Fifteen years ago, analysts and investors frequently asked enterprises, “What’s your Internet strategy?” The unspoken corollary was, “If you don’t have one, you’d better get one fast, or you’re toast.”

Today the question is, “What’s your mobile strategy?” While 89% of business leaders say they have a mobile strategy in place according to Forrester Research, they are still in the early stages of development, and many lack the expertise necessary to execute those strategies.

In addition, those companies realize that they’re not providing a consistent experience across the various channels that consumers and businesses use to interact, such as Web, IVR, mobile apps and chat. However, they lack the metrics necessary to fund additional investments to eliminate that inconsistency. For example, without the ability to forecast how a mobile app will increase revenues or decrease costs by improving customer interaction, it is tough to secure additional funding beyond the phase one.

Clearly we are at a point where if you provide customer service, you must provide mobile customer service or risk losing a significant competitive advantage. There are plenty of statistics to back up that advice: Globally, more people own a mobile phone than a toilet, and smartphone penetration is steadily climbing. In the United States, 40% of mobile consumers now own a smartphone, according to Nielsen.

That penetration is why enterprises, government agencies, carriers and other organizations are increasingly focusing on smartphones when developing mobile strategies for initiatives such as improving customer care. By combining the best of existing customer-interaction channels into a highly personal medium, smartphones present a powerful new opportunity for organizations to communicate with their customers.

Here are three key points that enterprises and other organizations should consider when developing and executing a mobile strategy.

Enable cross-functional collaboration: The first step in developing a successful mobile strategy is ensuring that all functional areas are collaborating on the mobile customer experience instead of operating in competitive silos. At the highest level, there should be common goals for customer engagement. At the tactical level, there are many opportunities for synergy.

For example, by assessing why customers call the IVR, the mobile team can create an app that provides the kind of information that callers frequently request. That design makes the app more useful to the customer, which in turn reduces contact-center costs by enabling effective self-service.

This type of collaboration leads to some interesting opportunities for the business. If the IVR team identifies an opportunity to improve customer care through the mobile device, they could provide a platform for an effective promotional channel. Because customers have been conditioned to call for care first, the IVR offers an ideal way to build awareness of the new app. When a customer calls to access their balance, the IVR should say: “Did you know that you can get your balance in our mobile app? I can send you a link with a short code to the app, or you can get it from Apple’s App Store or Android Market.” This strategy also reduces the need for extensive – and expensive – advertising to build mass awareness because it leverages the dominant channel of interaction: 40% to 80% of customer-care calls are made from a mobile phone.

Create an engaging, consistent user experience: Today’s customers are impatient. They want immediate access to information and answers to their questions. Today’s customers also want flexibility in how they interact. Mobile customers seek immediacy of information and ease of access. Their preference is situational: Depending on where they are and what they want to accomplish, they’ll expect to be able to utilize their voice and/or touch equally. Mainstream apps such as Siri and Dragon Go! are already conditioning consumers to feel comfortable about using their voice to get information instead of typing a request. Enterprises can leverage that growing familiarity of such a conversational experience to improve usability of mobile apps and reduce contact-center calls, providing customers with new options for interacting on their terms.

In addition, customers want to migrate from channel to channel without losing the context of what they’re trying to accomplish. Meeting that expectation of consistency requires thoughtful integration into existing back-ends – another reason why cross-functional collaboration will be critical to success.

Leverage the power of mobile as an additive channel: The mobile channel is clearly an additive channel. It is not replacing interactions via other channels, at least not yet. Seventy-four percent of consumers currently use at least three channels when interacting with an organization for customer-care issues, according to Ovum, but the net result is the customers are interacting more often through more channels. In 2004, Ovum found that 98% of contact-center interactions in North America involved the voice channel. By 2009, it was 67% even though total call volumes had increased over the period, as did transactions across all other channels.

While difficult to manage, this trend presents an opportunity. Most enterprises view customer engagement as the key driver for investment – and customer are engaging now more than ever. However, business leaders are quickly realizing that there often must be a hard return on their investment, as well.

By delivering mobile apps that are well integrated with other channels, have a flexible user experience and continue to offer increasing value, organizations can deflect many calls and streamline many of the remainder. Exactly how many depends on the organization and industry. For example, 55% of business travelers have a smartphone, according to Forrester Research, versus 40% of the general U.S. population. When an industry has higher-than-average smartphone penetration, the mobile channel should be particularly effective for reducing contact-center costs and improving the customer experience.

How to “get it right”

Mobile apps can both accommodate consumer preferences for interaction and encourage transactions in channels that have lower overhead costs. There are multiple ways to get the strategy right. The first is by ensuring that the initiative involves cross-functional leadership in order to identify synergies among all of the ways that customers interact with the organization. The second way is by understanding what your mobile customers need to accomplish and all of the ways that smartphones can enable that interaction. Finally, to justify mobile investments, it’s important to consider both revenue-generating tools and strategies to reduce costs.

The mobile channel ultimately is a way for organizations to provide information to consumers on their terms, anytime, anywhere. As Howard Davies, a Deloitte media partner, recently put it: “Brands view apps as a golden opportunity to communicate directly with consumers in a more meaningfully and long term manner. When brands get it right, the returns can be huge . . . in terms of long term consumer relationship building and continued relevancy.”

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About Andrea Mocherman

This was a contributed post by Andrea Mocherman. To see more content like this, visit the Customer experience section of our blog.