A2P SMS Remains Key To Multichannel Mobile Engagement

William Dudley

Recently I read a post titled The Days of 2FA SMS (and A2P) Are Numbered on a site called no jitter. The author basically states that A2P will grow for a few short years but will “eventually find a home next to my imaginary fax machine.”

That’s his opinion. Mine is different, and yes, I admit some bias, being a longtime advocate of the mobile messaging world. However, let’s look at the evidence.

We constantly see businesses clamoring to include mobile messaging as part of their consumer outreach. As has been stated consistently, an SMS message is typically read within the first few minutes of receipt, by over 90% of the recipients. That includes person-to-person (P2P) as well as application-to-person (A2P). To reach consumers and encourage them to engage, businesses are increasingly turning to mobile messaging as their primary channel.

Global messaging analyst Ovum recently published a forecast indicating that A2P SMS will increase to as many as 1.42 trillion messages by 2018, with a slight decline to 1.37 trillion messages at the end of the decade.

That’s hardly a fax machine analogy. Ovum also noted that mobile connections as a percentage of the global population is very near 100% and SMS is standard on all mobile devices. They also indicated that A2P usage of messaging chat apps such as Facebook Messenger, Line, WeChat, and others are expected to be complementary to SMS rather than a substitute. I agree. Multichannel, or omnichannel, engagement is a key element to providing outreach to consumers through the primary channels they use.

In my own experience, many of the messages that I get today are A2P – some of them two-way (meaning that I can respond). Sources of these messages include FedEx, UPS, and USPS, to track and manage my shipments; my county government/sheriff’s department (traffic alerts); my hair salon (for confirming and managing appointments); my banks (alerts, 2FA), my car’s service center (alerts), Twitter (retweets, responses, 2FA); credit cards, online shopping (confirmations, alerts, 2FA); Tripit (travel alerts) as well as airlines and hotels (alerts, interaction). In addition to my P2P traffic, that’s just the first few screens.

Would I use another channel if it were available? Maybe. However, that would require watching and managing another messaging app. The key benefit to businesses that use SMS is that it is on everyone’s device and all they need is a telephone number. In many cases, other channels, such as email, are also available; however, I prefer to limit my alerts to SMS – again, like so many others, it’s a channel that I will most likely access very quickly.

Multichannel mobile engagement is increasingly popular among businesses. Earlier this year at Mobile World Congress, SAP Digital Interconnect surveyed many participants about the channels they were considering to engage with their customers. Almost 70% indicated that they already engaged consumers through mobile channels, and 82% indicated that they would consider using a chatbot through messaging (including SMS, or chat messaging such as Facebook Messenger/WeChat) to interact with their customers.

Some have said that the future lies with push notifications. Well, that implies that we must download and utilize yet another mobile app. And many consumers have mobile app overload – too many apps that might get used once or twice, then abandoned. I bet many of you have lots of these, if you haven’t already deleted them. Do you see lots of little numbers on your mobile apps? If so, each one indicates a push notification that you may not have read or reacted to. This is a problem.

A couple of years ago, the firm Localytics conducted a survey around push notifications. They found that 46% of users would opt out of push notifications if 2 to 5 messages were sent in one week, and 32% would stop using the app if 6 to 10 push messages were sent in one week. That doesn’t bode particularly well for this channel.

Push notifications can be useful, of course, but they must be specifically targeted. Helpful push notifications are personalized and relevant, according to Localytics. We believe that relevant and specifically targeted push notifications are a nice addition to multichannel mobile engagement. In fact, our Mobile World Congress survey noted that 42% of the respondents are considering push notifications as one of their channels.

Then there are the newest engagement channels: Chat apps or IP Messaging apps. Certainly, WhatsApp is one of the most popular for P2P in many countries; however, WhatsApp has not yet evolved to a valid consumer engagement channel – even though this capability is hinted to be coming soon. That leaves various regional favorites, such as WeChat (popular and heavily used in China) and Facebook Messenger. Many of these make very good use of chatbots – some very simple, others with an extensive artificial intelligence engine managing the conversation. In fact, there is a movement to make chatbots even smarter and more useful and available to multiple channels – even including SMS.

Chatbot-based solutions imply a new and growing engagement model called conversational engagement. Conversational engagement enables the user to type and expect to receive a response based on the chatbot’s recognition of the user’s intent. Chatbots may be deployed using SMS; however, they are most commonly incorporated with IP messaging chat apps such as Facebook Messenger.

Conversational engagement has the potential, especially with standards-based messaging such as SMS and soon RCS (which we’ll discuss below), to be useful by reducing the need for businesses to require users to download and use a mobile app. In many cases, all a business needs to fully engage with users is a chatbot-based interface.

With RCS (rich communications service) conversational engagement takes on a whole new meaning. Recently, the GSMA has begun releasing a common standard, called Universal Profile, that will standardize RCS more effectively. Additionally, this time RCS is being pushed as a new A2P channel vs. P2P (although it works fine in a P2P setting). I will write a more detailed post about A2P RCS soon. As RCS is standards-based from the GSMA, some of postulate that it is the “new” or“next generation” SMS. This is true, but until it is supported on every mobile device like SMS, I would hesitate to give it that designation.

One other thing to note: In combination with Google, which is a major sponsor of RCS Business Messaging, many key global messaging providers now participate with Google to create RCS-based engagement with a variety of global brands to jump-start this process.

SMS remains standing at the top of all these messaging-based engagement methods. In virtually all cases, SMS still come out ahead in terms of reach, ease of implementation options, and even price. In markets where P2P is almost always WhatsApp, users still turn to SMS for their A2P alerts. In some markets, such as the U.S., SMS is now being used as a direct customer support channel. Take Wendy’s, for example. The back of every receipt reads, “to talk to a real person, in Ohio, text or call 1-800-624-8140.

Customer support through messaging, whether SMS, chat apps, or even in-app is becoming more prevalent; however, combining voice and text on a well-known phone number really only happens with SMS.

So, will SMS go the way of the fax machine? Not for a long time, if analysts, messaging providers, and businesses that rely on it have anything say. We believe that SMS, selectively coupled with a growing variety of other channels make up a perfect mobile engagement solution, will remain well into the next decade.

For more insight on mobile strategies, see Building A Mobile Culture In A Mobile-First World.

About William Dudley

William Dudley is group director, mobile evangelist, and strategist of the Industry & LoB Products at SAP Digital Interconnect (formerly known as SAP Mobile Services). He has many years of experience building and managing telecommunications network infrastructures. He defines global strategy and solutions for SAP Digital Interconnect, a business unit of SAP, within the mobile ecosystem, focusing on solutions for messaging, mobile-enabled online security, next-generation networks (5G, LTE, IPX), and consumer engagement through mobile channels. As mobile evangelist, Mr. Dudley communicates through both internal and external publications, social media and is active in industry groups. You may follow him on Twitter at @wdudley2009. His primary blog site is https://blogs.sap.com/author/william.dudley/.