The evolution from SMS to rich messaging – what it means for your business

SMS may be ubiquitous and ingrained in your communication strategy, but the way consumers want to engage with their favorite businesses is changing. Is it time for you to evolve and start looking at rich messaging?

Written by Ramy Riad on

Short Message Service, known to us all as SMS, is the default customer messaging option for many businesses. But the way consumers expect to be able to communicate with a company, and manage their services, is changing. As a result, messaging is evolving, with new rich messaging channels leading the way.

Many businesses are starting their journey to combine SMS with channels such as MMS, Verified SMS, RCS, WhatsApp, and Apple Business Chat - should you be too?

SMS: the stalwart of messaging

SMS has connected businesses and their customers for more than twenty years. Founded at the launch of mobile networks, the channel has grown to a point where over 560 billion messages are sent worldwide every month.

Because of its ease and ubiquity, SMS has been granted a unique position among messaging options. Unlike Over the Top (OTT) messaging services that are based on apps that users can choose to add and remove from their devices, SMS functionality remains an integral phone feature that’s baked into the operating system.

The humble SMS may be restricted to a text-only format with a character limit of 160, but businesses have adopted the channel for an increasing variety of use cases since its inception.

For years’ banks have complied with mandatory financial service regulations by sending customers notifications and authentication codes to confirm transactions.  Other industry sectors took a little longer to embrace SMS, but use of the channel is now widespread in sales and customer service journeys, especially in two-factor authentication requirements. And while many use cases revolve around one-way communications, brands are also finding new ways to turn SMS journeys into two-way conversations with customers.

9 out of 10 consumers prefer to communicate with businesses through text message, whether through alerts, reminders, or back and forth communication - SMS Comparison, 2021

Why change to rich messaging channels?

Considering the ubiquity of SMS, let’s look at some reasons why you should consider adopting new rich messaging channels:

Your customers are already there

The biggest reason to change is that your customers are going to demand it. SMS still has an important role to play in the communication mix. But the way consumers are using messaging on their devices continues to evolve, with many now using multiple applications for their different messaging needs. And the challenge is to keep up with consumer preferences, as they expect businesses to also be present on their favorite messaging apps.

Customer choice of the channel can boil down to regional differences, accessibility, mobile operating systems, and other factors can affect what's widely used. Simply put, your customers won’t – and often can’t – move to a new messaging platform just because your brand is there.

There is also a change in expectation from the end-user: they do not want to wait for ‘office hours’ to answer their query, they expect businesses to be available around the clock. That means every business needs to be ready to meet their customers in any channel – and at any time.

Increased security via verification

Offering increased security and fraud protection to your customers is another reason to explore rich messaging channels. Especially as ‘smishing’ attempts to defraud customers, usually originating from a mobile number and comprising of an SMS with a suspicious embedded link, continue to rise.

Rich messaging channels offer secure communications by ensuring that all businesses operating on these channels are verified, making it much more difficult for fraudsters to imitate a company. A benefit of sending messages from a verified account that has a ‘tick’ that customers can trust is that not only do customers have peace of mind, but communications are much more likely to receive a response.

Richer features for a better customer experience

Rich messaging platforms offer an array of features that move the customer experience on from the text-only capabilities of SMS. These can include menus, carousels, and buttons to guide your consumer through a set of choices, and the ability to share video and audio.

Adding buttons isn’t just about improving the user experience. It also resolves common error-prone approaches to two-way SMS messages, such as a sentence case or keyword mismatches. With rich messaging channels, customers can simply use buttons to turn a multi-touch interaction into a single tap.

And in cases where this still isn’t enough to resolve a customer query, many messaging platforms such as Apple Business Chat require that customers have the option to speak to an agent – providing a useful fallback for complex and high-priority interactions.

Rich messaging channels also offer a higher level of reportability, with many measuring CSAT scores, so businesses can also track the success of journeys and campaigns more easily.

Just adding a button option to messages can boost messaging response rates by 15-20%

What rich messaging channels should businesses consider?

For a small number of businesses, the vast majority of their customers can be found on just one platform. So, it makes sense to use that platform as your new rich messaging channel of choice. However, for the majority of businesses, they will have to embark on a journey towards offering a blend of rich messaging channels.

For your business, this may include:

  • Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS): Adding MMS functionality introduces one image, a simple step that can help boost customer engagement. It remains an un-branded option, which means, just like SMS, every mobile device can receive them. One factor to keep in mind is that MMS is also vulnerable to “smishing” attacks.
  • Verified SMS (VSMS): An Android-only option that adds a layer of brand protection and trust to your text-based messaging, VSMS is a text-only format that facilitates two-way conversation on a familiar interface for your consumers.
  • Rich Communication Service (RCS): RCS brings together the best of rich messaging to Android users and is a fantastic option for businesses with customers in the UK, USA, Canada, and several countries in LATAM like Brazil and Mexico. Verified and branded with your logo, this option offers secure communications, multiple images, and media. Your first move to RCS could be as simple as adding a button to the 160-character texts you already send over SMS – allowing the customer to ‘tap’ their opt-in or agreement. Just adding this button option, and nothing else, can boost response rates by 15-20%. From there, you can gradually expand to include images, videos, rich cards, or more complex button-driven journeys.
When Vodafone deployed its first major RCS campaigns with imimobile, they saw response rates soar up to 25%
  • Social Messaging (WhatsApp / Facebook Messenger / Instagram): These social messaging channels have the added advantage of being available to your customers on both Android and iOS. All the design and experience elements seen in RCS can be rolled out to social messaging channels. Additionally, you can add list pickers, carousels, and other elements to deliver a richer consumer experience.
  • Google’s Business Messages and Apple Business Chat: Both platforms offer powerful ways to interact with customers for customer care. Google Business Messages integrate seamlessly with Google Maps, while Apple’s rich messaging service sits right in the Messages app on an iPhone or iPad and adds a message function when users are on Maps or Safari. Both messaging platforms offer rich features, including images, videos, and buttons.

How do you go about adding rich messaging channels?

Knowing which channels your business needs to add to its messaging mix is just the first step of the journey. Each rich messaging channel has its respective rules, minimum response times, and acceptable use policies. An additional consideration is that they have their own individual APIs.

For example, Apple Business Chat users must opt-in to receive any notifications, but for WhatsApp, they must opt-in for each type of notification. This guidance will also vary by region: RCS does not require an opt-in for notifications in the UK, but normal GDPR rules apply.

For brands finding their way through the rich messaging landscape, we recommend a four-step approach to find the right platforms for your business:

  • Identify your use cases: Are you mainly sending one-way messages (like two-factor authentication codes), or do you need to have two-way conversations? Are you handling customer support, or also looking to use your channel for marketing purposes? The use cases you want to focus on first will help to determine which channels are fit for purpose.
  • Narrow down channel choices based on the features you need: Specific features will nudge you towards different platforms. For example, if you need to reach out and start conversations with customers, you won’t be able to do that in Google Business Messaging or Apple Business Chat.
  • Consider if you can support live agent chats: Some channels such as Instagram and Apple Business Chat require that you can send customers to a live agent at any point within your chat channel. If you can’t support this requirement, you need to look at other platforms.
  • Look at investing in a unified communications platform: With a growing number of channels and the potential to use them for a range of use cases, you should consider investing in a central communications platform for managing all channel and customer journeys from one place.

Navigating through these variations can be a challenge for any business. Reassuringly, rich messaging transformation for your business can be achieved via small steps, balancing traditional SMS with newer channels.

To find out more about rich messaging channels and how they are helping businesses to deliver interactions that win and retain customers, download our Guide to Conversational Messaging.