Short vs. Instant Messaging – Who has the shortest (communication path)?

When it comes to mobile communication or even complex CpaaS solutions, SMS and MIM seem to vehemently emphasize their differences. In reality, the two messaging services also have a lot in common, from which they could both benefit.

Quality versus quantity

Just a few years ago, some IT prophets were convinced that short messaging services (SMS) would “die out”. In fact, the balance sheets fell – but mostly in the area C2C. Instead Mobile Instant Messaging (MIM) has prevailed. The reasons: unlimited number of characters, mostly free applications and the benefits of a mobile chat room. Participants can exchange directly and without time delay – in a manner of speaking, live. The transmission is done by push, the message is displayed immediately and can be answered in real time. Unfortunately, the free capacity is often abused for endless texts. According to surveys, anyone who wants to be brief actually prefers SMS. Not least because of that, short gets a whole new meaning…

Mobile radio transmission and mobile data are on the same wavelength in terms of speed as well, so that with good connection, there’s nearly no difference between the transmission time of SMS and MIM. In some sparsely serviced regions, smartphones can only receive Edge or even just GPRS. SMS, however, find their way to the receiver by radio in a fraction of a second, in whichever network is available. The mobile phone networks are still developed better nationwide, although WiFi hotspots and Co. catch up considerably.

For B2B, B2C and for the most part also for A2P communication SMS remain therefore further established. Depending on the application scenario, the benefits of a brief message outweigh those of chat conversations. At the same time, push notifications from apps supplement mobile communication and thus also the customer experience.

So if you want to achieve optimal accessibility, you should use several communication tools. Quantity and quality are best combined this way.

Offer versus demand

SMS providers are usually the mobile network operators to which the mobile number is registered. Whether by wage contract, SMS flatrate or simply by prepaid – the service is inevitably integrated on all popular mobile phone models, both on the latest smartphones and older models.

In addition, SMS gateways such as sms77 offer further products to receive and send messages. Using specific APIs, SMS can be transmitted as an email or vice versa. Bulk SMS with placeholders, time-shifted option and many other features extend standardized SMS to an interactive and automatable messaging service. Especially for business areas such CpaaS solutions are interesting to implement complex business processes like marketing, operational coordination or logistics.

Theoretically you could also use MIM, if there were not a decisive catch. While SMS is compatible for all receivers, the MIM providers are not only in an unnecessary number, they compete with each other in such a way that most users only opt for one or at most a small selection of offers. Hardly anyone would like to have installed WhatsApp, Faceboook Messenger, Snapchat, Viber, KakaoTalk, Skype, ICQ, IM +, Touch and so on all at the same time, let alone use it. Only those who use the same protocol or the same app can communicate with each other. Between the applications the interaction is consistently excluded. For example, APIs are not possible for Whatsapp at all. Thus, the users are more or less forced to opt for one (or a few) providers. Typically, the app is chosen, through which they remain in contact with as many friends, relatives and colleagues as possible, which they already know.

A question of trust?

For companies, it would be an immense effort to address customers individually in all applications. And it would also be a horror for any privacy agreement. Especially since most instant messangers are not gdpr compliant. Since the recent amendment to the European Data Protection Regulation, whatsapp and co. are even considered to be huge security holes for corporate phones. All employees of the car dealer Continental, for example, had to delete the program on their service devices. Here, too, it appears that MIM is quite nice for private use, but for business applications it has many risks and complications.

Especially in the area of ​​A2P, the SMS is pushing through again. Often these are company-internal software or applications that automatically send messages. Especially for IT, monitoring, financial services and wherever safety-critical data should be transmitted, SMS are simply better. Be it the server that announces a system failure via SMS code, the ATM that announces a soon empty storage or the airline software that informs the passenger about changes in flight times. Some of this the customer recognizes immediately (for example, in form of two-factor authentication, shipment tracking), while others go unnoticed even though they are essential to the customer journey (e.g., merchandise management systems that alert suppliers to always have products available).

Without API such communication channels wouldn’t be possible. And again Whatsapp and numerous other instant messengers are unsuitable. Last but not least, the trust in SMS is obviously greater on the recipient’s side. Customers prefer to receive such official SMS messages, while MIM are preferably used for private purposes.

An exception could be RCS. The cross-fitted protocol supports Android and is currently being initiated by several mobile network operators. (Update: due to slow progress and mismanagement, as of June 2019 Google has taken control of RCS implementation. More on the matter soon) Here, the long-term demand of users remains to be seen.

Use versus usability

The usability of both messaging services is largely intuitive. Be it via smartphone, tablet or webapp: the interfaces are largely self-explanatory. Create contacts, select recipients, enter text and off you go. The differences between chat via MIM and two-way messaging via SMS are barely noticeable. Mainly the transmission paths differ, i.e. the technical performance that takes place in the background. For the user, it remains a rather non-transparent surface. But when the connection is bad or even fails, one provider is immediately more popular than the other, whether the network in the parking deck fails or the WLAN range in the Internet café is insufficient. At the right moment the accessibility has to be guaranteed.

