What is RCS Messaging?

May 15, 2024
Written by
Alvin Lee
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own
Reviewed by
Pam Beiler
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own

What is RCS Messaging?

Traditional SMS and MMS have served us well. According to one report, SMS messages have a 98% open rate, and using MMS increases campaign opt-in by 20% over SMS. Despite these impressive numbers, businesses continue to look for fresh ways to offer the rich, interactive experiences today’s customers expect. Furthermore, customers require trusted communication, so businesses prioritize branded messaging.

Rich communication services (RCS) for messaging bridges this gap by offering both.

RCS is a game changer in mobile messaging, introducing capabilities like branded sender IDs, rich media, and interactive content—scrollable carousels, quick replies, CTA buttons, and more. It’s designed to provide a sleeker and more engaging experience while remaining within the messaging app built into the customer’s smartphone.

What does this mean for your business? Embracing RCS unlocks opportunities to engage with customers more meaningfully. As RCS rapidly becomes a major player in customer communication, leveraging its capabilities equips your business with a powerful tool to capture the next generation of consumers.

In this post, we’ll unpack what RCS is, how it outshines traditional messaging, and why it’s quickly becoming a must-have for businesses aiming to thrive in customer engagement.

RCS messaging explained

RCS is a protocol with a modern take on mobile messaging, leveling up SMS with advanced features that align with today's digital communication expectations. Here’s what makes it stand out:

  • Branded communication: Businesses can send messages with their brand name and logo, making each communication instantly recognizable.

  • Enhanced media support: With RCS, you can send large media files, such as high-quality photos, videos, and GIFs, making RCS chats more expressive and engaging.

  • Rich interactions: Features such as suggested replies, CTA buttons, and location sharing allow for smoother and more informed communication.

  • Interactive elements: RCS supports dynamic features like carousels, transforming a simple notification into an engaging customer experience.

  • Longer messages: RCS messages can support lengthier messages without segmentation.

In addition to these features, what truly sets RCS apart is its integration within the existing messaging framework of mobile phones. This means users don't need to download a new app or set up a new account. They receive an RCS message just as they would any other text message. 

Your business can reach customers with RCS on a platform they already use and trust. There will be no app fatigue.

SMS, MMS, OTT, and RCS: A brief rundown

To really appreciate the innovation that RCS brings to the table, let’s take a brief look at the main messaging technologies in use today.

  • Short Message Service (SMS): The foundational form of text messaging, allowing users to send messages up to 160 characters long. SMS is universally supported on mobile phones but lacks support for rich media, limiting its use in modern interactive marketing and customer service.

  • Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS): Allows for sending multimedia content such as images, videos, and audio. MMS supports longer text messages than SMS, making it more suitable for slightly richer communications.

  • Over-The-Top (OTT): A messaging service that runs over the internet rather than traditional phone networks. Specific OTT platforms tailored for businesses include WhatsApp Business Platform, Facebook Messenger, and Google Business Messages. These services offer extensive features, such as end-to-end encryption, video calls, and file transfers.

  • Rich Communication Services (RCS): Similar to SMS/MMS but supercharged. RCS supports many of the features of OTT apps, such as read receipts, high-quality media sharing, and more—all without installing a separate app.

Although each of these technologies has a unique role in the broad spectrum of digital messaging, RCS stands out by combining the reliability and universal reach of SMS with the rich, interactive features of OTT platforms.

Android phones can receive RCS messages, and soon iPhones will, too

RCS is fully supported on Android, meaning any user with an Android phone and carrier that supports RCS (which is most major mobile carriers) can enjoy these enhanced features, right from their native messaging app.

And the RCS landscape is about to get even more inclusive. Apple, traditionally known for its closed ecosystem with iMessage, announced that it will begin supporting RCS in the latter part of 2024. This move will improve the interoperability between iOS and Android devices, making RCS a truly universal standard for rich messaging across platforms.

Soon, virtually all mobile phone users will be able to receive RCS messages. 

Who can send RCS messages?

Any consumer who can receive RCS messages can also send them. The transition from SMS to RCS happens behind the scenes, enhancing the native messaging experience with richer features.

The game changes significantly for businesses. To send RCS messages, businesses must use a communications platform, such as Twilio, that supports RCS capabilities. This allows businesses to send enriched, interactive content directly to the messaging apps on their customers' phones.

Businesses can also become verified senders. This not only boosts their trustworthiness but also enhances the deliverability and visibility of their messages. This verification process ensures that messages are not flagged as spam, enhancing customer trust. Sender verification helps maintain the integrity of business-to-customer interactions, allowing customers to feel secure in the communications they receive.

