Fifteen years ago, analysts and investors routinely asked companies, “What’s your Internet strategy?” Today they ask, “What’s your mobile strategy?”

The corollary to both questions was, “If you don’t have one, you’d better get one – fast.” Then and now, that advice is sound because it emphasizes the fact that consumers have new preferences for the way they interact with companies. Failure to accommodate those preferences often leads to, well, failure.


There’s ample research showing why mobile phones have quickly become an important customer service channel. Today, more than 80 percent of customer service calls originate from a mobile phone. In many countries, including the United States, more than half of the population now owns a smartphone. Meanwhile, consumers increasingly say they prefer self-service options when interacting with a company.


Considering that a mobile phone is a device that most people have with them at all times, a smartphone app is an ideal way for businesses, government agencies and other organizations to accommodate self-service preferences. But simply creating an app doesn’t guarantee a great experience for customers. Instead, organizations need to consider several factors when developing their mobile strategy.

First, even when a smartphone has a big screen, a physical QWERTY keyboard or both, many people don’t want to type their customer information and query. And when they’re driving or walking, typing is even less of an option.


Hence the appeal of a speech-enabled customer service app, which lets users simply speak their log-in information and question. Thanks to the popularity of speech-powered mobile assistants such as Siri on the iPhone, Google Now and Samsung’s S Voice, consumers are increasingly comfortable talking to their smartphone when they need information. Speech-enabled customer service apps leverage that familiarity.


Second, the key to a great user experience is selecting a flexible, feature-rich speech platform. For example, the ideal platform goes beyond the table stakes of speech recognition to provide Natural Language Understanding (NLU), which uses sophisticated algorithms to determine not only what the person is saying but also the intent.


Natural language understanding avoids the frustration that occurs when customers use a wide variety of vernacular terms rather than a limited set of industry terms. For example, suppose that a traveler launches her airline’s app and asks, “When does my plane leave?” instead of “When does my flight depart?” With NLU, the app can understand vernacular words and phrases, even ones that the platform has never heard before. This combination of flexibility and intelligence enables users to speak to the app as naturally as they would if they were talking with a live agent.


Without NLU, the app would struggle to find a match in its database because she didn’t use industry terms such as “flight” and “depart.” The app then would frustrate her by providing the wrong answer or by asking her to repeat herself. If she gets frustrated enough, she’ll probably close the app and call instead, eliminating the cost savings of self-service for the airline and eliminating the convenience of self-service for her.

That example also shows that businesses and other organizations have only one chance to make a first impression. That might sound cliché, but it’s also true. Consider the bottom-line impact when an app does a lousy job of meeting customer expectations for self-service. The organization now has to add contact center staff to field all of the calls that could have been avoided if the app were capable of meeting customer needs.

When a speech-enabled app meets or even exceeds customer expectations, it also provides another barrier to churn and all of the costs that come with turnover. A great app also leverages the enormous amount of bad customer service apps in the marketplace by helping that organization stand out from the pack.

In fact, across all types of free apps – from customer service to games to news – the abandonment rate is 95 percent within the first 30 days after the user downloads them. To avoid that fate, organizations should speech-enable their customer service apps to ensure that they deliver the right answer right away, which is key for providing the kind of value that will keep users from abandoning their app – and even abandoning as customers.

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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.