The advance of smartphones and the avalanche of mobile apps are forcing enterprises to rethink their customer care services. Where do mobile apps fit in? How can they complement contact centers to provide user-friendly customer care, allowing customers to interact directly with the enterprise and find answers to service requests? Why should organizations bring everyone to the table NOW to create a cohesive customer care with mobile at the middle to boost loyalty and drive revenues? We catch up with Daniel Hong — Lead Analyst at Ovum, a leading technology consultancy and research firm — to identify the business advantages of connecting an on-device mobile app to the contact center.
Nuance: The rise of mobile apps is obviously a driver here. But customer care is multi-channel. Where can mobile improve customer care?
DH: Companies that have a customer service culture designed around multiple channels of engagement —such as phone and Web -should be discussing what they are doing and need to do to develop a mobile strategy, and how they’re going to incorporate smartphones into that strategy. Even companies that typically don’t have that much call volume or inquiries need to integrate mobile over time. Given the decline in consumer landlines each year it just makes sense. For these companies it’s a good start to offer basic applications that are designed for information provision and evolve the application over time. They can put these up on app stores and the mobile Web. Often it’s enough to provide updated product or service information because that’s what many customers want in the first place.
Nuance: Are there specific sectors that are further along on the learning curve, giving us clues to what the mobile is going to be moving forward?
DH: We’re noticing today that leaders in this — companies leading with applications that offer functionality, features and the deepest integrations with existing customer data — are those in the early-adopter verticals. Travel and tourism companies, airlines in particular, stand out in terms of innovation.
Additionally, retail banks are well advanced in providing their customers apps that allow them to access their bank accounts, information and conduct transactions. The retail sector is where we are seeing companies fold more customer service into the apps they offer. This sophistication ensures that customer can interact with the retailer for purchases and service requests, and then switch to voice if they need to escalate a call and speak to an agent.
So, these are the three leading sectors right now. At the same time, there are some pockets of innovations in sectors such as insurance. Here companies are empowering customers to understand and use apps to improve claims processes and customer care. In the area of insurance we have the example of GROUPAMA Rhône Alpes Auvergne. This company offers a cool video-based application, complete with many self-service functionalities, that’s connected to their contact center agents. This allows the customers to file a claim if they get into an accident on the road.
Nuance: Is there agreement on what qualifies as an innovative and effective mobile strategy?
DH: We’re working on a study where we’re interviewing leading enterprises and thought leaders in the area of customer care. It’s clear that these companies are pursuing a mobile strategy and we’re likely to see a major uptick in roll outs over the next 12 to 24 months. However, the approaches are fragmented. I can’t draw a trend right now. But it is clear that mobile is part of a larger strategy, a larger initiative aimed to personalize the customer experience, or significantly improve the customer experience. These companies have a clear ROI for their mobile strategies and, once they sell it internally, it becomes part of a larger initiative for customer experience.
Nuance: There are cost advantages when you can cut down calls or just call handling times — in a call center. How would you quantify the potential saving associated with connecting an on-device app to the contact center? Or if you can’t give a figure, then how about the boost in customer retention?
DH: You’re right, it’s hard to quantify. A lot of companies want increased stickiness with that customer, so the improvement in customer experience doesn’t necessarily have to mean a reduction in costs. Many companies want to create a culture where they can enable the customers to talk to agents, and thus improve the overall customer experience. Therefore, they don’t mind if calls to the call center increase. This increase means they’re able to improve the stickiness with the customer and even start a dialogue by means of this interaction that will allow them to improve the app based on customer feedback.
Nuance: It seems the opportunity isn’t so much about cost reduction; it’s about giving customers choice and allowing them to decide how they want to interact with the company. Digital Natives may go for the app and others will want to start with the app, but have the option to get to a call agent…
DH: Yes. I’m seeing that larger initiatives to improve the customer experience are focused on engaging with the customer on the customer’s terms. That’s good because that may ultimately lead to improved customer retention and customer loyalty, and potentially sales conversions later on.
Nuance: In your reports you point out that apps and agents are complementary. You also suggest companies should focus on deliver smart connected interactions. Please detail what you mean by this.
DH: If a contact center agent is aware of what the customer was trying to accomplish while using the on-device application, and has access to relevant data from the appropriate systems, then they can better address the direct needs of the customer. Ovum defines this as “smart, connected interactions”. Applications that share information across platforms — and in doing so provide the contact center agent with current, accurate data about what the customer was doing before escalating the problem to a voice call — lead to better interactions. In other words, representatives that are aware of the context of the interaction can help resolve the customer issue, alleviate the situation, and expedite the transaction. At the other end of the spectrum, the enterprise can leverage knowing when a customer typically reaches out to a contact center — what triggers this —to improve the application to address this, or simply change processes in the contact center to help improve customer satisfaction overall.
Nuance: You suggest that companies automate the first line of inquiry through an app, and leverage their human agents for solving the more complex issues. How do enterprises get there from here?
DH: It’s about using the smart device as a channel. Right now it’s a conduit for multiple different channels, so it’s like the critical choke point right now for customer care. You have voice, SMS, email, Web, mobile apps and video and cameras. I think if you can have some intelligence there letting you know that the customer is calling in with a smartphone or a tablet, then you have more flexibility in how you can communicate with them and what you can share with them in a truly multi-modal fashion.
So, the value isn’t so much the self-service channel, but engaging with the customer in multiple different ways on a single device: their personal mobile device. When there is a critical time-sensitive issue to resolve, people still need to talk to the agent. At that point chat or email won’t cut it, you pick up the phone and you call. Our data shows that 70 percent of consumers in the U.S look to the phone as the most successful channel to resolve their issues on the first attempt.
Nuance: The benefits of connecting on-device apps with call centers come through loud and clear. Moving forward, what has to happen to make it really happen and for companies —not just the innovators you mentioned— to implement and execute on this strategy?
DH: The biggest obstacle right now is not talent or technology. To make it a reality companies have to break down the silos. The marketing department, the IT department, the customer care/contact center department, the business lines. They all have to come together to come up with a cohesive strategy defining what they want to achieve with mobile. Right now many departments within companies are creating their own applications by themselves and putting them up on the App Store. This doesn’t reflect a unified strategy and will only hurt the organization in the long run.
The goal must be to have a centralized and common infrastructure, and governance, where all business units and departments have their mobile apps plugged in so they can achieve economies of scale, as well as having centralized management, data gathering and analytics. Obviously certain departments should focus on different data and analytics — that is, only what is pertinent their business. In addition, the company should be able to monitor and analyze all datapoints across different departments to get a holistic view of their customers. This is the mission for what we know today as the customer experience, and customer service is part of this. Towards this end the potential for cross-collaboration and sharing intelligence is better for the company overall as it looks to boost customer loyalty and revenue.