Why Facebook, Google and Apple won’t necessarily dominate customer messaging like they do peer to peer

Most people working in Digital would agree that in future, messaging is likely to become much more dominant in how people interact with organisations. The success of WeChat in China is often seen as leading the way in this kind of user interaction. The natural assumption many make is that it will be the technology titans of today that will also come to power customer sales and service interactions. Most don’t see past Facebook, Google and Apple, with a few interested in Amazon’s move in this space.

Certainly there are two facts in favour of this. The reach of Facebook, Google and Apple’s messaging solutions is massive. Well over 100 billion messages are sent every day. Secondly it is clear that these companies are making active moves to pursue this market: Here’s Facebook’s plan to make money from Messenger; WhatsApp just offered another clue as to how it will finally start making money for Facebook; Apple business chat coming next year – here’s how it will change the game; Amazon is building a messaging app called ‘Anytime’.

At Nivo, we would challenge the view that the ultimate winners in customer messaging will inevitably come from these heavyweights. There are a number of barriers their current solutions have to overcome to obtain the requisite trust of the West’s companies and institutions:

  1. Lack of identity of individuals
    I can setup an account with Apple, Google, Facebook or WhatsApp, and establish an identity against that account in seconds. When it comes to peer to peer communication, this is completely acceptable. Speed is king. When it comes to engaging with companies however, where there are fraud, financial crime and data privacy risks, it becomes a problem. Companies need to know you are who you say you are. At the moment all I prove at most is that I am in control of a phone number or email address. For the dominant peer to peer platforms, integrating identity controls without compromising existing customer journeys will be a problem.
  2. User configuration of security
    Much of iOS and Android device security controls are open to configuration to the user. Today’s peer to peer applications make data immediately visible to the customer based on this configuration through notifications and app access. A company could never be sure of the integrity of the data they send if this remains. If that risk is unacceptable to companies, are these platforms prepared to compromise user experience for peer to peer communications to ensure an appropriate level of security control?
  3. Multiple customer credentials for authentication
    One solution to the issue of identifying individuals would be to use proprietary security credentials through an existing channel to identify the customer. For example, provide your password or PIN for that particular organisation. That leaves today’s issue however that a user needs to remember different security credentials for every institution they have a relationship with. If they don’t have a relationship with that institution then they’ll have to go through a lengthy sign-up process. Perhaps institutions will come to trust Apple, Google and/or Facebook’s identity capabilities. This has begun to happen with Touch-ID where an existing proprietary identity has been associated with the Touch-ID registered on a phone. Whilst this is OK for low value payments, there is still a long way to go before the tech giant’s identities can be trusted as stand-alone identities in their own right for high risk transactions.
  4. Lack of identity of companies
    In the same way as it is easy to setup an individual’s identity, it is also pretty easy to purport to be a company or institution. So even if a company could assure itself of the identity of the individuals they are communicating with, their customers and prospects could still be duped into a conversation with a criminal purporting to be from their company. Whilst controls could be introduced to combat this, how could these be retrospectively integrated where companies are already active in these networks? I know from experience in Financial Services, getting companies to commit to revalidating their identity on a platform they already actively use is an incredibly difficult task. To assure the network of the integrity of all its participants, even one false identity is a huge weakness.
  5. Sprawling existing networks that have multiple weak points
    The current peer to peer messaging networks have rapidly evolved into vast, sprawling networks. Data is spread all over the world on billions of devices connected to thousands of applications. These networks have not been designed for confidential conversations that carry fraud and financial crime risks. We know first hand the level of due diligence that a Financial Services company (as an example) would expect to be able to do on a network carrying confidential customer data. In a controlled, segmented network this due diligence can be achieved. In these open networks, it will be far more difficult to control the risks.
  6. Culture of commercialising data
    Google and Facebook have been commercially successful from business models that are based on mining and monetising personal data. For customer service interactions, data privacy, care and control are much more of an issue than they were in these previous business models. It isn’t beyond the realm of possibility for a company to launch new products and propositions with business models very different to those that they have in place already. It is however pretty rare. Given the extent to which the value of customer data must be so entrenched in the culture of these organisations, could they ever truly adapt? It is hard to believe they could so completely adapt their way of thinking to be able to prioritise data privacy over data insight. Will people and institutions then accept the security flaws that come with this?
  7. Brands and solutions recognised and developed for peer to peer communications
    The distribution of solutions such as iOS Messages, Android Messages, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger is clearly a huge advantage. The fact is though, the existing user base recognise them as brands and solutions for peer to peer communications, not yet ones that support customer service interactions. Due to the security concerns inherent in today’s solutions many industries have educated their customer base to be wary in these channels. Despite app fatigue existing for some time, that hasn’t stopped the proliferation of some messaging apps that have a differentiating factor. Solutions such as Slack and Snapchat have found a niche for their messaging apps to grow into huge multi-billion dollar companies. This, even in a time when Google, Apple and Facebook were already dominating Western messaging solutions. It isn’t always the case that the winner for a new use case is a bastardisation of an already successful product. More often the winner is a product built specifically with its purpose in mind.

Of course, with the resources available to these companies you can’t rule out that they will find solutions to these problems. Maybe though, the answer lies in our story. Nivo has spun out of a major global bank’s innovation arm. Like many great innovations, the concept at the heart of Nivo is simple. Our network is secured. We identify and verify all the institutions coming into our network, and then the institutions identify and verify the consumers of their products. Simple as it is, by building a network founded on this simple premise, perhaps we can be the key to unlocking the power of secure instant messaging in customer sales and service.