Businesses scramble as users clamor for mobile customer service

As more customers use mobile devices, more companies are trying to deliver customer service to smartphones and tablets.

To Zo Silver, director of customer experience at online publishing company Blurb, the idea of delivering mobile customer service is really quite simple.

“We want them to engage at any time from any place, whenever the inspiration strikes,” Silver said. “We don’t want them to have to run back to their computers.”

However, what can be summed up so simply is often difficult to implement. Consumers, now armed with smart phones and tablets, are ready for the delivery of mobile customer service that takes full advantage of mobile device functions, from voice and text to video and touch-screen technology. But developers must work through a few key technology and deployment issues before that multimedia mobile customer service becomes a reality.

Chief among the challenges are figuring how to exploit mobile CRM functions to create new customer service experiences, determining what types of traditional customer service can be adapted to the new platform and identifying what programming approach -- supporting HTML5 or writing native applications -- is the best option.

“This isn’t about replicating, because you can do more with mobile,” said Sheila McGee-Smith, president of McGee-Smith Analytics LLC.

Integrating mobile customer service support
The Boston Globe recently integrated mobile support into its new subscription-based www.bostonglobe.com offering. The mobile support software comes from RightNow, a maker of contact center software. Globe readers can access customer support by clicking a support tab and submitting a service ticket within the application and get direct access to the Globe’s customer service organization.

“The thinking was if people would use the site on mobile platforms, we would equally need a support environment that is optimized for mobile,” said Robert Saurer, director of customer experience and innovation at the Massachusetts newspaper. 

Saurer said the key was using HTML5 in designing the newspaper application and the corresponding customer support application so they fit a mobile screen and can be used across multiple mobile devices.

For now, many companies are in the early stages of mobile support, offering self-service functions that enable customers to get their questions answered from searches. Blurb recently installed mobile applications from RightNow.

“I classify mobile as still coming out of the chute,” said Kate Leggett, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. “It is emerging, and it will have a huge impact.’’

Contact center technology, CEM and mobile
In a report focusing on contact centers earlier this year, Forrester examined the effect of 24 contact center technologies and noted that mobile, along with interaction analytics, customer experience management (CEM) and enterprise feedback management, are in the early stages of deployment and once early adoption issues are resolved, they should become common customer service features.

Other industry analysts agreed, noting mobile customer service is ripe with potential and should deliver plenty of benefits to consumers in the future

“I think people are thinking about it and talking about it,” said Lori Bockland, president of Strategic Contact  in Beaverton, Ore. “We are very early into this.”

For example, Bockland noted that today anyone can get to a company’s website from using mobile browsers on their smart phones, but that allows for a very limited version of customer service. In some cases, the website might not be designed to accommodate a mobile browser.

Before software vendors and developers can deliver a richer set of functions, they face a few challenges. For starters, companies need to figure out how mobile functionality will help them create a new or different customer service interaction and how to best adapt existing customer service experiences to a mobile device.

A big problem surfaces when a software developer “is not thinking about the fact that user behavior is different in a mobile context,” said Stacy Crook, a senior research analyst focusing on mobile enterprise at IDC in Framingham, Mass. As an example, while desktop users are comfortable opening multiple windows and moving across them, mobile users typically don’t want to do that, Crook said.

“Successful developers today are taking a cue from the consumer world and are producing easy, even fun, apps that are focused on the user experience,” Crook added.

Scott Kolman, senior vice president of marketing at SpeechCycle, which just introduced a set of customer service mobile applications, said the company’s customers made it clear that they did not want “repurposed material.”

“Just giving someone the ability to see your website is not the way to go,” Kolman said. “There could be limitations of size or not allowing use of the touch-screen. You need to make the information consumable on the device they have.”

HTML 5 or not?
Another issue is a technology dilemma. Companies are still uncertain whether they should provide native applications developed for a specific mobile platform or write to the emerging HTML 5 standard for Web applications, which would support users on multiple different mobile platforms.

IDC’s Crook said “we are still in the early days” of HTML5 support and “native application development is still the most popular choice of developers today.”

Forrester’s Leggett said HTML5 support will remain an issue for some time. While many companies are making a choice to support HTML5, “there are lots of apps, and you can do more with native apps.”

Leggett pointed to the example of Home Depot, which has created an application users can download to get detailed product information as they shop and then contact an agent if they have additional questions.

 

 

 

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