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The Mobile Customer Service Marathon: An ICMI Research Guide

What is your competition doing about mobile? Do you have a Mobile Customer Service Strategy? What technology platforms are your agents using? How involved is the contact center in the mobile planning? Most importantly, what do your customers expect from mobile customer service?

In late 2012, ICMI wanted to find out these answers! So, we surveyed our community to get insight on how mobile was being managed within the contact center. This ICMI Research Guide features highlights and results that were published in our 2013 whitepaper, “Build a Mobile Customer Service Strategy”, and gives a preview into our upcoming research release sponsored by USAN, “Leveraging Emerging Channels to Improve the Customer Service Experience”.

Great mobile customer service requires the mindset of a marathoner, and by following the direction from some industry leaders, and using the benchmarking data from recent ICMI research, you’ll be best positioned for YOUR mobile marathon.

As smartphone adoption increases, so does the demand for mobile customer service. "Mobile is the killer channel for customer service!” says Kim Martin, Director of Marketing for Voxeo, the underwriter of our mobile research and a leading provider of hosted and on-premise platforms for mobile and multi-channel customer care.

A solid plan is imperative for any new channel implementation, and mobile support is no exception.  You can’t just expect to sprint to the finish without a little training so that you can successfully go for the long-haul distance. Since we don’t yet know the future of mobile, or the evolution our customer service offerings will take for this channel, it’s imperative to lay out a solid plan.

A Mobile Customer Service Strategy can provide benefits that extend beyond the implementation and set the contact center and the company up for continued success.  This week we’ll highlight some of the key benefits that contact center leaders can expect to gain by putting the time and attention into building such a plan.

Don’t just take it from us though! A maturity model for benchmarking mobile customer care was recently released by Ovum, and in it, Principal Analyst Keith Dawson mentioned that businesses developing mobile applications need three qualities – clearly defined ownership of the mobile roadmap, executive support to integrate customer care, and a unified multichannel interaction strategy.

Insight into Customers and the Competitive Landscape

The first benefit that contact center leaders can gain from a Mobile Customer Service Strategy is a better understanding of what customers expect, and what services the competition is already providing.

We know for certain that mobile is changing customer service, and mobile users seem to like it that way. Research from Forrester and other analysts shows that customers want to “stay on the glass” when they need assistance.

When reviewers of the mobile survey were asked the question “Are your customers actively asking for mobile customer service?” a sizable (38.1%) number answered the affirmative. While this isn’t yet the majority, it is a significant enough percentage in this early stage of mobile customer service, that companies should take notice and take a look at their own customer base.

Due to their instant access to information, the mobile customer is considered to be incredibly informed. They are also thought of as less accepting of impersonal service than the traditional channel customer. This can lead to higher customer expectations, which was evidenced in the 36.2% of mobile research respondents that felt mobile customers did in fact expect a higher level of service than their counterparts. When we asked the same question in the April 2013 emerging channels survey, 42.1% answered the affirmative.

Other demands of the mobile customer include:
• Faster response times
• More customized visuals (like maps and illustrations)
• Personalized service
• Immediacy of information
• Instant connectivity to an agent when needed
• Options for “Their Time, and Their Channel” mentality
• Single Sign-in to all channels

Overwhelmingly, most companies from both surveys felt that a Mobile Customer Service Strategy is a competitive differentiator for them. 61.8% reported so in December, while 63.3% did in 2013.

Even though 41.9% of emerging channel survey participants felt they would lose customers without mobile customer service options, only 2/3 are actually supporting mobile as a channel. The good news is, this is up considerably (38.8%) from our findings late last year.

Some industries like travel, retail and financial services have shown to be front-runners in the implementation of mobile support, but that doesn’t mean others should lag behind. When smartphone users get a taste of great mobile support in any industry, they will start to anticipate it in all.

To reiterate, the race to successful mobile customer service IS a marathon. There are many miles (qualities) to complete before the implementation of such a vital channel should be executed.


Ownership of the Mobile Customer Service Strategy

Is your contact center involved in the strategy process for mobile? Do you see the value in mobile customer care, but wonder how to get your executives to sign-off?  ICMI research data can be one of the coaching tools you use along your marathon route to prove that the contact center should be involved in mobile planning from the beginning.

The Mobile Customer Service Strategy should be used as a tool to convince stakeholders, and act as a guide to properly implement mobile support. By understanding the resources, budget, customer expectations, business needs, and technology, companies can avoid the common pitfalls of implementation. Those contact centers that get involved early in the planning and support of the Mobile Customer Service Strategy will have the best opportunity to provide a desired customer experience.

The contact center plays a vital role in the success of a Mobile Customer Service Strategy, yet according to our mobile research, they are not involved 30.9% of the time. It was promising to see that more centers are part-owners of the Strategy - both planning and support (39.0%), while another 26.9% claim to have responsibility for one or the other. This is encouraging, although the shared support is proving to be a challenge for many contact centers.

The shared ownership of the Strategy may account for some of the reasons why 42.1% don’t yet have a plan in place. Depending on a company’s internal communication and hierarchy, each department may be approaching the Strategy from a different angle. IT/Software appears to have majority ownership (53.7%), followed by Marketing (45.5%).  The other key departments of Customer Support (34.3%), Product Management (27.3%), Sales (23.1%), and the C-Level Executives (21.1%) all record strong ownership of some of the Strategy which again implies that there are a lot of competing agendas. Only Finance (8.7%) and the catch-all “other” (7.4%) had percentages in the single-digits.

