What’s all the fuss about messaging apps?

What’s all the fuss about messaging apps?

Who's winning the 'battle for our thumbs' and what are the value and risks of messaging for corporates?

Emojis, picture characters that emanated from Japanese messaging systems, have found their way into our everyday lexicon. However, there has been an increasing focus on ‘attracting our thumbs’ with the uptake of messaging systems booming worldwide.

Already, the number of SMS text messages has been outstripped by messages sent using technologies such as WhatsApp. Global and local telecom companies are losing a battle to retain this business and ‘free’ tools are winning over consumers.

Startups are also launched new apps. One such app is ‘Slack’, which is being backed by venture capital firms, Andreessen Horowitz and Accel Partners and only has 8000 users so far. Apps like this are competing against Facebook’s Messenger with its 600 million users.

This battle for our thumbs may eventually cause many of us to have a repetitive strain injury which in time, may be avoided with a wave of wearable technologies being created to help us read and respond to messages.

These apps all have very similar features and you often choose to use an app to connect with a group of friends. It is quite common to have millennial that use two or three of these simultaneously.

So it’s not surprising that there are a few apps with 600 to 700 million users. There is a degree of overlap, but it would be hard to accurately measure.

In essence, these apps have evolved from simple text messaging that replaced SMS as a free service and added picture sharing and voice messages. There has also been selective rollout of video conferencing and VoIP functionality, which tends to vary by country.

For telecommunications companies, this is the second nightmare after surviving the rapid uptake of Skype, which is now owned by Microsoft.

Text MsgVoice MsgVideo conferencingFree VoIPP2 paymentsUsers (millions)OwnerNation

* This feature is country by country limited

P2P payments

It’s a natural extension from ‘friend to friend’ messaging to making small P2P payments using these apps. What started off as the purchase of emoji stickers is now evolving into full-blown electronic commerce and it’s certainly difficult for banks to be part of this discussion.

For instance, Japanese company, Line Corporation – you may have seen its mascots in local Samsung stores – has a thriving business selling games, taxis services, and food delivery using ‘Line Pay.’ This is in addition to its free messaging, voice and video call service.

Enterprises are missing out

Big corporates are directly affected by these disruptions, but are not the targets of the messaging companies. It seems like an eternity since we thought of corporate tech as being ‘innovative’. There is just no R&D that is being spent by the major technology companies on such messaging technology.

When we try to tackle improvements, it has been piecemeal and it is two different realities. We support customers using the phone and online and indeed, we force them down channels that we support rather than supporting the channels that they already use. The winners will be the companies that try to meet the consumer in their own territory.

Best customer experience

I’ve heard of users in China using WeChat and voice messaging to track their local deliveries. Even large logistics companies that move shipping containers from China around the world such as Kuhne and Nagel and trialing this technology.

US company, eQuest, recently integrated its corporate messaging system into WeChat. Users sign up to receive job alerts and submit their CVs using the system. It is really is a good example of what enterprises should be doing.

Dutch airline, KLM, is testing WhatsApp so its frequent flyers can ask questions regarding booking requests, upgrades, and seat selections.

I can forsee that this trend around enterprises embracing consumer messaging will continue to grow.

Mining your life

There is nothing that is ‘free’, and in return for using these apps we give up significant information about yourself and your network. When this is executed well, it will be welcomed and we will then start to embrace the payments options that are also offered along with location specific offers.

Let’s remember that our friends at Facebook own two of the biggest players in this space. At the moment, the battle for the biggest share of the messaging market will be fought between Facebook, a US company; and China’s WeChat.

Users of these apps are not always aware of the geopolitical aspects of this battle and it is likely that there will be further security breaches.

But this shouldn’t stop an increased awakening in the corporate market about the value and the risks of messaging.

Organisations essentially have two choices. They can continue in their current mode and strive to improve customer experience but force users to use a 'corporate chat tool'; or embrace the fact that users are already using these messaging apps and figure out appropriate ways to use this channel.

For me, it is like having two separate ‘rooms’, one room where the customers are already talking and the second room, which is just for interactions with the corporate. There are times that due to privacy or other regulatory constraints that a messaging tool just can’t be used.

The trick is to engage with the appropriate tool for the right dialogue and engagement. I’d prefer to be engaging in the room where the customers are already talking.

David Gee is the former CIO of CUA where he recently completed a core banking transformation. He has more than 18 years' experience as a CIO, and was also previously director at KPMG Consulting. Connect with David on LinkedIn.

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