The Mobile Customer Service Marathon


by Sarah Stealey Reed


Do you have a mobile customer service strategy? Do you know what your customers expect from mobile customer service? Is the contact center even involved in your organization’s mobile planning process?

As most of us know, our customers are already mobile, but the actual numbers are staggering! According to 2013 Nielsen and Pew Research Center data, there are 6.9 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, more than 460 million of them in the United States alone. And 80 percent of all new mobile buyers are opting for smartphones. “Mobile is the killer channel for customer service!” says Kim Martin, director of North America and corporate marketing at Aspect Software.

Think of implementing mobile customer service like training for a marathon. You can’t expect to sprint to the finish without first laying a little groundwork. Just as a marathon training plan sets you up for success long after the race is over, a mobile strategy provides benefits that extend far beyond implementation. Approach mobile customer service as you would a marathon, and you’ll be prepared to go the distance.

In early 2013, the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) released initial insights into how mobile strategies were being executed by the contact centers. Throughout the year, we’ve been tracking and reporting on the progress of hundreds of contract center leaders. We used that information to develop a mobile customer service strategy that organizations can use as a guide. We don’t yet know what the future will bring for mobile devices, or which channels will evolve to support this platform, but we do know that foundational planning is essential.

Plot the Course: Insight into Customers and Competition

Most marathoners review race logistics before they sign up for an event. While you can’t anticipate all of the nuances or variables, your race will be more effective and successful if you know to train for hills versus flatland, inclement weather, or other competitors.

Your mobile customer service strategy should be no different. Before you begin, you need to look at the current landscape. What do your customers want? What are your competitors doing? Mobile is changing customer service, and mobile users seem to like it that way. Research from Forrester and other analysts show that customers want to “stay on the glass” when they need assistance.

So what does that support actually entail? Well, ideally it’s provided through the channels that are best suited for the task requested. But here’s the important part: customers don’t think in channels. They don’t care if a conversation starts on Twitter and then moves to text or email or voice. They care that they reached support from their mobile device, that they stayed on the device, and that any transitions were seamless.

In addition to expecting to have access to support whenever, however, and wherever they want/need it, mobile users have easy, constant access to information. And since they have ready access to so many resources, they’re incredibly informed. Consequently, they expect faster response times, customized visuals (like maps and illustrations), immediacy, instant connectivity, personalized service, single sign-on for all channels, and much more.

This can be a hilly challenge for contact centers, as we’re accustomed to flat, straight roads and separate channels. From the customer’s perspective though, mobile support is a winding course of intertwining channels. When plotting the course, make sure to look at what mobile devices your customers are using, what they’re doing on those devices, and where they’re using them. That input will tell you which mobile channels to focus on first: SMS, video, chat, forums, etc.

You must also be aware of what your competitors are doing and what features are being adopted across industries. Sixty-two percent of organizations see mobile as a competitive differentiator, but only 40 percent are formally offering and supporting it. Some verticals, like travel, retail, and financial services, are leading the pack when it comes to the implementation of mobile support, but that doesn’t mean others should lag behind. As mobile users discover innovative features, they will require us to support them, whether or not our industry as a whole is moving in that direction.

But let’s forge onward! There are still many miles to cover in this mobile endurance race!

Assemble Your Team: Ownership of the Mobile Customer Service Strategy

Marathoners often train with running groups. The team members hold each other accountable for mileage and milestones, share best practices, and keep each other focused on their common (and sometimes lofty!) goals. Teams are just as important in the development of mobile strategies. Contact centers that get involved early in both the planning and support have the best opportunity to provide the desired customer experience. Yet, according to our research, about one-third of organizations aren’t involved at all, and when they are, it’s mostly at the end, after other departments have made key decisions.

There is good news, though: Even those without a mobile strategy see the value and are starting to reprioritize. In fact, 43 percent say that mobile is either a top priority for their brand or at least equivalent to other new initiatives for 2014. Why? Organizations see mobile as an opportunity to improve customer satisfaction, increase customer loyalty, decrease support costs, and create an overall better experience for mobile customers.

Here’s what’s both fascinating and challenging about mobile: it’s arguably the first platform where all departments have an equal seat at the table. This is not the case with other platforms and channels, and this shared responsibility may account for why so many organizations don’t yet have a mobile strategy in place. Depending on a company’s internal communication and hierarchy, each department may be approaching the mobile strategy from a different angle. IT usually focuses on the device and the apps; marketing is mostly concerned with adoption and loyalty. Other key departments, like customer support, product management, sales, finance, and the C-suite, also own some portion of the strategy, and each will have its own (sometimes competing) agenda. This is why you need to assemble your team early and rally it around a common goal: the customer experience.

