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EDITORIAL A brave new world of communications

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Research out this week suggests that commerce, in its broadest sense, has seen its digital transformation accelerated by 5.3 years in 10 months thanks to lockdown. Today, everything is digital from how we shop to how we learn to how we see a doctor to how we interact with friends and family.

Indeed, so prevalent has digital transformation become that one in five grandparents took to playing virtual games with grandchildren whilst shielding, with a further 40% of over 55’s stated that they regularly played video games online with their own children during lockdown as a way of ‘staying in touch.’

And staying in touch has become a growth business, not only for games and other comms companies that connect people, but for businesses looking to interact with customers and vice versa.

According to research into consumer engagement in the Covid-19 era by cloud comms platform Twilio, the pandemic has changed the communications preferences of almost half (48%) of respondents in some way.

As part of the research, consumers ranked industry sectors on their ability to handle queries during the pandemic, with healthcare (27%), delivery (18%) and retail (16%) rated best, while telecoms (5%), travel (3%) and insurance (3%) trail behind. The top reason (34%) for ranking a sector best was the ability for a business to respond quickly and resolve the query at hand.

Only 20% of respondents said businesses in the sector they considered the best at handling their queries offered their preferred communications channel. Moreover, when asked how customer service could improve on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, 34% said having more ways to make contact.

In line with this, research from McKinsey shows that 75% of consumers who used digital channels for the first time in the pandemic, plan to continue to use them as we revert to ‘normal’.

New ways to communicate

How brands and commercial organisations choose to interact with consumers is going to be big business for the telemedia sector. Already, as we discussed in last week’s podcast, RCS is touting for much of this business. Mobilesquared predicting that it will earn MNOs around $52.2bn by 2025 as brands use it to market to consumers.

This only addresses the outbound side of things. Twilo’s research shows that interaction and engagement between brands and consumers is very much a two way street – and, while there is much to be made in running RCS for marketing, there is an untapped potential in using it as a way for consumers to come back to brands and merchants.

Already, WhatsApp is going strong in terms of a two-way comms channel between brands and consumers and consumers back to brands. People already use it to talk to their nearest and dearest, so think nothing of using it to talk to the companies they do business with.

Social media too is increasingly being used as a channel to drive this communication, with growing numbers of people DM-ing or just good old ‘@-ing’ companies to elicit a response.

Voice devices, like Amazon Echo and Google Home, too are increasingly being used – if you have kids you will know that they think nothing of asking Alexa to get them stuff from different companies via Amazon or even how to tweet at those brands.

RCS needs to be in this mix for it to truly get the user base it deserves. It is fine sending stuff out over RCS, but consumers may well have their attention elsewhere, on other messaging services as they want to do the talking.

New ways to interact

And then there are all the other potential new ways in which brands and consumers can interact. We have seen that gaming is increasingly being used as a comms channel, but what of the next tranche of mobile services such as augmented and virtual and mixed reality?

There is already a fledgling virtual reality (VR) content market getting up a head of steam, predicted by Juniper Research to be worth $7bn by 2025. Part of this is bound to involve its use in conferencing and communications – particularly if social distancing continues and if business continues to embrace new ways of working.

I don’t feel it is too far-fetched to think that VR will be part of the brand interaction play before 2025.

Augmented reality (AR), where content is overlaid onto the real world through a mobile, is already well established – albeit as a novelty, for now – in retail and will soon become mainstream.

This too has huge interaction potential and could enrich comms between brands and consumers. Mixing AR with VR could well make for a truly mind-blowing experience.

The rise of 5G – which is already in the hands of 1 billion people – is only going to see these things accelerate further. Pretty soon the sophistication of RCS and WhatsApp is going to look as basic as a quill and parchment does today. And there is so much money to be made from good interaction.

>>> Did you know we print Telemedia Magazine every quarter.  Free to qualified readers.  Essential reading for any buisness that wants to engage users, monetise content and drive sales of VAS and premium applications.  Download the current Issue.
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