CHATBOTS IN RCS BUSINESS MESSAGING
With RCS, for the first time, mobile network operators can offer the same capabilities that enterprises have been using on their websites and social networks (a bot store, bot discovery, bot search capability, etc.) but with the ubiquity of the mobile messaging ecosystem. And because RCS is a seamless transition for users (similar to the move from text only to HTML enriched email), the expectation is that the current successful open, read, click-through, and engagement rates of SMS will transfer to RCS.
To foster an open ecosystem and facilitate adoption, the GSMA defined the Messaging as a Platform (MaaP) mediation layer, which allows communication between businesses (brands), developers, 3rd party enablers, and customers, and abstracts the network complexity by means of simple APIs. In particular, the GSMA Northbound interface leverages REST methods to provide a chatbot-ready API that lowers friction for chatbot developers, reducing the development and test efforts and providing a baseline for new chatbot platform initiatives. The choice of REST is not arbitrary, as web developers worldwide are already familiar with the REST methodology and there are many other web services that provide REST-based APIs to integrate functionality from multiple parties into a combined end-user experience.
Figure 5 – RCS Messaging-as-a-Platform (MaaP) Layer
In addition to the Northbound API, RCS also leverages web technologies to enhance the end-user experience. The Universal Profile 2.0 specification introduces JSON-based rich cards and rich card carousels that group multimedia information into objects that can include text, images, audio, and video, as well as action and suggested response buttons with pre-defined responses enabling calls to other web services such as mobile payments, shopping carts, order systems, etc. Many of the web-based chatbot platforms have similar elements that can easily be adapted to work on RCS—for example, Microsoft Bot Framework also has JSON-based cards with action buttons.
Figure 6 – Rich Card and Rich Card Carousels within an RCS conversation
Aware of the limitations of SMS messaging and based on the feedback from brands, aggregators, and marketing agencies, RCS Business Messaging also provides the metrics and performance indicators that brands need to measure the success of their A2P and P2A campaigns. With SMS, brands could know if a message had been delivered to the MNO network but could not know when it was delivered or read by the end user. With RCS, businesses can now know if the message has been delivered, if it has been read, and even if the user is typing back. This allows marketing professionals to better quantify the channel’s Return on Investment (ROI).
In light of these advantages, we can conclude that RCS delivers a rich chatbot experience on par with the latest leading web-based chatbots with the added advantage of providing a secure and trusted channel for the brands to communicate with the end user.
Today’s web-based chatbots are directly embedded into enterprise websites or offered on social applications such as Facebook Messenger, Twitter, or Slack. In many situations, the content is presented through a web browser and is subject to the scrutiny of any browser extensions installed by the users (many times unknowingly embedded in the installer of free software downloads). Sometimes, the terms and conditions of the underlying messaging platform explicitly grant permission for the service to harvest usage information to provide advertisements—after all, they are providing a free service that needs to be monetized in order to be sustainable.
As a result, the content of the conversations between brands and consumers can be leaked or harvested, sold to 3rd parties willing to offer competing services or products. Even if the contents of the conversation are confidential, the metadata can still provide valuable information to competitors. For example, if consumers talk to a certain car dealership several times in a week for a certain duration of time, it is not hard to deduce that they are intending to purchase a new vehicle, even if we cannot read the messages within the conversation. Therefore, it should not be a surprise if advertisements from a competing brand start to appear when the user navigates in other websites that use an affiliated 3rd party ad system.
With RCS, all communication happens between the brand and the end user’s mobile device, through their messaging application, and the mobile network operator can ensure the metadata is not provided to other parties. Of course, enterprises will need to make sure the chatbot platform they choose provides the same level of confidentiality.
So, if RCS can provide the same level of chatbot experience that web platforms provide today, in a clean and secure channel, what is stopping brands from offering chatbots in RCS? There are two answers. The first one is the lack of clients and networks, which is temporary, already being addressed by MNOs and device manufacturers, and will cease to be an impediment soon. The second cause is the cost of having to rebuild the brands’ chatbots on RCS using the GSMA Northbound API provided by their mobile network operator.
The leading chatbot platform providers are already providing channels to leading messaging systems (Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype, etc.), because that is critical to the omni-channel strategies of their enterprise customers. What if RCS could be another channel within those platforms?
Figure 7 – Connecting the Bots to RCS
Download the Connecting the Bots white paper for more information on RCS Business Messaging and how RCS can become another standard messaging channel available in the leading chatbot platforms to facilitate the relationship between brands and consumers.