Smartphones have become as much a part of everyday life as a morning cup of coffee. As Nielsen notes in a recent report, "already a powerful presence, [mobile] continues to grow." According to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, smartphone ownership has jumped from 35 percent in 2011 to 56 percent in 2013.
With mobile becoming so pervasive, it's no surprise that business leaders are seeing it as an important tool to connect with both customers and prospects. Although a recent Harvard Business Review report noted that almost 70 percent of customers' smartphone use takes place at home, this device still provides the ability for anytime and anywhere connection. It also allows brands to send geographically relevant messages, thus personalizing the experience further.
The past years have seen an explosion of mobile apps as brands strived to leverage mobile to be closer to their consumers. Yet, from a service point of view, mobile has often remained disconnected not giving customers the ability to get their needs resolved without needing to move to another channel.
As Taylor Allis, vice president of marketing and product management at TeleTech, notes in this blog, while smartphones and tablets are inherently smart, many organizations have not yet embraced these tools in an intelligent way that allows them to enhance customer service, leading to customer frustrations, especially when customers are forced to use antiquated IVR technology that's not integrated with mobile functions. "Though these naturally smart devices put chat, video, and photo capabilities in the palm of the customers' hand, brands still force customers to use the toll-free voice feature, thereby eliminating the channel's potential richness and the chance for truly multichannel customer service conversations with consumers," he notes.
This often-found lack of seamless integration means that customers have no way to contact the contact center directly from the app, and, very frustratingly, any history of what the customer did on a mobile device isn't transferred with customers, requiring them to restart their service requests from scratch.
Groupama, a France-based insurance company, was a pioneer in the field and has been leveraging mobile to improve its clients' experience for a number of years. As Philippe Vayssac, who heads the insurer's contact center, explains in this 1to1 Media article, back in 2011 Groupama was already using mobile's unique capabilities to come in aid of clients when they have an accident by providing an app that directly connects them to the contact center and also transfers their details to the agent helping them, leading to higher first call resolution rates and improve customer satisfaction scores.
According to Eric Moujaes, vice president of creative services at Phunware, explains, customers want mobile apps that deliver value by providing them with the information and experience they need at that particular moment. In Groupama's case, the organization can tap into mobile geographical capabilities to determine a customer's location and send help without the need for the motorist to give potentially complicated directions, which might be especially challenging for someone who's distressed following an accident or a vehicle breakdown.
Amazon's Mayday button for its new Kindle Fire HDX is a more recent and prime example of connecting mobile customers to customer service. As the advertisements explain, not only does the button connect Kindle owners to a tech advisor, it leverages video to improve the experience. The tech advisor can answer questions and even give customers step-by-step instructions right on their own screens.
David Baker, senior vice president for North America sales at Servion, says this is a great way to deliver customer service directly from a mobile device and believes that this should become a common feature. He notes that some banks give customers who request a service from one of their branches the option to videoconference with experts who aren't present at that location. "Why not put the videoconferencing option directly in the app?" he notes.
A major benefit of the Kindle Mayday button is the ability to connect customers to someone who can help them there and then without the need to change to a different device. "Brands need to create tools to be connected with customers in real time and wherever they are," stresses Mickael Bentz, product marketing manager for Adobe Campaign.
A question of integration
One mistake that organizations tend to make and which is likely to lead to a lack of integration with other channels is to treat mobile as an afterthought. This means that irrespective of the design capabilities and functions provided by an app or mobile optimized website, customers will never receive a disjointed experience, often leading to an app being forgotten or deleted.
This was something that Los Angeles shopping center The Grove wanted to avoid at all costs. The organization wanted to make sure that its mobile app not only provided information to customers, but value, allowing them to self-serve directly from their phones and have access to several options right at their fingertips.
But such an ambitious project doesn't happen overnight. It requires thought and investment. As part of the preparations for its 10th anniversary celebrations, the outdoor dining, shopping, and movie complex, which opened its doors in 2002, wanted to provide customers with a "meaningful experience," explains Galit Shokrian, senior vice president of marketing and communications. Shokrian notes that the entire complex was extremely service-oriented, with, for example, the concierge team going beyond giving directions to stores but also helping customers with their bags and facilitating reservations at both restaurants on the property and off. The team even assists with airline reservations. "We take service seriously," Shokrian says.
It was therefore not surprising that the company's business leaders wanted to extend this aspect to its mobile app. Aside from fun functions, including offering customers to download The Grove playlist right to their phones, the mall wanted to bring the same great service that customers experience at the mall directly to their mobile devices. "We wanted to provide them with the concierge experience through their phone." In fact, customers can now contact the concierge team through a direct message from the app to ask them anything, for example assistance with packages leveraging mobile's geo capabilities so that the concierge knows where the customer is to sending the valet a request to have their vehicle ready when they leave. "We took the brand and extended it to mobile," Shokrian says.
Finally, Moujaes stresses the importance of making sure that mobile isn't an afterthought, but rather integrated within the overall service strategy. Further, mobile customer service cannot be a one-time effort. "Don't build it and forget about it," Moujaes warns. Instead, organizations need to keep tabs on evolving customer needs and continually update their mobile properties to deliver on customer expectations.