5 min read

RCS vs. SMS: How are they different?

Illustration shows two mobile phones with different levels of customization; one using SMS (simple) and one using RCS (complex and rich).
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“Merry Christmas.” More than 30 years ago, that was the content of the very first short messaging service (SMS) message. Almost immediately after, the new and ingenious invention was implemented into mobile phones by manufacturers around the world. End users loved its quick and effective performance, and it was easy to use. 

Fast forward to today and much has changed in the world of mobile messaging, including the introduction of rich communication services (RCS). RCS enables enterprises and brands to connect with users via large, high-quality snippets and attachments on Android devices, while SMS has less functionality but wider device capability.

SMS established itself as the mobile messaging technology of choice some time ago, but RCS can augment SMS’s more limited features. As business communication continues to evolve, RCS will become more important as a complement to an SMS marketing strategy. Let’s dive a little deeper into the benefits of both SMS and RCS, and how they can help you engage with your customers effectively, if a little differently.

SMS: The standard - for now

SMS is the most established and widest-used form of texting. It’s considered the default messaging type worldwide. Because it’s so common, you can use SMS to reach almost any user without being connected to a WiFi or data network to receive a message. It also serves as a failover option when messages over other channels do not get delivered.

SMS can be conversational, but not with the capabilities of RCS. Users can reply to messages and engage in limited ways, such as replying with a short code or a trigger word.

Short messages are familiar; more than 18 billion are sent daily from one person to another. SMS is so prevalent that over time, it might not show more significant growth. However, because of its reach, it’ll continue to have an important place in a multifaceted communication strategy.

RCS: What it is and why it’s the future

4 benefits of RCS: Increased security, boosted engagement, improved metrics, and better UX

The RCS messaging protocol is an advanced service that upgrades the messaging experience for Android users, creating a better experience within their messaging app and functioning more like an OTT app than typical SMS. RCS gives you the opportunity to send high-quality content to guide users through the conversation, such as:

  • Rich cards
  • Suggested replies
  • Suggested actions

These rich messages are received either via WiFi or an operator's data connection (4G, 5G), unlike SMS which is carried by signaling. However, the high-quality interactive RCS features function to boost customer engagement.

A key difference that makes rich communications so powerful is that RCS users are more engaged than SMS users. In fact, those who receive messages on the richer channel are more likely to interact and convert to paying customers.

What are rich cards?

Rich cards are an RCS capability that allows you to send a batch of information to a user. Rich cards far surpass SMS capabilities because they can contain media, text, and even suggested replies and actions for your users, supporting these formats:

  • JPG
  • PNG
  • Video
  • Audio

Rich cards can be sent standalone or grouped together into an entire 'carousel' which enables many options to be presented to the recipient at once.

Suggested replies

Suggested replies are a helpful tool to guide users through your conversation and keep them engaged. These suggestions are next steps that the user can use to quickly respond, relevant within the context of the chat. They’re either sent in the form of lists (sometimes known as suggestion chips or buttons) or within rich cards.

Suggested actions

While suggested replies help push your conversation forward, suggested actions take it up a notch. Actions leverage the user’s device and its functionality for a better customer experience. They’re buttons users can click to accomplish a host of tasks, like:

  • Opening a webpage
  • Calling customer support
  • Finding a destination on a map

Suggested actions have lots of capabilities, so it’s important to make sure part of your conversational messaging strategy is to avoid inundating your users with too many options.

What can RCS and SMS do for your business?

Depending on your customers’ needs and preferences, RCS or SMS might suit your business better. Many businesses also combine RCS and SMS as part of a broader messaging strategy to cover all their bases.

RCS use case - Cdiscount

RCS helped Cdiscount increase performance and conversion rate

RCS is a more complete and enticing experience than SMS, which is why RCS users are more likely to be engaged and convert than traditional SMS users. In this way, RCS isn’t replacing SMS, but instead complements it as part of a complete messaging solution.

Retailer Cdiscount needed a way to revitalize its marketing strategy and avoid a situation where revenue flatlined or dropped. They used SMS to communicate with customers but weren’t seeing continued growth, so they looked to RCS to visually enhance their messages and further engage customers.

By expanding its messaging capabilities, Cdiscount saw a 9% increase in cart  size and a 4% increase in revenue overall - numbers that indicate how RCS can drive customers to be more engaged and eventually convert.

SMS use case - AAA

SMS helps AAA save money and connect with more customers. Illustration on a green background shows a user engaging with a mobile device, with a broken-down car in the background.

SMS is the standard, and its more limited functionality is an opportunity rather than a restriction. Take AAA, for example. The American Automobile Association found that users were texting its helpline, which wasn’t enabled for text communication - so messages were simply lost and went unanswered.

By implementing a two-way SMS solution - which 89% of people prefer to talking on the phone - AAA was able to respond to text messages with a web link that allowed users to start a claim. This created an additional 8% conversion from SMS out of AAA’s 62 million users and saved AAA $30,000 in soft costs.

Customers choose SMS because it’s affordable and scalable, and it converts with as much as a 98% open rate and 19% click through rate.

Which media and devices support RCS and SMS?

RCS is a collaboration between Google and mobile operators, and although today it’s only supported on Android devices, support is growing all the time. Most commonly, it’s used on Android’s default Google Messages app. You can check if your phone supports RCS within the app by navigating to the settings menu and browsing chat features.

On the other hand, every mobile device with a network connection supports SMS. This is why SMS and RCS can work in tandem to deliver a more complete messaging solution - everyone with a cell phone is capable of receiving SMS messages so long as they’re connected to a mobile network.

Find a solution no matter your messaging strategy

No matter your goals, there’s a messaging solution that will help your business achieve conversational commerce success. If your needs are more conversational, RCS has expanded capabilities that liven up marketing communications for an enhanced experience. If you primarily need to send notifications like fraud or delivery updates, then the simplicity of an SMS solution will meet your needs.