Mastering Customer Engagement with Mobile Messaging: AI, Facebook, WhatsApp, and RCS

The mobile world is changing rapidly, and we’re now moving to a ‘post-app’ phase where mobile messaging is playing a more central role in how businesses communicate with customers.

We are a mobile nation

In Australia we have more smartphones than people and our daily usage has gone from around 20 minutes a day in 2008 to more three hours by 2018.

Those aged 18 to 33 spend even more – over five hours per day on their device and about one-third of the time they are awake!

Mobile is now central to our lives, and messaging is at the heart of mobile.

The three waves of messaging apps

Messaging has been developing rapidly over the past 20 years. To date there have been three ‘waves’ of messaging apps, courtesy of this summary by US carrier, Sprint.

1. Internet wave

The first wave of messaging software that revolutionised 1:1 desktop communication in the late ’90s and early 2000s was PC-based chat apps, like MSN (Messenger), ICQ and AIM. They introduced the concept of presence, so you could see who was online before contacting them.

2. Mobile phone wave

By 2000, mobile phone ownership was mainstream and around 50 percent of Australians owned a mobile phone. Messaging applications on mobile were private – on a personal device – rather than on shared computers.

3. Smartphone and data bundle wave

The launch of the iPhone in 2007, followed by Android in 2008 introduced a more powerful generation of mobile apps. Mobile networks supported faster 3G data and a number of over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps appeared, such as WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram and others, many of which remain some of the most downloaded apps today.

Each wave is bigger than the last

Peak numbers during the first and second waves simply cannot compare with the number of monthly active users attracted to OTT messaging apps. OTT data-only messaging services dominate person-to-person (P2P) messaging, especially Messenger and WhatsApp, with 1.3 billion and 1.5 billion users respectively.

Customers have come to prefer OTT for P2P conversations, no doubt due to improved interactive elements, such as group conversations, images, videos, buttons and suggested replies, and other rich media.

Mobile messaging is becoming a key channel for customer communications and businesses need to master messaging channels in order to maximise growth. Several factors – chatbots, suggested responses, AI (specifically natural language understanding) and personal account analysis – make a compelling customer experience that can also take care of many day-to-day customer interactions.

So, it makes sense for businesses to let our customers reach us via their preferred channels

Carrier channels dwarf OTT

However, while billions of OTT users are significant, there is more to the story.

SMS is still the most effective way to cut through with simple messages or text-led AI conversations. SMS and MMS have been steadily growing over the past 20 years. SMS is still available to any mobile phone, with no app needed, with a reach of approximately 4.6 billion handsets worldwide.

When combined with workflows, SMS can enable more interactive experiences than before. A good example is MessageMedia’s FlickPay, a mobile bill payment solution lets customers pay their bill in two taps without an app.

RCS: The fourth wave?

There is another big new technology wave yet to come, which has the potential to dwarf all previous waves: rich communication services (RCS).

RCS offers the best of both OTT and SMS/MMS: an app-like experience that only requires a compatible smartphone. RCS removes the need to develop and maintain an app in an era where customers are switching off notifications and removing apps.

Live trials in US and Europe are being conducted now, with incredible results. We expect the technology in Australia and New Zealand early next year, and MessageMedia is well prepared for the new technology and its extensive capabilities.

Mobile customer engagement is getting fragmented

Businesses want to reach and engage customers over their preferred channels, however, this isn’t always possible. Some channels require an app or user account. Others allow outbound messaging but demand careful management to avoid spam or other legal consequences. Different channels allow different types of media to be included in messaging.

While it can seem complicated, this is why MessageMedia exists. We simplify the complexity, so you create engaging experiences for your customers that deliver value to your business.

This blog is an edited transcipt of Ken’s presentation at Australian Utility Week in November 2018.