Though usage has fallen as new and exponentially more innovative data-based messaging options emerge, over 6 trillion texts (or Short Message Service – SMS) will be sent in 2017 according to eMarketer.
SMS is still the default way in which users send and receive quick messages by their phones, and by which businesses communicate with customers for a number of reasons, ranging from speed (SMS is theoretically instant and requires little to no data), to identification (the majority of customers have a unique mobile phone number they can use to verify their identity).
Or at least it was once that simple. With the proliferation of Apple’s iMessage and options from Google and others for Android, plus the sheer magnitude of other mobile messaging applications which exist beyond SMS, the choices a business has to make in the way they communicate with their customers.
For the intents of this post, however, we’ll just look at the newest evolutions of texting on iOS and Android and how they might impact digital care from businesses today.
How We Got Here
At the debut of iOS 5 in the fall of 2012, Apple introduced a service which may have had a greater effect on iPhone retention than any piece of hardware they’ve created in the device’s 10-year history. iMessage allows iOS users to supercede SMS messaging if they are communicating with fellow users of the operating system, and send messages using data instead of requiring both parties being connected to a cellular network. This also lets users easily send pictures, voice memos, stickers, and connect quickly for voice and video communication. When someone is chatting with a fellow iOS or macOS user they see the familiar blue chat bubbles; SMS messages from any other operating system show up as green.
While initially touted as an open source protocol, those plans have yet to meaningfully come to fruition and Google’s Android has scrambled to come up with it’s own answer to the evolution of SMS ever since. Their popular browser based GMail chat was upgraded to Google Hangouts, and the mobile app amended to read SMS messages as well, but the clumsy implementation resulted in low adoption. Allo and Duo accompanied the 2016 Pixel launch but suffered the same fate as competition from standalone chat apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram were quicker to offer similar or better user experiences.
This all leads to Google taking the open source approach at the carrier level with RCS (Rich Communications Services) – an evolved form of SMS which enables all the rich media possibilities users come to expect from their devices, yet work on an Android phone from any manufacturer. With global telecommunication companies like Sprint, Rogers, Telenor, Deutsche Telekom, Globe, Orange, and more on board, the plan seems to be working.
Getting Down to Business
Besides texting between individuals, SMS and its evolutions greatly improve business to customer communications. Up until this point users could receive updates on their flights and boarding, restaurant reservations, password authentications and much more – though the text based nature of the platform meant these services were always and add-on or augmented feature rather than a fully baked implementation. With iMessage and RCS, this is no longer the case with Apple Business Chat and Google Jibe respectively looking to revolutionize the way businesses can connect with customers on their mobile devices.
If you are an iPhone user, you may have already used Business Chat for well over a year and not even known it – the beta testing for the platform was done entirely within the Apple Store iOS app and linked to many others in the ecosystem across “chasing, real-time scheduling and shopping.” Essentially, Business Chat is a platform based on iMessage which business can use to communicate with their customers that is deeply ingrained within iOS.
Anyone using an Apple service, be it Maps, the App Store, Siri, Safari, Spotlight and more, when users come across a business while using these apps they can take an additional, small step to chat directly with that business within the context of their operating system.
For example – you’re using Apple Maps to find your closest mobile phone dealer. You find it, click on the listing, and offered a chance to chat with the business and ask it questions related to your potential visit, all within a chat platform that looks and feels like iMessage.
In contrast to this passive, discoverable approach is Google’s Jibe. A business utilizing their RCS messaging system to communicate with its customers can customize their messages to their company branding – users will know exactly who the message is coming from as soon as they receive it. Within the message are rich links which let a user contact the business, find it in Google Maps, or go directly to the businesses website to any link which makes sense within the context of the conversation (change your seat on a plane or train, book an appointment time, enter a payment method, etc).
While this service offers unlimited potential, as mentioned above, carrier buy-in is required to offer this service to mobile phone users, and where it is an active communication it also requires buy-in from the user and necessary information to send them the communication in the first place: their mobile phone number.
What To Choose?
And that’s where enterprise is left to make a choice. There is a more passive approach to discoverability through Apple’s Business Chat that requires no permissions from carriers and offers a consistency through Apple software and hardware market share that Android cannot compete with at this moment in the mobile device game.
On the other hand, Jibe offers an active, branded, and limitless approach in regards to connected apps and experiences; essentially any experience available in a browser can be replicated through RCS navigation. Yet, it is at the mercy of carriers implementing the communication method in the first place, and hoping the hardware which receives it can replicate the experience.
Luckily, business don’t have to offer exclusives to one or the other and can choose to go however deep they wish with both – but the expertise required to master the experience of two new customer experience platforms may not be on the roadmap or in the budget as fast as customers expect to use them. Solutions like Wysdom’s work to plug vast databases of existing training data and use artificial intelligence to conduct customer service through these differing platforms rather than build it themselves.
Both company’s have hinted at the open source potential of each platform, and perhaps one day there will be a clear winner or hybrid solution. Until then, however, enterprise will have to juggle the needs of their customers and requirements of mobile vendors and take advantage of any solution that can speed up and scale the way they offer digital care.