Invest in Tools: Technology Guidance

Along with a good training plan, a course map, and a solid team, most marathoners also rely on gear that makes the miles pass more effectively and efficiently. Proper shoes, water and electrolytes, and a dependable watch are essential to the success of a race. In the mobile marathon, tools are as much, if not more, important.

Most companies think apps are the only necessary technology investment, but this isn’t the case. It may be counterintuitive, but companies must understand that mobile customer support extends far beyond the web or a smartphone app. Any customer that requires service on a device or requests service from a device is a mobile support user, and that’s where the technology should be aligned. According to Tobias Goebel, director of mobile strategy, product management, and marketing for Voxeo, “true mobile customer care is about much more than just saying ‘We now have an app’. A holistic approach will include other mobile technologies like SMS, location-based services, or outbound IVR, and linking or combining the channels to utilize each for what they are best suited for.”

Arguably, the most important piece of technology for mobile customer service is a platform that unifies the entire experience across voice, text, mobile web, and social channels. “Companies have to provide a sensible way to manage the transitions between apps, browsers, and phone calls, or risk a disconnected interaction that forces the customer to repeat steps,” says Keith Dawson, principal analyst at Ovum, reiterating the need for a unified, multichannel interaction strategy.

This may sound daunting, but a solid mobile customer service strategy will help you eliminate the guesswork and avoid making poor decisions. The right multichannel technology platform can also help organizations achieve many of their goals, such as higher first contact or call resolution, greater mobile containment, and higher customer satisfaction.

While fewer steps and faster resolution lead to greater customer satisfaction, the technology your analysts use to provide those resolutions should also be addressed in your mobile strategy. Just one-third of respondents have a unified desktop platform in place. And of that number, 59 percent still have agents toggling—almost half are moving between four to nine different systems! Without a doubt, this affects analyst morale and engagement, which has a direct effect on the overall customer experience.

Kim Martin, director of North American and corporate marketing at Aspect Software, put it best: “It’s not enough to simply give mobile customers new ways to interact with your business. Customers expect a unified experience and superior service regardless of the communication channel.” But while companies see and appreciate the value in tying the analyst and customer experience together, they’re often thwarted by a lack of budget or resources. This is where executive buy-in comes in.

Solicit Support: Executive Buy-In

You have a training plan, you’ve studied the map, you’ve assembled the team, and you have the right gear. What could possibly be left? You need supporters! Marathons require time, money, and energy, and you’ll need help with all three.

Executives not only provide the capital to fund technology investments, they also act as cheering squads and project supporters. Make sure your mobile customer service strategy contains the things they need to see to back the mobile initiative: a budget and projected ROI; options for reducing the cost of maintenance, like cloud solutions; concrete, verifiable data; case studies on value and usage; projected impact on resources; potential cost savings and reductions in call volume; and best practices for mobile customer service.

After the Race

The mobile customer service strategy should be used as a tool to guide stakeholders through the proper implementation of mobile support. To develop that strategy, you need to understand what your customers want, what your competitors are doing, and what your company is building. Take ownership of the strategy so you can secure the buy-in you need, the funding you ask for, and the technology you require. If you’re well prepared, your mobile marathon will be a medal-worthy success.

And what comes after the race? Another race! Mobile is moving fast, and advances in video, callback options, voice assistants, and self-service have yet to be fully understood or realized. The next few years should be exciting. Welcome to the mobile marathon!

If you’re interested in learning more about building a mobile customer service strategy, please download the complimentary white paper or purchase the complete report from ICMI and Voxeo.

 

Sarah Stealey Reed is a customer experience and contact center leader with nineteen years of experience in multisite global organizations. She’s built contact centers from the ground up, managed them for growth, and acted as a turnaround specialist for metrics and employees. As the content editor for ICMI, she’s responsible for the association’s editorial content and engagement strategy. Sarah’s a writer, blogger, and social poster, and she often speaks about customer support and emerging channels. Follow her on Twitter @stealeyreed and connect with her on LinkedIn.

Sarah will be presenting on multichannel support at the HDI 2014 Conference & Expo. Register today and plan on attending Session 308: The Agent's Value to the Multichannel Customer and Session 803: Analyst Productivity and Efficiency in the Multichannel Support Center!

Tag(s): customer service, future of support, mobile device support

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