beyond the rich features of RCS is it possible that it will include transactional functions – buying something from within a message?

Yes, we are already seeing some examples of this via carrier billing and 3rd party billing systems such as Google Pay.

What’s next for OpenMarket?

Our RCS solution will be available for general release on March 29.

Andy Shirey, Product Marketing Director, OpenMarket






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