Rich Communication Services [RCS]: How it Works (Plus 5 Drawbacks)

Rich Communication Services: The Benefits and Drawbacks

6 minutes to read Written by

SMS has been around for 27 years and in that time, it’s evolved to become one of the most valuable go-to marketing channels available. Marketers choose to keep using SMS to interact with their customers because it’s reliable, cost-effective, and easy to use. In fact, SMS has a noticeably higher open rate than email.

However, technology keeps evolving. Since SMS was first introduced, it hasn’t evolved at all to keep up with changing customer expectations and business marketing needs — messages are still text-based.

This is where Rich Communication Services (RCS) comes in. It’s a new and exciting option with messages that look better than SMS and offer more customer engagement opportunities. You can send interactive messages like forms, images, and video that aren’t supported by SMS.

Think of RCS as SMS 2.0, where messages are still tied to a user’s mobile number instead of an app like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. RCS is still in the early stages of development and has a few issues to be resolved. However, the advantages rich communication offers far exceed the current capabilities of SMS.

Here’s a look at what you need to know about RCS and why it’s poised to become a mobile messaging game-changer.

What is Rich Communication Messaging?

Rich Communication Services is a protocol between mobile operators and phones. The overall objective of RCS is to replace SMS and limit the number of restrictions users experience with basic text messaging.

[Source] You can see how limited customers are with their response options.

RCS was first developed and promoted by the GSMA in 2008, and now Google is currently adopting it as an Android alternative to Apple’s iMessage service. RCS will become a means of communication between customers and will eventually replace SMS and Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) messages people send to each other. From a business perspective, RCS promises to ease friction at all stages of the digital customer journey. Amir Sarhangi, former head of RCS at Google, explains it this way: “RCS will upgrade today’s business messaging experience by enabling brands to send more useful and interactive messages.”

[Source] Instead of plain-text messages, RCS lets brands and customers alike send graphics like images, GIFs, and videos.

Messages are meant to make it easier for companies to get their customers to stay engaged. Amir explains that “RCS will upgrade today’s business messaging experience by enabling brands to send more useful and interactive messages. For example, a message from your airline reminding you to check in for a flight can now take advantage of rich media and interactivity to provide a full check-in experience, complete with boarding pass, visual flight updates, and terminal maps on demand, all directly within the messaging experience.” He continues, “Businesses can also have a branded messaging experience with information about the business and the ability to share content like images, video clips and GIFs.”

Rich communication can make it easier for you to help customers:

  • Book appointments
  • Make payments
  • Receive boarding passes
  • Submit surveys
  • Receive package delivery notifications
  • Receive credit card fraud alerts
  • Receive promotional marketing

The features mentioned above make it possible to send customized campaigns and improve the customer experience at the same time. In addition to these types of messages, there are a number of features that come with RCS that aren’t offered by SMS, including:

  • Rich, verified messages
  • Larger 8,000 character limit
  • Video calls from within messages
  • Group messages
  • Read receipts
  • Cross-platform messages
  • Messages sent via WiFi vs. cell networks
  • Analytics

You can see how rich communication will change B2C interactions to be more user-friendly. But RCS is new, and there are still issues that need to be resolved before it replaces SMS. Let’s take a closer look at these issues and what’s being done to resolve them.

Drawbacks of Rich Communication

More mobile operators are signing up to offer RCS capabilities. According to the GSMA, there are currently 55 operators and 11 phone manufacturers that support RCS. For example, in the UK, Vodafone is an operator that supports rich communication:

While there’s some interest from operators and manufacturers, your addressable market is very small. Plus, since only two device types are capable of supporting RCS — Android and Windows phones — the available audience to market to gets even smaller.

For now, Google has emerged as a leader in the RCS space — in 2015, Google acquired Jibe Mobile to help it adopt RCS Universal Protocol — with its goal being to help boost usage rates and make company-to-customer communication easier. It plans to work with mobile operators to help them adopt rich communication standards. However, RCS implementation is up to individual operators and phone manufacturers to manage. It’s this free-for-all that’s partially the reason for the slow uptake and disjointed adoption.

