What the Heck is RCS, Anyway? And Why Should Brands Care?

By Tim Fujita-Yuhas, OpenMarket for Wireless Week

Google’s RCS announcement earlier this year shook the mobile community with its claim of introducing an enhanced version of SMS text messaging, primed to render such popular messaging channels as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger irrelevant. And it didn’t stop there. For all non-Android phones on RCS-enabled mobile carriers, well, you’re essentially standing on the sidelines for now—at least that’s what was being read between the lines. All this commotion was stirred up from an enhanced SMS service that is best defined as “the next evolution of text messaging.”

RCS, or Rich Communication Services, essentially takes all the best functionalities of hand-held communication, and gives them a 21st century upgrade. A staggering 8 trillion text messages are being sent each year globally. With the majority of consumers reading them within 90 seconds of receipt, brands that want to remain relevant in consumer eyes, especially the coveted millennial audience (who prefer texting over email and voice), should be asking themselves one question: What is RCS and how can it enhance my customer communications and experience?

Dictionary Definition

Let’s start with the dictionary definition, if there were one.

RCS is visual messaging for the smartphone age. It gives you more options to interact using mobile messaging. Essentially, it’s a platform that can bring OTT-style features to the standard messaging app on Android devices – which  in laymen’s terms means two-way communications inclusive of: group chat, high res graphics, video, voice, read and delivery receipts, maps, QR codes, menus, and even payments.

The more lucrative part for businesses? It’s not just for consumer-to-consumer communication. Let’s look at examples of how it can be used in business-to-consumer communications.

Transportation

Say you’re an airline looking to make your customer’s travel experience as stress-free as possible. With the capabilities of RCS, you can remove some time consuming steps for them—everything from providing their boarding pass with a scannable code into the palm of their hand, to notifying them of gate changes, and relaying delays and cancelations, all in real-time. No more fumbling with airport kiosks, digging frantically through email or a mobile app to pull up the confirmation code, and no rushing to the proper gate after realizing at the last second that the flight’s been moved to a different location. All necessary information comes straight to the customer’s hand in their mobile messaging inbox.

Another perk they may soon find accessible with RCS? Check-in. Think about an SMS prompt at the exact 24-hour mark reminding customers to check-in for their flight to get an optimal seat—perhaps even a button to hit in the text itself that does it for you. In other words, there is no need to load an airline’s website on the small screen, or download a mobile app.

Financial Institutions

Security is all the buzz these days, with our increasingly digital world opening up new forms of theft and scams left and right. One of the industries getting hit the hardest due to these concerns is banking and financial businesses. The concern is warranted, with money and personal information being susceptible to hacks. This added strain on businesses is not only a response to guaranteeing their systems are properly safe guarded, but also to ensure their customers feel properly protected. RCS helps by highlighting how banks are looking after card and account holders.

Imagine a personalized text message coming directly into the customer’s hand immediately upon suspicious activity being detected—no need for an anonymous phone call from an unknown number viewed as spam and going straight to voicemail, where the warning message sits for maybe a day or two before someone gets around to listening to it. With RCS, banks can provide an enhanced transaction presentation that shows where the suspicious activity occurred, what time, and for how much. It can offer a type of “empathetic interaction” with clickable buttons that are branded with “yes” if that activity is valid, “no” if it’s not, and a “customer support” call or chat button if there are any questions.

Hospitality & Customer Service

Simplicity is key to customer service and cultivating brand loyalty. Customers want to be given the path of least resistance, and to feel like a business is on their side in managing a busy schedule. Today, you can receive a text message notification reminding you of an upcoming appointment at a salon, installation note from your cable company, or delivery notification of a package—all services which rank highly in the customer satisfaction department. Now take those basic services, and turn them up a notch.

With RCS, you can not only meet but exceed customer expectations. When your electrician is scheduled for a service appointment the next day, instead of getting a black and white reminder on your phone, you can get a visual message complete with a headshot of your scheduled technician, their name, their projected arrival time, and clickable buttons allowing you to “confirm,” “cancel,” or “reschedule” the appointment. In other words, RCS offers a one-stop-shop for turning simple notifications into meaningful mobile engagements.

Possibilities are Endless

In short, RCS delivers a better mobile experience to consumers through better message delivery with read receipts, visual interactions, and in-message interactions. In an era where consumers have come to expect engagement with preferred brands, it’s imperative that brands deliver information to consumers at the right time, at the right place and in the most effective, intuitive and empathetic format possible.

As for how soon we’ll see these capabilities become mainstream, momentum is already building, at least on the Android front. After all, Google recently announced that a billion Android phone users would soon have access to RCS messaging.

Tim Fujita-Yuhas is Director Product Management and New Product Strategy at OpenMarket, a company offering a custom built mobile messaging platform to serve, support, and analyze SMS, MMS, and RCS campaigns at global scale.