People & Interviews

Virginie Debris on RCS and the Future of Messaging

LinkedIn Google+ Pinterest Tumblr

Virginie Debris is a force to be reckoned with in the world of mobile communication. With over two decades of experience in the messaging industry, she’s seen it all, from the ringtone craze of the early 2000s to the current focus on Rich Communication Services (RCS). 

Virginie recently led a panel discussion at Mobile World Congress, diving deep into RCS and the future of messaging. In this interview, we’ll explore Virginie’s extensive career and gain insights from the post-Mobile World Congress discussion on RCS and its impact on the communication landscape.

Virginie, let’s begin by getting to know you better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and what initially drew you to the world of messaging?

I have been in the messaging industry for the past 24 years. I usually say that messaging is not just a job; it’s a lifestyle. We are a community where we all started creating ringtones back in the 2000s. Then we discovered the potential of P2P messaging and refocused on A2P.

There has been a lot of back and forth in the industry. Today, on the messaging side, the market is moving to get closer to the consumer and give them what they want, when they want, and in the channel they prefer, which is what Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS), is all about.

That’s what excites me, and that’s the reason why I joined Sinch a year and a half ago as the MD of Messaging. So what does it cover? I have Profit & Loss (P&L) ownership for all the messaging business at Sinch, which accounts for probably 35 to 40 percent of our revenues worldwide. My team and I are in charge of the product. This includes product development, commercialization, management, and bringing the product to market.

We handle what we call product operations, which involves implementing the product itself. This is usually very interesting because it is where you see the reality of what you’ve built all along. Then, it usually comes back to, “Ah, we need to develop that to ease the consumption of this at the backend.”


So that’s all in a nutshell.

SMS has come a long way. Can you elaborate on the evolution of SMS and the limitations that led to the development of rich communication services (RCS)?

SMS was originally designed to alert people that they had a voice message on their voice messaging system. SMS has come a long way to become what it is today. What we are attempting is to use it as a marketing tool with enterprises communicating to their end users.

SMS is limited to 160 characters and was never intended for marketing purposes. Additionally, identifying the sender is restricted to a few characters through what we call the sender ID. SMS lacks rich content and the ability to determine whether the message has been read, which is fundamental in any marketing activity. Thus, there have been numerous limitations on SMS for the past 20 years.

The industry has made efforts to find more attractive alternatives to SMS. MMS was an alternative, which allowed sending pictures, videos, and read notifications, but it failed to gain traction outside the US.

Initiatives began in 2014 to introduce RCS to end users, aiming for richer communication. Attempts were made from various perspectives, including the GSM association and regulators, but they often failed.

Google recognized the trend of people shifting to Apple due to iMessage’s appeal, particularly its group messaging feature. This realization prompted Google to explore messaging alternatives. They chose to adopt RCS, a technology developed previously, as the new Google messaging standard.

Since then, Google has been working to onboard operators to establish an ecosystem around RCS. Today, RCS operates primarily based on Google’s infrastructure, enabling operators to interconnect and allowing enterprises to connect through Apple, Google, and aggregators like us to deliver messages to end users.

RCS offers features such as read/reply, branding, verified sender, and rich content, including call-to-actions and carousels, meeting the expectations of users in a rich messaging environment.

At the World Mobile Congress, you focused on demystifying RCS. Can you give us a quick overview of the panel discussion you had with representatives from Google, Orange, and Picard?

The interesting thing about Mobile World Congress, I’ve been attending it for the past 20 years, is that there’s always a buzzword or trend. This year, it was all about CPaaS and Messaging.

One aspect was mobile identity and improving security for end users. The other buzzword was RCS, particularly after Apple announced they are going to support it.

With our panel, we aimed to raise awareness about RCS, its real-life applications, and how it functions. We also wanted to present the full ecosystem necessary for its success.

In the RCS ecosystem, you have brands as end users, like Picard, with multiple intermediaries before reaching them. This includes operators like Orange France, who can only provide RCS with the assistance of Google. Hence, we invited Google to the panel. Then you have someone in the middle called the CPaaS, like Sinch. And, in a nutshell, that’s the reason we had a panel with Picard, Sinch, Orange France, and Google.

During the panel, we emphasized the importance of content for end users. Picard is recognized as the number one loved brand in France. They are a food company specializing in the manufacture and retail distribution of frozen products which is highly popular in France.

