Mobile: The New Engagement Channel


by Gideon Hollander


 

Every once in a while, a technology evolution occurs that fundamentally changes the way business is conducted and how consumers interact, spawning an entire new ecosystem. One such technology evolution is the rise of the smartphone and mobile devices.

Not so long ago, we struggled with rudimentary text entry on our phones (T9 for those that remember) and were happy to see “advanced” applications, such as a calculators. Fast-forward a few years and mobile phones or tablets are our “go-to” devices for everything from making calls and surfing the web to sending emails. In fact, for the first time, mobile app usage (measured in minutes) has exceeded that of traditional web browsing.

Despite the explosive growth in mobile technology and usage, companies have been slow to adapt their customer service processes to the mobile generation. In this article, we will explore how organizations can break through the traditional siloed customer care channels and harness the mobile evolution to offer a better customer service experience. Mobile is poised to become the largest engagement channel for your customers, and most businesses will be woefully underprepared.

Siloed Support Channels

Before exploring the power of mobile in the self-service channel, let’s take a detour to examine the state of the traditional customer service channels today. This provides an excellent baseline upon which mobile self-service can improve.

Let’s first look at the customer service department. Ironically, although most companies have a myriad of ways to support their customers, there is typically no single customer service department. Instead, there are a fragmented, disparate, and siloed group of departments that are collectively, and loosely, labeled “customer service.”

As seen in the table below, a number of different departments are usually responsible for handling incoming customer service requests. Due to this fragmentation, it’s very difficult to present a unified front to the customer. For instance, the contact center may manage the traditional contact channels, as well as email and chat channels, but newer channels, such as mobile and web self-service, are generally handled by other departments within the organization. 

The problem with this fragmentation becomes readily apparent when looking at a typical self-service session. Traditional, nonmobile, self-service web channels routinely deliver a satisfactory user experience. However, positive user experiences historically break down when the transaction becomes complicated, requiring human interaction. Because customer care channels currently operate in silos, there is no continuity in transitioning from the web self-service channel to the contact center. As a result, customer frustration increases because they must restate their problems from the beginning once they engage with an agent.

A New Engagement Channel

There is little doubt that your customers are going mobile. And with this move to mobile, it’s even more imperative that we break down the siloed support organization.

Smartphone and mobile device adoption is increasing at an exponential rate. As price points on hardware and data plans continue to drop, due to the commoditization of parts and increased competition, it is only a matter of time before all mobile phones will inherently have smartphone capabilities.

While statistics vary, approximately 40 percent of all mobile consumers in the United States own smartphones. Meanwhile, tablet adoption is expected to be as high, if not higher, with estimates predicting 40 percent growth in adoption over the next four years. Analysts also believe that within the same period, the installed base of mobile PCs and smartphones will exceed that of desktop PCs.

For these reasons, it is vital the organizations evolve their customer self-service strategies to incorporate mobile technology. Self-service technology offers a broad set of benefits to consumers and businesses, yet the technology is still relatively new, with little mobile adoption thus far. Mobile stands to revolutionize what self-service is today. Let’s explore what mobile self-service can do.

The Benefits of Mobile Self-Service

With mobile, customers can engage in a self-service session through an app that visually maps out the steps of your customer service process, starting with your IVR. It allows customers to guide themselves through the self-service interaction and work directly with the system to solve their problems, without the annoyance and limitations of audio/voice IVR systems. The app should also include full support for data entry and sophisticated self-service capabilities, including being able to proactively mine knowledge bases for information and retrieve/update customer information from underlying line-of-business applications. In short, mobile users should have access to everything they need without connecting to an agent.

For calls that do require agent assistance, however, the goal is to provide a seamless transition to the voice channel from the selfservice channel. Creating this seamless transition entails connecting the mobile session with the agent session. Customers should first be informed of the current hold times and offered the option of scheduling a callback. Once the call has been connected to an agent, all of the steps taken by the customer, as well as any data entered, should be visible to the agent. In this way, customers won’t have to repeat information. Even better, the underlying systems can be prepopulated (or data can be retrieved) with the customer’s information, further reducing handle times.