Even though RCS offers breakthrough features and functions, there are a few more limitations:

  • A developer must create and send messages. You can’t set up and run your own campaigns. A developer has to be involved on the back end, which increases the cost to connect with customers. Plus, waiting for a developer to create your messages is time-consuming, especially if you want to send time-sensitive information.
  • It costs to send RCS messages. The cost of sending RCS hasn’t been finalized yet, but depending on how many customers you have, the cost of sending bulk messages could add up and eat into your marketing and advertising budget. This makes your budget unpredictable since it’s at the mercy of messaging rates, which have been known to increase at any time.
  • There isn’t end-to-end encryption. If you choose to send sensitive information via RCS, it isn’t protected from bad actors waiting to steal and sell customer information.
  • RCS isn’t supported on iOS. Depending on the market, Apple has between 20% – 40% of the global mobile phone market. RCS limits your ability to maximize your reach and connect with people if they aren’t using an Android device. iMessage is an alternative to Chat, but messages can only be sent to iOS phones.
  • There’s no way to track who uses RCS. Unlike iMessage’s Apple Identity Service that lists all users, there isn’t an RCS equivalent that shows how many customers use rich communication. This is because many different operators deliver RCS messages, not just one.
  • Limited mobile phone compatibility. If a user changes phones to one that isn’t RCS-enabled, all of their old RCS messages revert to SMS. For customers who save messages, like coupon codes or passes, this information is impossible to access via traditional text-based messages.

Google is doing its best to resolve these issues. For example, its RCS option — called Chat — is opt-in based. When you send RCS messages to customers and they open the Android messaging app, customers can decide whether or not to receive RCS messages. This opt-in feature is currently only available in the UK and France. A timeline for roll-out to other countries isn’t available yet.

Now that we’ve established that RCS is a new service that still needs a lot of development, if you want to send more engaging messages, what do you do? What’s currently available?

Consider Rich Media Messaging

Rich Media Messaging (RMM) is the solution. These messages provide the same look and feel in terms of branding and messaging, but what’s even better is the additional functionality that RMM offers — like shopping or making payments from within a message:

[Source] An example of a sale promotion sent using rich media messaging

Read more about RCS Messaging in: What’s Your RCS Fallback? Choose Rich Media Messaging (RMM)

RMM lets you create compelling, immersive, and engaging rich communication messages. With RMM, you harness the benefits of RCS and gain important customer experience advantages over your competitors. RMM has a further benefit over RCS in that it doesn’t have a requirement for costly in-house development. RMM is also available on all smartphones, regions, and network providers.

Some additional RMM features that enhance your communications campaigns include:

  • Access to our mobile landing page builder. You can build mobile-friendly pages to enhance your business messaging and communications. The design, message and goal of the page are entirely in your hands, with no developer time needed. The drag and drop interface takes minutes to learn.
  • Offer an integrated customer experience. Initially, RCS will be a siloed channel. With RMM, you can use API technology to automate outbound and inbound interactions with your existing marketing and customer automation. Our platform allows for dynamic content that triggers payments, ID verification, agent call-back, and other interactions. For example, send a survey following a customer care call, or an interactive appointment scheduler for patients or deliveries.
  • Access detailed campaign analytics. Get insight to shape the future activity of your business. Whether it’s reviewing marketing campaigns to see what works well or monitoring your business processes, VoiceSage provides the data to help test assumptions and back up decisions you make about the future.

Just like sending an email campaign, RMM is simple to create, deploy, and report. You can send rich media campaigns in minutes. The set-up and user experience are entirely customizable. Incorporate intuitive CTAs and personalize messages with imagery, maps, videos, downloadable files – anything you would include in an app, email, or landing page. With a workflow creator, set up chat-bot conversations via a series of questions and pre-defined response options.

To learn more about RMM and how it can substitute for RCS, schedule a demo.

The Future of Rich Communications

Until RCS is adopted by more mobile carriers and its many issues resolved, take some time to learn more about alternative options available to you. As we’ve discussed, RMM is a strong stand-in if you’re ready to embrace interactive mobile messaging.

In the meantime, prepare for the inevitable rise of RCS. Begin or redouble your efforts to get customers to opt-in to SMS. This way, they’ll be able to receive mobile text messages from you. A growing number of customers are happy to share their phone numbers if it means getting relevant promotional offers.

Also, start sending SMS campaigns if you haven’t already done so. Or develop the complexity of existing SMS campaigns. Explore the use of different trigger types for campaigns, including a subscription or account being closed, proximity-based messaging via Bluetooth, password reset request, payment verification, and more.

When it comes to mobile messaging, the sky’s the limit. Start testing your options now and by the time rich communication is fully available, you’ll be ahead of the curve.


Published on: 3rd July 2019

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