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The key to customer engagement: RCS or corporate app?

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In the late eighties and early nineties, brands and marketers could create a TV commercial and guarantee a mass audience. Today there are more channels and entertainment options competing for consumer attention than ever before. Brands are having to look at new ways to create mass engagement with audiences. Mobile has become an effective, immediate and engaging alternative form of communication between brand and consumer – with Rich Communication Services (RCS) introducing a new level of interactivity, says Nick Millward, VP of Europe at mGage.

App happy

Since the first mobile phone capable of sending and receiving texts was launched in the 1990s, the way in which people communicated drastically changed. This triggered new opportunities for brands to communicate with customers. It started with SMS advertising – companies sending loyalty offers and promotions via SMS – and evolved to become a reliable delivery method to reach consumers. When smartphones were introduced, consumer behavior changed again.

After the launch of the Apple store in 2008 – the mobile application was king. A year after the first iPhone was released, the App store opened with 500 apps. 10 million were downloaded in the first weekend alone. For many brands, advertising and marketing budgets previously spent on SMS messaging were repurposed for building corporate applications. It was hoped these apps would give consumers direct access to a company’s information, exclusive offers and news – granting brands access to valuable consumer data in return.

Dead weight

A few years ago a strong mobile strategy needed to include a corporate mobile app, but today’s mobile users are less attracted to the idea of downloading and using new applications. Just a small fraction of apps gain significant traction (such as Facebook and Instagram) and most people use the same apps consistently – rarely trying something new. Comscore analysis revealed the average American now downloads zero apps per month and if they do download something new, 80-90 per cent are deleted after their first use.

Analysing the changing attitudes towards apps, it comes as no surprise Gartner expects 20 per cent of brands will refocus their attention from native apps by the end of 2019.

A smarter customer message

In Flurry’s “State of Mobile 2017” annual wrap-up, the firm reported overall app session activity only grew six per cent from 2016 to 2017 – down from the 11 per cent growth it reported at the end of 2016. However, a 2018 Ofcom report found Britons now check their smartphones every 12 minutes and there is still consumer appetite to manage brand interactions digitally, and increasingly via smartphones.

Text messaging is an effective, immediate and engaging alternative for brands to communicate with consumers. Viber found texts have a 99 per cent open rate – with the average response time for those messages just 90 seconds. Through SMS messaging brands can reach their intended audience with a message of value at the most appropriate time. However, to maintain consumer interest and make a business impact, brands need to be sure the message they are sending is engaging and timely.

For example, SMS messaging can be deployed for accurate logistics messaging. After placing on order online, a customer can now receive up-to-date information about a delivery driver’s whereabouts and expected arrival time via their mobile phone.

While 74 per cent of mobile marketers feel SMS such as this is “highly effective” when integrated with a full mobile marketing plan, RCS messaging provides a richer, verified and more measurable messaging system to engage consumers.

As the next generation of SMS messaging, RCS combines the effectiveness of SMS with the functionality of WhatsApp and the richness of an app. By refocusing corporate apps and using RCS messaging, brands can create and send compelling branded content using video, GIFs, quick response buttons, carousels and maps, chatbots and quick response buttons. RCS can be used to send servicing and marketing messages directly to customers, making it easy for them to take action without having to jump in and out of an app.

A call for security

RCS messaging also enables companies to create compelling branded content to engage audiences and position them as an active participant in conversations. For example, if a prospective home owner is looking to see how much they can borrow for a mortgage, they could receive helpful information in real time via RCS messages with their chosen bank.

To benefit fully from this opportunity, companies need to first establish trust with mobile users – particularly if conversations include the sharing of personal information such as bank details. In the UK, bank customers lost £500m to mobile scams in the first half of 2018 alone. Some of this is a direct result of phishing text messages where customers authorise transfers or share bank details with imposter contacts claiming to be from their bank. It can be difficult for customers to identify whether they are receiving genuine messages.

With RCS – security is part of the package. The messaging type has verified sender ID capability. Not to mention, with RCS’ ability to deploy custom colors, logos and brand names in the sender ID, companies can share messages that match the look and feel of their apps, websites and other digital offerings to establish a clear corporate identity. For mobile users, a message from their bank will be instantly recognisable. Compared to over-the-top (OTT) solutions such as WhatsApp and some apps, RCS messaging is married by global network operators and must therefore adhere to carrier grade policy.

RCS has the potential to complement brand apps by offering a universal, in-built solution for instant engagement with brands if customers need further assistance. Rather than calling customer services (and being put on hold), RCS can offer instant chat and media sharing. This presents opportunities for companies to develop their customer service offerings and is a revenue-generator for operators whose networks support RCS.

Take action

Consumers increasingly rely on mobile first experiences, whether it is customer care interaction with a bank or making a purchase with an online retailer. Companies can benefit by creating messages customers want to open and make it is easy for users to take action.

With RCS messages, customers have an instant way to call or text, open an app or initiate and complete a purchase. They can include rich multimedia components – without the size restrictions of MMS messaging – and support high resolution images, animated GIFs, audio and video clips.

A message from your airline reminding you to check in for a flight could soon provide a full check-in experience, complete with boarding pass, visual flight updates, and terminal maps on demand. Fast food outlets at the airport could even include engaging offers and promotional messages directly within the messaging experience.

While corporate apps may be dropping off the radar, the customer interaction and engagement they spearheaded is not. RCS messaging presents brands with another way to approach and interact with consumers. RCS will be native to all devices and will not require a mobile user to find and download an app to access its capabilities. Companies that invest in RCS and its potential to consistently add value, will command consumer attention, gain important customer experience advantages over competitors and share clear marketing messages.

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Editor and content creator for Telemedia – for 18 years and counting

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