Therefore, a combination of both services makes sense, depending on which purpose is pursued. Rescue workers, for example, solve their communication in several ways. If every second counts, it must not fail on “I haven’t received a message”. Control over the course of communication is particularly important to many: Push notifications, which are also sent via app to the recipient and appear directly on the display, will not be stored locally. This also includes the “preview” of an SMS or MIM. The direct display on the lock screen or home screen is a function of the respective operating system and can be activated or deactivated by the user as desired. But neither the user nor the sender of the actual message can track the delivery. Unlike SMS and MIM, which are completely transferred only when the corresponding application is opened. Log files provide information about the status of the message (sent, read) for each individual transmission.

This also raises the question of whether the recipient should have a direct opportunity to respond or merely be informed and ideally show a desired response, such as buy the advertised product. Then a push notification would be enough.

Customer Experience

The application possibilities of SMS and MIM are far more complex. For example, some radio stations are offering their listeners to report speed cameras and traffic jams via WhatsApp, simply because there are no additional costs. TAN and PIN codes, on the other hand, are more likely to be sent via SMS to guarantee delivery across the board without having to integrate countless apps. Companies that also want to use the social media market, have long been relying on a combination of messaging services: On the one hand SMS or Email for acquisition, for consulting, organizational and security-related topics such as Pubilc WiFi codes etc. On the other hand MIM to announce events, to reach as large groups as possible and to start a lively exchange, for example as feedback on a new product.

In both cases, messages can be forwarded quickly and easily, making word-of-mouth a proper workflow. Links, images, sound recordings and much more can be seamlessly integrated. Many providers are therefore considered CpaaS (Communication Platform as a Service), with RTC (Real Time Communication) – in short, communication live. There really is no clear “winner”. The greatest benefit comes from the effectiveness with which the communication solves the respective situation and thus offers added value to the customer or the recipient.

Popularity scale, quotas and statistics

The reception quota for SMS is only higher because it works web-independent and the infrastructure of mobile networks has been almost completely covered for decades, even internationally to more remote regions where fiber optic cable is still a foreign term. In fact, the mobile phone is always present in our generation. You are more likely to forget the house key or to turn off the oven than leave the beloved phone behind.

On the other hand, the score for the most messages sent last year definitely goes to instant messages. Simply because these are supposedly free and therefore texted without hesitation. 10 emojis are easily sent individually, while in an SMS the 160 characters are used as effectively as possible to save unnecessary costs.

But does this reckoning really work out? Anyone who has chatted abroad by roaming knows better. The fact is that both the SMS service itself as well as most MIM apps cost no money as such. Costs only occur when used or when messages are sent: cost per SMS on one hand and cost per data consumption on the other. Whether you have an SMS flat rate or surf flat rate – in the end, you always have to pay, in the case of MIM even when you receive messages, because the available data volume is also used for this. This is a point that many users forget. Only when abroad they change to SMS, because this connection exists anyway, or they stick to lobbies with free Wi-Fi. Nevertheless: every MIM, every minute waiting to take a look, etc. basically costs money.

Demography or individualism?

Ultimately, the target group decides for itself which communication is best. For example, it’s not really surprising that the 60+ generation prefers to rely on the tried and tested SMS, and the youth prefer instant chats. However, only one trend can bee seen exclusively on the basis of age groups: namely, that growing up with internet and mobile communication creates higher affinity.

Hobbies, questions of trust, lifestyle etc. are far more important than demographic values ​​such as gender, education, income and origin. Hence, companies that maintain a clearly structured customer segmentation know through the help of detailed data collection which communication tool they have to use to reach their users.

Meanwhile, more and more industries recognize that their customers are individualists and want to be treated as such. In terms of customer experience, this means putting the old demographic-values-thinking into the background and paying more attention to personal preferences and interests. Using cookies and artificial intelligence, which are used to evaluate consumer behavior, companies analyze, for example, who visits which websites when, clicks on products and buys. Likewise, SMS and MIM can provide valuable feedback about the user. At this point, combining both messaging services provides the most meaningful data – and thus in turn clues as to which communication tool is suitable for which target group.

Communication works only with each other

A communication tool alone will never achieve as much as several combined. When selecting applications, care should therefore be taken to ensure that they can be neatly integrated and complement rather than hinder each other. For example, a marketing department will handle most of its communication via email and phone. For the shortest way SMS with sensitive content and/or from specific software applications can be sent and additionally a MIM group chat can be initiated in which all participants bundle their brainstorming. Depending on the social media platform, viral marketing can thus be carried out excellently, e.g. via Facebook Messenger. The contact data should always be updated in order to communicate with customers, users, partners and colleagues.

Best Regards

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