Of course, these self-service sessions extend far beyond the capabilities of traditional IVRs or web self-service interactions. Mobile support can leverage the inherent capabilities of mobile devices, dramatically improving the customer experience across industries. For example:

  • If a customer is struggling with connectivity issues on a home network, he can be prompted to take a photo of the cable modem. When the call is connected to an agent, the agent is able to see the cable modem being used and retrieve the diagnostic instructions for that modem type, as well as see which lights are on or off to better assist in troubleshooting. Likewise, the phone can report current GPS locations, and if there are known outages in the area, the customer’s self-service session will be modified to alert them that their outage is endemic to their locale, not specific to the customer. 
  • Similarly, insurance companies are leveraging these capabilities by allowing customers to report accidents from their mobile phone and take photos of accidents at the scene. 
  • Banks, too, have leveraged device capabilities successfully, allowing remote check deposit through image capture.

When seeking to break down customer care silos and provide a seamless connection between your self-service and customer care departments, organizations see a number of benefits in mobile selfservice, including: 

  • Providing sophisticated self-service capabilities directly from a mobile application 
  • Lowering inbound call volume 
  • Starting the conversation in context, shortening call initiation 
  • Leveraging device capabilities for an enriched service experience 
  • Enabling faster resolution through optional agent desktop automation 
  • Providing customers with the ability to schedule callbacks at their convenience 
  • Increasing customer satisfaction when customers don’t have to repeat information or actions

The Pitfalls of Mobile Self-Service

While the need to adopt mobile self-service is clear, adopting a mobile strategy is not without potential pitfalls. One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is believing that their current web-based self-service site is suitable for the mobile channel. If, for instance, customers are unable to adequately render pages in the mobile format or utilize device capabilities, they will quickly move on, never to return. And simply reusing the existing self-service website for the mobile device won’t bridge the current siloed customer care environment. For this reason, it’s important that companies rethink what it means to offer self-service on the mobile channel. They need to recognize that customers want consistent, compelling user experiences that are different from those they’d encounter on the regular website.

Another potential pitfall is the build-versus-buy strategy. When doing in-house development, it’s important to note that mobile application development is still in its infancy. This is especially true when compared to the more mature development environments available for traditional Windows or web development. Unfortunately, the development environments for mobile are not as sophisticated as they need to be, and employees with the specialized development skills required are hard to come by, which can make mobile development expensive. As such, it’s important to conduct a careful build-versus-buy analysis.

Finally, at least as far as Apple is concerned, long delays in App Store approval can make scheduling releases and changes particularly difficult. Because of the tight control around iOS application publishing, it can take weeks to make a change available to your customers. While this is rarely a problem for the initial production launch, it can be devastating when addressing application bugs, which require an unknown period of time for fixing and testing before a patch can be made available. Estimates for average App Store approval is around seven days, with the median maximum delay being sixty days. Customers should therefore explore solutions that offer “instant” changes to the application.

Next Steps

Recognizing that mobile use is only going to increase, your company needs to start developing a mobile self-service strategy right away. Here is a list of some of the issues your team will need to resolve before implementing a mobile self-service strategy in your contact center. While this is not an exhaustive list, it will provide a framework for vendor selection if the choice is to buy. 

  1. Develop a ROI calculation to justify the project expenditures. ROI is typically derived from reduced inbound call volumes (through better self-service), reduced AHT (self-service interaction information already captured), and, as a softer metric, increased customer satisfaction. 
  2. Determine whether you will build or buy a solution. If you build it, which platforms will you support? 
  3. Establish how you will create new efficient mobile self-service processes. Don’t just rerender your current website on the mobile device. 
  4. Decide what mobile features you can use to improve the customer service experience (e.g., taking pictures of an accident on the scene). 
  5. Establish how you will build a bridge from mobile self-service to agent-assisted service. 
  6. Determine how you will manage rapid changes to your mobile self-service scripts.


Based on the latest statistics, mobile devices are in position to become the largest engagement channel for customers, and, unless behaviors change quickly, most businesses will be woefully underprepared. With unprecedented growth in mobile device adoption, customers expect to be able to reach organizations anytime, anywhere. The new mobile self-service channel offers organizations an unprecedented opportunity to provide an improved self-service experience, reduce inbound call volume, and capture one of the largest and fastest-growing demographics: mobile customers.

 

Gideon Hollander is the founder and CEO of Jacada, where he is highly regarded for his strategic vision and innovation-centered leadership. Prior to founding Jacada, Gideon was part of the research and development team at Comverse Technology, and he served in various technology and management positions in an elite unit of the Israeli Defence Forces, where he specialized in expert systems and user interface design. Gideon is also an avid rock and mountain climber.

Tag(s): practices and processes, self-service tools, mobility

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