Mobile channels: The right and wrong way to reach busy customers

The increased use of mobile applications means contact centers must properly use mobile channels to connect with their customers, experts say.

With as many as 110 million Americans using smartphones, businesses are increasingly throwing money at mobile applications to better serve their customers.

And with mobile channels offering a whole new way to connect customers and contact centers, it's no wonder, said Brad Cleveland, a consultant and former president of the International Customer Management Institute. Mobile, he said, is driving "a higher level of call" in the contact center.

Armed with mobile technology, customers can reach out to a contact center any time of the day, from anywhere. They don't have the patience to wait for an answer, Cleveland said. In today's instant-gratification society, customers reach out "in between meetings, just before a flight, standing in line somewhere … that’s hugely important to callers. Expectations have gone up significantly."

Mobile channels open new windows

And so has the pressure to keep customers happy. One way for companies to meet such high expectations is to take up mobile use themselves, said Paul Greenberg, president of The 56 Group. Take tablets, for example. The devices have given the mobile channel a starring role in CRM strategies. They allow customer service agents and field technicians to stay connected with each other. That’s important for companies that rely on stellar reputations with in-person customer service.

"With any sort of connectivity, [technicians] can get access to field manuals, best practices, communicate with headquarters and do the billing," he said. "They can help the customer where the customer is at."

For more on mobile applications:

Mobile commerce apps deliver food to hungry customers

A comparison of mobile cloud apps and native apps

Social media applications have also pushed mobile CRM to a higher standard, Greenberg said. If someone sends out word of a bad experience with a company through Twitter, that message can be seen by millions of people around the world who could make judgments about the company.

At the same time, social media applications allow companies to respond quickly and briefly to a customer complaint.

"You have the option to interact that way, and that’s useful," Greenberg said. "If I’m sitting somewhere and don’t really want to talk on the phone, I can still do this. It gives me the ability to communicate my issue and remain silent at the same time. That’s important."

Trouble in mobile paradise

But the prevalent use of mobile hasn't led to an equal boost in customer service--at least not yet, according to several analysts who focus on contact centers.

Donna Fluss, founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, said mobile applications often serve basic purposes, but many of them have not been fully connected to help customer service agents do their jobs.

"Mobile apps have the potential for automating more calls, but when a call needs to get to an agent, it becomes a little more complicated," Fluss said. "Some will allow the call to transfer to an agent with the indicative information, but other apps don’t have that capability. Customers have to repeat themselves, and that's not a very good experience."

Elizabeth Herrell, an analyst at Constellation Research Inc., said that incomplete mobile applications pose a problem.

If customers aren't sure their transactions were processed by a mobile application and want to talk to an agent, some apps offer only a list of phone numbers to call, she said. That puts the customer back at square one, which is what companies are trying to avoid.

Not integrated? Not so fast

The trick is integration. Mobile applications must be fully integrated with a contact center to have a substantial effect on customer experiences, Herrell said. Apps that integrate with contact center technologies and mobile support allow agents to respond to questions intelligently and contextually--that is, without requiring the customer to tell his story again and again. Companies that achieve integration improve customer experiences and also make busy agents' lives easier.

But those applications are newer, and no more than 10% of companies have adopted them, Herrell said. "Companies with aging infrastructures, they’re not fully up to speed on all these channels."

In falling behind, companies not only miss an important opportunity to build customer relationships, they fail to close the growing gap between company capabilities and customer expectations.

But there's still time: The contact center environment is changing rapidly. "We’re really at the beginning of this kind of thing," Fluss said.

This was first published in November 2012

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