Picard sought to leverage its loyalty program to engage customers in an innovative way. It was the Christmas period and around 25% of Picard’s annual sales revenue comes during the holiday period. They wanted to accelerate that even more with their loyalty program.

The idea was to better comprehend Picard’s needs and guide them to the right channel at the right time. Sinch’s customer success and marketing teams collaborated with the marketing team at Picard and brainstormed on what they could do to reach success.

Ultimately, we decided that RCS was the ideal choice. Its rich content capabilities allowed Picard to showcase products, calls-to-action, and measure campaign results. It provided consumers with a complete Picard experience, including branding, product display, and interaction.

The key takeaway from the panel discussion was really the necessity for collective effort to ensure the success of RCS implementations.

Can you walk us through the specific tactics used in the Picard campaign and how it achieved a 42% higher engagement rate? And what are some key strategies businesses can use to leverage RCS as effectively as Picard did?

I believe the most crucial aspect, as always, is understanding your customer. Different customers prefer to engage in different ways. You probably have a lot closer interactions with your loyalty program members, and it is important to create unique experiences for them. 

The entire experience must be meticulously branded to ensure that the end user feels immersed in the brand. Consistency in colors and branding is key. Navigating through messages should replicate the experience of being in the virtual or physical store. It’s about giving the end user the comfort and familiarity they expect.

This is where RCS is very powerful. When consumers receive such messages, they instantly recognize and feel comfortable with them, which can lead to increased engagement and ultimately, purchases. That would be my first piece of advice.

Secondly, it’s crucial to choose the right channel at the right time. For example, during Christmas when everyone is in high spirits, it’s an opportune moment to try something new like RCS, especially with your loyal program customers who are more inclined to engage. However, it might not be suitable for newcomers to the brand.

Of course, content is paramount to achieving high engagement. It’s a strategic marketing game. You need to carefully consider how each campaign will be received, what products to promote, and what key messages to convey.

Finally, the channel itself is new and exciting, which is appealing to many consumers. They find it enjoyable and engaging, appreciating the branding, rich content, and clear communication. Ultimately, from a consumer perspective, that’s what matters most.

In conclusion, it was the result of all the background work we did with Picard that made the campaign such a success.

Is RCS a one-size-fits-all solution, or are there specific types of businesses or target audiences that benefit most from using RCS?

That’s a very good question. My perspective is always that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. I don’t believe in it, and I wouldn’t buy into it. We’re all different, even within ourselves, depending on the day, the message, or the actions required from us. We don’t always want to receive information in the same way.

I still love email for many things, I also enjoy SMS a lot. Just a few minutes ago, the car service called me because I left my car in the garage this morning, and they wanted to inform me if it’s ready. I don’t want them to call me. An SMS is good enough. Even an email would have been enough, right? I don’t want a call for that. 

However, if there were an urgent problem with my bank, I would prefer a phone call or the option to initiate a real-time conversation.

I’m preaching for my own church here because, at Sinch, we offer multiple communication channels. The reason for this is to ensure that we can reach anybody, anytime, through the channel they prefer.

But could this be the killing app? I think so.

In November, Apple announced its support for RCS on their devices. We expect this to roll out by September this year, with hopes that by the end of 2024, all iOS versions will be RCS compliant, making RCS nearly ubiquitous.

RCS is obviously much richer than SMS. 

One of the significant challenges with SMS is customer trust due to the lack of sender verification. If there is a URL in messages, I would strongly advise you not to click on that because this is probably phishing or as we call it in SMS – smishing. RCS solves this with sender ID verification, enhancing security. This sender ID verification is really something that happens between us, the brand provider, and the operator. 

Verified accounts will have a symbol next to their names, similar to what you see on verified X(Twitter) accounts. This is very powerful from a security perspective as customers can be sure they really are speaking with their bank

Another killer feature is the capability for two-way conversations, enabling seamless interactions with brands directly within the messaging app. Let’s say you receive information from your insurance company and they tell you, “We received your request, as you had an accident, we need more information.” Usually to provide further information, you would need to do this on their website, call them, or visit their branch in person. With RCS you would have the capability to start the conversations with them right in your messaging app, without having to break your customer journey. From an end-user perspective, this is incredibly convenient.

