Recently a flurry of vendors have announced new products that enable companies to build mobile customer service applications that I have analyzed, including Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, Jacada and NICE Systems. All are intended to respond to customer demands for self-service through mobile devices. At a recent customer engagement day, I gave a keynote address on the likely impact of mobile apps and social media on customer service, and I chaired three round-table discussions on the subject of mobile apps with senior customer service and contact center managers so I could gather their side of the story.
Our brief was to debate the assertion that “smart phones and tablets will drive big changes in service delivery.” The good news for the vendors is that the collective view of the participants was a resounding “yes.” The round-table sessions included a mixture of companies that already have these apps, ones that were actively developing apps and those making their minds up; all said they view mobile apps as meeting customer demand and thus having a major impact on how they deliver customer service.
One example illustrated the power of such apps. One of the companies released a mobile app without consulting with or announcing it to its customers. Yet within a few weeks the app had been downloaded more than 10,000 times and an independent forum had been set up to advise the company on how to improve the app.
Another case illustrated a potential downside. Several of a company’s customers were contacting them for help, but in many cases they were asking about using the tablet, not the app. Obviously this is not the kind of customer service the company wants to offer.
Although there was almost unanimous agreement that mobile apps would have an impact, none of the participants said they will replace other support channels, so their use has to be put in the context of one option in a multichannel customer service strategy. The participants in the discussions felt the success of mobile apps is dependent on a number of factors:
- The apps should be designed with customers and their needs in mind. Our research into the use of technology in contact centers shows that other self-service applications, such as IVR and Web self-service, have not been as successful as companies hoped, largely because they were designed to suit the company’s processes and not the customer’s.
- A popular phrase that emerged during the debates is that apps have to work “in the moment,” like other activities consumers typically carry out on their smart phones or tablets, namely make a phone call, send a text message, chat or post to social media. The apps therefore ought to work in real time, and if companies let customers access information from the app then it must be absolutely up-to-date. I can see that providing this capability might be a challenge for many companies, because they must first decide what source of data to use and then ensure that the system managing that data is working in real time.
- Another key requirement is that the apps have to be easy to use. They should not just replicate the functionality of a Web browser but should make full use of common smart phone and tablet features such as the touch screen, simple dials to select data, integrated GPS and video and photographic features.
- Users should be able to close the loop on what they are doing in the app; that is, if they start a process, they should be able to finish it without leaving the app, even if circumstances require speaking with an agent.
- Finally, the apps should personalize responses and information based on the user ID (and security information) the user provides while signing in to the app. This should apply equally if the user has to make a call; many of the participants insisted that such a call should be passed straight to an agent, bypassing IVR, and that the agent should know who the customer is and what the user has done before making the call.
All in all these discussion groups expressed high expectations of mobile service apps. The good news is that the vendors I have reviewed to date have products with capabilities that should allow companies to design and build apps that meet these requirements. The big unknown is whether companies will design apps that customers come to like and use often; otherwise the industry could find itself facing a “customers hate mobile apps” situation in the same way as they are reported to “hate IVR.” Using mobile technology for customer interactions is part of maturing customer relationships and interactions to meet the requirements that should be defined in your customer journey maps that our customer relationship maturity benchmark research found help advance the customer experience. I’d be interested in your thoughts, so please collaborate with me on this rapidly evolving technology.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director