Brands are increasingly seeking means of conversing with their customers. Chatbots and messaging apps are providing opportunities in this space, meanwhile mobile carriers are promising an open, policed and secure platform of their own in Rich Communications Services (RCS), the successor to SMS.
Mobile World Congress (MWC) organiser GSMA has aligned 800 carriers behind RCS, including Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Bell Canada, China Mobile, T-Mobile US and Google. With this integration, the carriers are building a fit-for-purpose comms platform capable of sending images and video, interactivity that also provides richer analytics to brands.
Ann Cook director of interactive and managing director ITL at ITV, lifted the lid on the UK broadcaster’s trials using RCS, underlining the company’s reliance on SMS through which some 40m messages are sent annually.
ITV, home of The X Factor, I’m a Celebrity and Britain’s Got Talent, received 70m votes on its unscripted shows each year. At the same time, it is testing RCS in the hopes it will bolster engagement. The broadcaster is keen to move away from “boring” SMS to RCS, a move Cook has likened to when “TV moved from black and white to colour”.
RCS provided a boost of between 10% to 20% in message opening rates. “ITV is almost singing through the platform, consumers would feel like they almost have to engage.”
With heightened engagement levels – that can now be tracked – Cook said that ITV will be able to test which message formats best work best. The tech, she said has the ITV marketing team excited. She envisioned a future where ITV could send push notifications for its shows, complete with full TV guide, all leading to the digital players where viewers can immediately tune in.
An ongoing conversation
Meanwhile, Marco Trecroce, senior vice president and chief information officer of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts said RCS could help the brand more effectively let the brand cater to its customers needs. There is one caveat, while many brands would integrate chatbots into the platform, the hotel would instead link the messages to on-site staff to “maintain intimacy with guests".
He said: “Our guests want to talk with us through SMS, they want to have a conversation with us, which is very unique.”
On RCS, the major benefit is that conversations can be carried throughout its hotels. Sentiment analysis will be able to perceive whether the last stay was a good one. Special requests and needs can be catered to. Rooms can be personalised in advance of the booking at the whim of guests. Trecroce admitted that this service has so far bolstered customer satisfaction levels by 20%.
There has been some push back among hotel franchisees, particularly because the Four Seasons is primarily a “physical experience”. Nonetheless, the whole effort helps “guests to stay with the hotels and feel a connection with the brand”.
There are security and privacy implications, Trecroce conceded this. “You can imagine the conversations occurring with guests, they write a lot of stuff which is pretty private. Also the sentiment shows, sometimes they are cranky and had a bad arrival, you can see this sentiment change slowly through time until they are quite happy."
An open platform
Stefano Parisse director of products and services at Vodafone said RCS provides a “tremendous opportunity for customers want to engage with brands more. It is a good thing for customers, brands, networks and operators.”
Video, carousels and cue cards will be used to prompt greater – and hopefully – consensual engagement with mobile users. “The evolution of RCS will make it much more engaging for the customer.”
Separating the platform from the Facebook Messengers, WhatsApps and WeChats in the messenger app ecosystem is the carriers’ insistence that the platform is open to all. Another incentive is that across five trials, he said there were 20 times higher conversion rates than normal SMS. “When we go live with the leading brands in each field we are expecting more success,” he added.
Other platforms have been hit with accusations of breaching customer privacy, allowing fake messages and spam. RCS will be policed by the carriers to avoid this. Parisse said: "Data is important but so is the privacy. We take privacy very seriously. We are aware of spam and fake messages on other platforms and we are doing our best to avoid this, this is a reassurance for brands and customers, we put the communications tool in their hands and we have to be responsible.”
Yves Maitre, executive vice president of connected objects and partnerships at Orange, revealed the potential of RCS to the Middle East and Africa where some states have low broadband penetration.
During his reveal he said that mobile users could engage with more multimedia content, carried through RCS on a service already provided by carriers. One region he pointed to was Jordan. He claims that it has the largest number of chatbots in play than any other nation due to its geopolitical situation and the government’s requirement to be able to serve PSAs to citizens.
Maitre revealed: “We have the brand business model in place, but we think we can bring a lot to society. The governments have to be secure in the people they deal with, the carriers are trusted, we have been dealing with them for years.
“We can manage global brands and local stories. We are not too late, we are at the right time, we have to accelerate because the problems are growing, cities are getting bigger.”
This month’s issue of The Drum magazine focuses on the mobile sector with insights on the democratisation of photography and interview with US recording artist Ryan Leslie who shared his personal mobile number with the world to help his fan engagement and a look at the longevity of the low-cost smartphone market in China and India. Buy your copy of this issue and other copies through The Drum website.