Embracing conversational commerce: How the rich media of RCS, OTT messaging, and WebRTC will change customer experience

As WhatsApp potentially opens to business users in 2018, and numerous reports predict massive growth for messaging and rich media channels, IMImobile, looks at how brands will be embracing conversational commerce to build innovative customers journeys in 2018…

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Facebook-owned WhatsApp recently announced its plans to open the service to businesses, allowing them to interact with its 1 billion users. Meanwhile, a report from QL Research shows that RCS (Rich Communication Services) – the hyped successor to SMS that mobile operators are hoping to deliver new revenue streams – is gaining traction.

At the same time, many of the world’s tech giants are backing the competing WebRTC open media standards to power new services. According to MarketResearchReports.biz usage is predicted to grow at 34% over the next four years.

What all these companies are counting on is that brands and consumers will embrace a new, more direct, and more personalised way of interacting with one another. In fact, they already have.

Whether you call it conversational commerce or the engagement economy, and whether you back one technology over another, it’s happening now and consumers are driving the demand.

At the centre of it all: the smartphone

The smartphone has for some time been the most important device for doing business with consumers. Since they appeared over a decade ago consumers have become used to using multiple channels – a blend of SMS, and video/voice chat – to communicate with friends and family.

Consumers want to engage with businesses via the same channels they use for their personal communications. Research shows that 89% of consumers want to use messaging to communicate with brands. Currently, only 48% of businesses are equipped to do this, and when they do use other channels they do so in an ad-hoc and unintegrated way.

It’s not just that consumers are fed up with traditional channels like voice and email. App fatigue is a genuine challenge, with consumers not wanting to install, update, and remember passwords for brands’ proprietary apps. This is causing brands to rethink how they can centralise their mobile services on customers’ smartphones.

For most companies, if they want to be closer to their customers, they’re going to have to do it by proxy, going to where their customers spend the majority of their time online – which is on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and other messaging services

Using rich media and messaging channels to build better customer journeys

The unique advantage of these channels, like WhatsApp or RCS, is that they unify multiple capabilities into a single environment. Through one channel a brand can use voice recorded messages, photos, documents, live video, chat, location services, and other capabilities to communicate with their customers. The value to brands is the ability to use these rich media features to improve communication, make customer journeys far more efficient, and even create new ones that weren’t possible before.

For example, a typical utility use case could be using live video capabilities to get customers to show boilers and meters that need be assessed. Utility companies could then advise customers in real-time what they need to do to take a reading or fix simple problems, e.g. boiler reset, and crucially determine if an engineer needs to be sent. This not only solves the problem faster for the customers, it also creates millions in operational savings. The average cost of an engineer visit to a business is about £100 – £120 – by reducing just 5,000 call-outs a year will result in roughly £500,000 – £600,000 in operational savings. Not only will businesses save, but engineers will have more time to focus on the most complex customer problems and enquiries.

RCS gives companies direct access to consumers and their most personal digital device without the need for the customer to download a proprietary app. A travel company like an airline, booking agent, or hotel could take advantage of rich media to centralise the customer experience and deliver live updates, tickets, brochures, offers, and other content direct to a customer’s phone. This eliminates the need to have multiple interactions across different channels. With RCS, just like SMS, all a company needs is the customer’s phone number.

The capabilities of these channels can be used to improve entire parts of the customer journey, especially the interactions most tedious to customers. For example, retailers could allow customers wanting to return products to send a photo of a barcode over an OTT channel to start the returns process. From this, retailers can gather product and transaction information, create a ticket, and then use a chatbot to automate return pick-up day and time by their logistics provider. Once completed, a retailer can then send a receipt via the documents function through the same channel. This type of conversational service not only streamlines and centralises the entire return process for customers, but helps to lay the ground work for future engagement on these channels which may be more promotions based.

That’s just a few specific benefits of these channels; there will be many others, including the ability to collect more personal customer data. Not only that, but customers approach these channels differently to traditional ones. For example, 78% of customers would be willing to wait longer for a customer service enquiry resolution on a messaging channel, as long as their query had been acknowledged.

Being on their smartphone is a true privilege, so make it relevant and useful

Brands do need to be cautious when exploring how they will use these channels, as even though consumers have been using mobile messaging to talk to one another, these are still relatively new channels for doing business. Indeed, WhatsApp is still to open to businesses officially, but because it has been inaccessible to companies it could be seen as an invasion of privacy if consumers were to suddenly start receiving unsolicited commercial offers.

If brands use these channels to bombard customers, they risk alienating customers on what are likely to become some of the most valuable communications channels over the next few years.

From an operational point of view this means properly integrating the use of messaging and rich media channels into an omni-channel customer experience strategy. This involves eliminating data siloes, allowing processes and interactions to run smoothly across channels, and training agents to make best use of their expanded media options.

Orchestrating individual interactions and whole customer journeys as they cross channels is only possible when all systems and data sources are integrated under the control of a single platform that connects everything else together. Additionally, an orchestration layer should serve as a centralised data collection point which enables the customer service and marketing teams to get the real-time, detailed feedback to fine-tune campaigns, offers, and customer journeys. And, never forget that while conversational commerce may be enabled by the technology in modern smartphones, its success is driven by data.

No matter what type of consumer facing business you are, with the growth in messaging channels, the rise of chatbots, the importance of automation, and the growing sophistication of orchestration software, rich media channels need to be a part your CX strategy for 2018 for beyond.