As RCS continues to roll out globally, more carriers and regions are offering support, gradually expanding the reach of RCS messaging for businesses.

How RCS messaging can impact your business

As RCS reshapes the business communication landscape, it provides your business with several transformative benefits.

Enhanced branding opportunities

Send messages with your company’s brand name and logo, creating a more professional appearance directly in your customer's message inbox. Branded communication helps increase brand recognition and trust, making each message feel more personal and secure.

Increased customer engagement

With rich media sharing and interactive chat elements like quick reply buttons and carousels, RCS enriches the customer experience. As your customers enjoy engaging communication, the likelihood of conversions from messages increases.

Boosted read and response rates

Because RCS chats are more interactive and appealing, businesses often see higher read and response rates compared to standard SMS. The immediacy and richness of content in RCS messages can lead to more effective promotions, faster customer service resolutions, and higher customer satisfaction.

Elevated analytics and insights

RCS provides businesses with detailed delivery and read receipts, allowing you to track and analyze message effectiveness. This data can be crucial for optimizing communication strategies and understanding customer preferences.

Improved cost effectiveness

Although RCS offers more advanced features than SMS, it can be more cost effective than traditional SMS. Businesses that use Twilio for SMS communication with customers can upgrade to RCS capabilities at no additional cost. Taking the cost effectiveness even further, RCS results in enhanced customer engagement and a potential reduction in customer service costs due to more effective communication.

In terms of ROI, you can see the upgrade to RCS as an increase in R with no change in I.

Uninterrupted customer experience

Because RCS messages are delivered right to the user's default messaging app, the adoption rate for RCS messaging will be high, and businesses will see seamless customer engagement.

As RCS becomes more widespread, adopting this technology early on could give your business a significant competitive advantage. RCS provides your business with a powerful opportunity to connect with customers in more meaningful and impactful ways.

How Twilio Enables Businesses to Use RCS

As a leader in business communication platforms, Twilio provides solutions that enable businesses to leverage RCS. Here’s how:

  • Simplified integration: Integrate RCS messaging seamlessly into existing communication strategies. Twilio’s straightforward integration of RCS requires minimal changes to your existing setup, empowering businesses of all sizes to jump on board.

  • Scalable solutions: From small startups to large enterprises, Twilio's infrastructure ensures that as your business grows, your ability to communicate with customers via RCS grows with it.

  • Enhanced customer interactions: Twilio provides you with a suite of tools to enhance RCS chats with rich media and interactive elements, creating personalized and dynamic experiences to increase customer engagement.

  • Global reach: By leveraging Twilio, your business can use RCS to reach customers worldwide. This global reach is vital for enterprises looking to maintain a consistent communication experience across different regions.

  • Reliability and compliance: Twilio’s messaging services and tools equip you to achieve compliance with industry standards and regulations. This compliance is crucial for maintaining trust and ensuring that communications are secure and effective.

  • Analytics and insights: Access to detailed analytics on RCS campaigns will provide your business with valuable insights into message performance, customer engagement, and interaction patterns.

A smooth transition to the next level of customer messaging

If your business already uses Twilio to communicate with your customers via SMS, you’ll soon upgrade to RCS at no additional cost. This upgrade won’t require any code changes on your part. Ordinarily, migrating from SMS/MMS capabilities to RCS requires significant technical changes, but Twilio has worked with all major carriers to lay the groundwork for this transition. Twilio makes your transition to RCS seamless by doing the heavy lifting for you.

Take the next steps for your business with Twilio APIs

So, what’s next for your business as you open up this whole new world? Start by checking out Twilio’s Programmable Messaging API. If your business uses transactional messaging with customers—such as account alerts, promotions, and notifications—you’ll soon be able to take advantage of RCS in your communications.

Next, explore the Conversations API, which is Twilio’s solution for conversational messaging with your customers. Whether you use it to drive sales, provide customer care, or maintain customer relationships, Twilio’s Conversations API will soon empower you to do this with RCS.

Finally, look into Twilio Verify, which uses RCS to facilitate customer verification flows like onboarding, two-factor authentication, and one-time passwords.

RCS messaging is here, and most of your customers are already positioned to receive it. When you’re ready to make RCS a part of your customer communication strategy, Twilio will be there to journey with you and equip you with the APIs, infrastructure, and tools to make it happen.

Sign up today to get started for free.