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Do we need to have a conversation about RCS conversational commerce? Yes we do. And MEF is taking the lead. Following the publication of a white paper on the topic, MEF convened a webinar in which three experts explored rich messaging and payment buttons.

The future of RCS is still far from certain. Could it be the rich media successor to SMS, and offer an app-like experience on billions of phones?

Yes, of course.

Could RCS become struggle for mass acceptance thanks to a lack of live deployments?

Sadly, also possible.

Watch the MEF Webinar in full

It’s far too early to call the future of RCS. But we can explore its potential, and look at the experiments that have taken place to date.

And one area that has received relatively little attention so far is payments.

The inattention is understandable. The vast majority of existing RCS activity by brands has not included commerce. Well-publicised tests by companies such as Virgin Trains and Express have focused instead on promotions and customer service.

Moreover, the GSMA has codified RCS standards for various rich features (group chat, file transfer, audio messaging, video share, multi-device, enriched calling, location share, live sketching, chatbot support and verified sender). It has not yet touched commerce.

In other words, there is as yet no universally agreed method for making a payment work in an RCS session. Will GSMA add a payments standard? Possibly – but it says there is no timeline, and no defined approach.

Still, though the detail of RCS payments is still sketchy, the industry knows this is an important topic. By blending the ubiquity of SMS with the richness of apps, RCS could transform mobile commerce.

This is why MEF has spent the last few weeks talking to members about the topic. Members’ views formed the basis of a white paper ‘Getting Ready for RCS Payments’.

Loyalty as we have thought about it is dead… Today, true loyalty has much more to do with the overall customer experience. We are now in the era of strengthening customer relationships through relevance.”

Last week, three of them articulated their insights in a MEF webinar entitled ‘RCS Payments: Realising the Potential’. The participants were:

  • Mathias Höllerl – MD of DIMOCO Messaging
  • Pascal Dufour – VP of Middle East, North Africa & Turkey, Digital Virgo
  • Oscar Gallego – Global head of smart communications & security consumer products & services (Group Technology) Vodafone

Both DIMOCO and Digital Virgo explained that they are currently working on RCS tests and proofs of concept.

Vodafone too is a big advocate for RCS, and is one of the first operators to launch a live RCS service that includes payments.

Its ticketing service, launched with Wegal in Spain, lets users ‘talk’ to a chatbot to discover live concerts. At the end of this process, he or she can pay for a ticket using direct carrier billing (DCB).

Gallego explained how DCB was the obvious choice of billing method for this early trial. He said: “There are a lot of synergies between RCS and DCB. They are both carrier channels. This allowed us a level of security and trust that we couldn’t necessarily get with other payment channels.”

Höllerl agreed that this control make DCB a sensible first option for payments in RCS. “In an ideal world, the user doesn’t leave the conversation to make a payment,” he said. “Once you re-direct a customer, the conversion breaks. So we need to make the journey seamless. We need to find a solution in this ecosystem where we can integrate different payment methods. DCB is a good first step.”

Pascal Dufour pointed out that, even with DCB, there is still the need to balance convenience with security. “Carrier billing might help you keep a customer in the channel, but there is still a question of deciding the right journey. Do you want a 2-click payment flow? Or a OTP pop out? This is where the challenge is and the agreement needs to be,” he said.

Underlying all these concerns is, of course, malware and fraud. Historic scandals explain why customers are understandably wary of new and unfamiliar payment screens.

Gallego hopes that the reassurance of the operator brand can mitigate this. “With Wegal, we looked at how we could offer a balance between convenience and what makes a customer confident,” he said. “Our decision was to go with a Vodafone branded screen. We wanted to say at the moment of payment: ‘this is Vodafone – it is no longer the brand’. It might not be the most convenient flow, but for now we need well-known methods.”

Should RCS take off as a commercial channel, brands and consumers will doubtless clamour for payment alternatives to carrier billing. They will want to see card payments and maybe even direct bank transfers integrated into an RCS session.

Again, this is all possible. And for the aggregators, it offers an exciting new area of business. Höllerl explained that DIMOCO is a licensed payment institute in the EU, and an authorised acquirer for Mastercard. It can certainly handle these payments for brands. But to repeat, this will become easier to do if the industry standardises its RCS APIs.

To hear more insights from Vodafone, DIMOCO and Digital Virgo, watch the entire discussion here and download the white paper.

Tim Green

Features Editor, MEF Minute


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