Mobile app downloads continue to grow from strength to strength, breaking records and exceeding analyst expectations. However, a raft of reports — including a recent survey by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project — suggest the appeal of instantly downloading the latest apps is losing its luster. Specifically, the Pew report found the vast majority (68 percent) of smartphone users open only five or fewer apps at least once a week. This could spell trouble for games and entertainment apps — the app categories that generate the most downloads and market buzz. But what are consumer attitudes toward customer service apps? Nuance teamed up with Vocalabs to find out what consumers really think about their self-service apps. The findings are a wake up call to companies everywhere.


Think that people downloading and using you customer service apps are Digital Natives who prefer high-tech to high-touch? Think again.

New research from Nuance — based on a December 2011 survey of 900 smartphone owners conducted by Vocalabs — shows a whopping 72 percent of respondents have a more positive view of a company if they have a mobile app.

What’s more, these app users also tend to be active brand advocates and ambassadors. The survey reports 78 percent of respondents will tell others about their positive app experience, effectively recruiting more users for the apps (and brands) that succeed in satisfying their service requirements.

“The high number is not nearly as surprising as the demographics,” notes Christy Murfitt, Sr. Solutions Marketing Manager, Nuance. “Mobile apps are used by all age groups, not just tech-savvy Millennials.” In fact, mobile apps have a significant appeal among more mature users, a customer segment that “typically values convenience, ease of use and life-simplifying solutions.”

Thanks to the advance of smartphones users across all demographics now share a common trait: they are empowered. Their devices provide them easy and instant access to information they need. Interestingly, respondents have also come to expect their customer service apps to deliver what they want on their terms.

Almost half (45 percent) of respondents say they like to use customer service apps because they are convenient. Another 40 percent are hooked on the always-on nature of mobile apps, answering that they like and use apps because they are “always available.”

Customer service apps — apps sharply focused on satisfying service requests — target both existing and potential customers. “And this is key,” Murfitt explains. Having to cater a customer service app to both customers who are familiar with the product or service, and those who are not, “turns up the pressure on companies to find the right balance between features like tracking an order, booking a flight or checking a bank balance, and ease of use.”

Put simply, using a customer service app must be intuitive since all users are time-sensitive and likely to delete apps that try their patience.

Vertical app appeal

Clearly, customers use apps that provide them value. The critical question is: Are all apps from all verticals delivering what they promise?

Unfortunately, Nuance consumer research reveals some verticals are shortchanging their customers — and themselves.

The good news is banks and mobile operators lead with the largest number of app downloads. The bad news is banks and mobile operators stand out as the verticals that experience the most serious drop-off in usage.

While 60 percent of respondents have downloaded customer service apps from mobile carriers, only 25 percent are actually using them. That means over one-third (35 percent) of respondents are not using the apps. Banking apps show a similar disconnect.

Turn it around, and the research also identifies a huge opportunity for these two verticals to increase traffic to their customer service apps.

As Murfitt sees it, these verticals have already done most of the hard work, they just need to improve the app experience. “They have the customers and they have convinced them to download the app. Now these companies have to focus on boosting engagement and ways to ensure their apps become part of their customers’ daily routine.”

Freedom of choice

What features and functionality could convince consumers to use their customer service apps more? Again Nuance consumer research highlights areas where improvements would pay dividends.

Over one-third (35 percent) of respondents would appreciate a seamless and effortless way to shift from a self-service task on their app to connect with a call agent.

“If consumers can’t accomplish what they want within an app, they have to disengage and try another channel. But transitioning to another channel means starting all over, explaining why they are calling in the first place,” Murfitt says.  That adds up in both call minutes and increased customer frustration with the brand.

Granted, there will always be people that want to talk to agents first. But there is also a significant and growing group of consumers that want to perform self-service tasks on an app and connect to an agent (without having to hold) only when an issue can’t be resolved using other channels.

Connect the dots, and people increasingly want to decide how they will interact with enterprises, not the other way around.


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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.