opinion


RCS messaging is a huge opportunity but operators must work together to realize its potential

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Mary Clark, Chief Product Officer and CMO at Synchronoss, reflects on the RCS opportunity and what will be required to exploit it.

I remember ten years ago when the GSMA established the Rich Communications Service (RCS) steering committee and the telecom industry started work on how to take advantage of the new messaging technology.

Finally a decade later, operators are beginning to embrace the potential and the promise of RCS, and they are doing so together.

Two operator groups on opposite sides of the world have separately taken the first steps in this process. In 2018, Japanese operators came together to create a fully interoperable, RCS-based cross-operator advanced messaging platform. Then last October, the four largest mobile operators in the United States announced their own Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI), a new joint venture to launch RCS-based advanced mobile messaging across all four of their networks later this year.

The motivation driving these two operator groups to accelerate RCS-enabled advanced messaging is clear: It’s subscribers’ appetite for easy-to-use, feature-rich messaging combined with operators’ own need to continuously improve the customer experience and create new revenue streams.

Consumers are ready

Early last year, Synchronoss brought together dozens of U.S. consumers of all ages to discuss their mobile messaging habits. One especially interesting finding emerged during the focus group discussions: Participants used the term “messaging” when they talk about OTT messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. The term “texting” was used when referencing traditional SMS exchanges.

What also became clear is that despite their use of multiple messaging apps, nearly every mobile user preferred using the native pre-loaded SMS messaging application on his or her device.

Why? Expectations for traditional SMS-based messaging are higher than expectations for OTT apps. Consumers consider traditional texting secure, private and reliable, and they know their personal contacts all have access to text – which isn’t necessarily the case with messaging apps. In other words, they trust tried-and-tested SMS to get the job done.

I fully expect consumers to discover even more value in texting once they experience RCS-powered messaging for themselves. When focus groups saw demonstrations of RCS and its extra functionality, the vast majority were enthusiastic about the new format and eager to try it for themselves. What was really appealing was being able to accomplish everything they currently do across multiple apps but from a single messaging platform and with a single contact list for friends, family and services.

Let’s be clear: RCS messaging won’t replace OTT messaging apps. But native messaging based on RCS is the next evolution of operator-led SMS and will play an essential role at the heart of the new messaging ecosystem.

Operators reap the rewards

RCS messaging gives operators three things they badly want today: improved customer engagement, ongoing loyalty and the chance for new revenues.

First: RCS vastly enhances the customer experience by providing a much richer messaging experience that incorporates multimedia plus a high level of personalization.

Second: Operators get to cash in on their hard-earned reputations as defenders of customers’ privacy, especially since some OTTs have come under intense criticism for their attitudes regarding customer privacy. RCS messaging offers privacy by design and the very same level of protection as SMS, and operators will be rewarded for their diligence in protecting it.

Finally: RCS gives operators a significant new opportunity to grow their revenue outside of traditional lines of service by being able to offer brands a feature-rich, permission-based direct marketing channel that consumers actually use.

According to Gartner, SMS continues to appeal as a valuable marketing channel for brands. Compared to email, text-based marketing messages have higher open rates, higher response rates and higher click-through rates. Combine SMS’s cross-network interoperability with customer appetite for the content-rich, personalized brand interactions that RCS enables, and it’s obvious that operators are sitting on an opportunity potentially worth billions of dollars.

Early RCS marketing trials are already delivering impressive results. A trial by fast food chain Subway used RCS for real-time, image-rich AI-driven conversations to personalize the ordering and checkout process. During the trial, Subway experienced a 146 percent uplift in orders and a 50 to 60 percent increase in conversion rates. These types of figures will only increase interest in RCS from brands that want to achieve substantially higher open rates and vastly improved customer engagement.

The RCS revolution is here

Two years ago in 2018 on stage in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress, Synchronoss CEO Glenn Lurie talked about future challenges. He told operators that the time had come to take advantage of new and innovative technologies and the benefits of collaboration with each other. Since then, operators in Japan and the United States – two massive markets – have prioritized collaboration and cooperation to create a truly differentiated customer experience via RCS-based messaging.

This is monumental and just the beginning. The progress made around RCS over the last 12 months shows what our industry can achieve with new technologies and by working together. Today’s mobile ecosystem is primed and ready for the massive step change that is operator-driven RCS messaging.

However, operators who continue to procrastinate and ignore the opportunities that RCS presents will face a future of disappointed subscribers and lost revenue. The time has come for us all to put aside our differences and join the RCS revolution together.

 

Mary Clark is the Chief Product Officer and Chief Marketing Officer of Synchronoss, responsible for global product management, marketing and communications. Prior to joining Synchronoss, Mary served as the CMO and Senior Vice President of Roaming at Syniverse. Throughout her 25 years in mobile, she has held several executive-level positions and currently serves as a Board member for The CTIA Wireless Foundation and is an industry advisor for Astra Capital Management.

 She has been an active industry speaker as well as a contributing writer for Global Telecoms Business and CMO.com. Mary is a champion of gender diversity and has been heavily involved in the Women4Tech program founded in 2016, the GSMA’s program on promoting women leadership in mobile technology.Her recognition spans from being named to the National Diversity Council’s Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology” list in 2016 and 2017 to Mobile Marketer’s “Mobile Women to Watch 2016” list. Most recently she was named to Capacity Magazine’s 2018 20 Women to Watch 2018, a list of some of the most prominent women in telecom.


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