However, from a brand’s perspective, implementing these features can be more complex. They need to be prepared to engage in chats, potentially using AI bots and integrating with CRM systems. They also need to ensure a fallback option to a live agent when necessary.

At Sinch, we offer all these capabilities, which I believe are incredibly impactful across various use cases. 

What should businesses that want to adopt RCS to enhance customer experiences consider?

To answer this question, we need to start from the beginning. What is your specific use case? Based on that, we can determine the type of assistance you require from companies like ours. This includes defining the best approach, channel, and customer journey to create.

RCS could indeed be a solution, but it’s essential to consider whether email or voice might be more suitable. I strongly believe that now is the perfect moment for many brands to leverage RCS. Being relatively new, it provides a competitive advantage, as anything novel tends to pique customer interest.

It would obviously attract more attention right now than it would in one year. I would highly recommend brands that have the right use cases and support from providers such as Sinch, to begin exploring with RCS.

RCS offers many advantages, are there any challenges businesses should be aware of when implementing it?

RCS is a new method of communication for end-users and it is difficult to predict their reaction. It could be positive, as we’ve seen in previous use cases, but reactions may vary depending on the market and your brand. It may seem obvious, but people communicate differently depending on their background.

For instance, Brazil is experiencing a significant surge in RCS adoption, primarily due to the widespread use of WhatsApp. In Brazil, you can find the WhatsApp logo everywhere, scan the QR code and initiate a conversation with a brand via WhatsApp. This familiarity with interactive brand communication suggests that Brazilian users are likely to embrace RCS and similar interactions swiftly. 

However, putting my CPaaS player hat on, eager to witness RCS growth, it’s essential to acknowledge that Meta and WhatsApp have already secured a considerable market share, presenting a competitive landscape to navigate.

Other challenges are the lack of maturity more from a commercial perspective. While the technology itself may be mature, determining pricing strategies remains a challenge for operators. Questions such as how to price RCS in comparison to SMS along with the variations in RCS types (basic, single, conversational) further complicate matters.

So, there are always pros and cons. That’s where I would obviously suggest going and talking to experts, like Sinch, but I’m preaching for my own church there again.

As RCS continues to grow and now with Apple implementing it, what exciting developments do you see in this industry?  

There were a lot of conversations about this at Mobile World Congress.

The uncertainty around whether Apple will implement RCS leads to questions about the “blue bubbles” or “green bubbles” and their impact on end users. What I’m eager to see is how end users will react to these changes and how quickly they will adopt them.

Based on my personal experience with various technologies, if implemented correctly, consumers tend to adopt them rapidly. Another key question is which markets will adopt these changes first. 

I’ve worked extensively with people in Ukraine four to five years ago. During that time, Apple Pay wasn’t available in every shop in Paris, but it was widely accepted in Kiev. 

The differences in adoption rates in emerging vs developed markets is always interesting to see.

While this might not align with Google’s plans, which prioritize growth in developed countries, it’s going to be interesting to watch. Time to get your popcorn!

From the perspective of the global ecosystem, it’s crucial that RCS brings value beyond just being another channel. I don’t want to position it that way. I don’t want to oversell this either. But I think it must bring value.

Consumer experience is paramount, as negative initial experiences can lead to rapid abandonment of the new channel. I don’t want to go to Mobile World Congress next year and still be saying, “Oh, look at that. We did a fantastic job.” Instead, I would like to showcase significant customer adoption and satisfaction with the channel.

Because we’re coming into a new environment where nobody fully knows what’s going to happen. If someone tells you, they can predict the future and it’s a hundred percent going to be this way or that way, they’re either very clever or very good liars.

You don’t know, right? We don’t know. So, what we need to do is to make sure that we are very close to our customers listening to what they learn from their consumers and really adapt and readjust along the way. 

With the growing adoption of RCS, what would be your final piece of advice to ensure a successful implementation and maximum ROI?

I believe it’s crucial for businesses to clarify their objectives with their end users in mind. This brings us back to understanding the use case: What are your goals? Who are you trying to reach? Once you’ve defined these, it’s essential to sit down with your RCS provider to determine the best approach to achieve those goals and then work together to implement it.

It’s also important for marketers to collaborate closely with channel experts like us. Implementing strategies on RCS isn’t the same as with email, despite the richness of content. There are nuances to consider, and building these strategies together ensures optimal results.

Write A Comment