It stands to reason that some of the 42.1% that do not have a Mobile Customer Service Strategy for this year do indeed appreciate the need, as only 11.7% of total respondents said their companies did not rank mobile as a priority in 2013 planning. In fact, 43.1% say that it is either a top priority for their firm or at least equivalent to other new initiatives in the upcoming year. Over 32.0% of respondents expressed interest in mobile, but were still ranking it or working out how to start planning for it. 13.1% had no idea where it fit into their company’s plan.

Almost all choices for the question “What are the 3 primary reasons your company is motivated to implement a Mobile Customer Service strategy?” generated double-digit percentage responses. The most-selected was that of improving customer satisfaction (51.9%), with increasing customer loyalty (50.2%) not far behind. Rounding out the Top 5 at a significantly smaller percentage rate were lower cost (30.3%), customers asking for mobile support (28.1%) and a better experience for mobile customers (25.5%).  It is again clear that the customer experience is at the pinnacle of the Strategy impetus.

When we again asked this question in April 2013 as part of our USAN sponsored “Emerging Channels and Customer Engagement Research Study”, the primary reasons had shifted a little. Increasing customer loyalty now came out on top (39.5%), with improvement to customer satisfaction (36.5%) and customers asking for mobile support (35.7%) showing up as numbers two and three.

Despite the variances in the research results, it’s clear that the customer is the impetus for the Mobile Customer Service Strategy. Supporting this notion is the fact that over two-thirds (67.7%) in the mobile study answered in the affirmative when asked if “mobile customer service options would improve the overall experience for mobile customers”. An almost equal percentage said, ‘yes’ (65.9%), in the emerging channels survey.

Executive Buy-In

As with most initiatives that impact the customer experience and necessitate technology investment, the buy-in of senior executives is probably required. The data ICMI uncovered and wrote about in their 2013 report “A Mobile Customer Service Strategy: The Contact Center, the Agent, and the Challenges of Implementation” strives to provide contact center leaders the data they need to secure executive-level sponsorship in order to create and implement a successful Mobile Customer Service Strategy.

According to the research, almost half (46.2%) of respondents don’t know if there is Executive buy-in on the Mobile Customer Service Strategy, while another 22.1% are certain they don’t even have it.

In order to effectively implement the Strategy, Executive buy-in will ultimately be required. When asked what else Executives need to see, the top responses were:
• ROI to the organization
• Better options for cloud services to reduce internal costs and maintenance
• Budget
• More concrete and verifiable data
• Recent case studies showing value and usage
• Impact on contact center resources
• Potential cost savings and call reduction
• Best practices for mobile customer service

Technology Investment Guidance

Along with a good training plan, most marathoners rely on some standard tools to make the miles go by more effectively and efficiently. Proper shoes, good nutrition, and a great hydration system are usually paramount for a successful race. In a mobile marathon, tools (technology) are just as important.

Arguably, the most important piece of technology for mobile customer service is a unified platform that combines the entire customer experience across any combination of voice, text messaging, mobile web, smartphone and social interaction channels.

It may sound counterintuitive to not consider the mobile app as the first piece of necessary technology, but it is imperative for companies to understand that mobile customer support extends far beyond communication through a mobile web app or native/smartphone app. Any customer that requires customer service directly from their mobile device is a user of mobile support.

Tobias Goebel, Director of Mobile Strategy for Voxeo, agrees. "True mobile customer care is about much more than just saying 'we now have an app'. A holistic approach will include other mobile technologies like SMS, Location-Based Services, or outbound IVR, and linking or combining the channels to utilize each for what they are best suited for.”

Ovum Principal Analyst, Keith Dawson also iterated the need for a unified multichannel interaction strategy. “Companies have to provide a sensible way to manage the transitions between apps, browsers, and phone calls, or risk a disconnected interaction that forces the customer to repeat steps.

This may sound daunting, but once again we encourage a Mobile Customer Service Strategy to eliminate poor decisions and guesswork.

Fewer and faster steps by the customer inevitably can lead to greater satisfaction. The right multi-channel technology platform aids an organization in accomplishing many of their KPI goals, such as metrics like higher FCR, containment, and CSAT.

It’s not solely about the customer though. Contact centers need to look at the desktop systems used by agents as well.  In the upcoming webinar sponsored by USAN, “Customer Engagement: The Agent’s Value to the Multi-Channel Contact Center," we’ll dive more into how the agent’s experience with all the disparate channel tools is impacting the customer as well.

From our emerging channel research, we discovered that only a third of respondents have a unified desktop platform in place for their agents. And of the 59% that still have agents toggling, almost half are doing so between 4-9 different systems! This is without a doubt impacting agent morale and engagement, which then directly decreases the holistic customer experience.

And contact centers realize this. In the same emerging channel survey, when companies were asked what the three primary reasons were that they were motivated to implement a unified agent desktop system, almost half responded with “improve FCR”. Improving the overall agent experience came closely behind at 44.4%, and speeding response rate to customers (40.7%) was third. Clearly, companies see and appreciate the value in tying the agent and customer experience together.

Martin from Voxeo said it best, “Effectively implementing a Mobile Customer Service Strategy takes an understanding of how to build and manage customer relationships in an evolving, multi-dimensional communications landscape. It’s not enough to simply give customers new ways to interact with your business. Customers expect a unified experience and superior service regardless of the communication channel.”

When asked why they didn’t have a unified system in place to handle all customer service channels, contact centers responding to the emerging channels survey predominantly (49.7%) said that it was because of a lack of budget.  Again, it all goes back to the Mobile Customer Service Strategy.

Create the Mobile Customer Service Strategy training plan. Understand what your customers want, what your competitors are doing, and what your company is building. Get involved in the ownership so that you can get the budget and buy-off you need, and the technology you require. By preparing correctly, your mobile marathon will be a medal-worthy success.

Welcome to the mobile marathon.

If you are interested in learning more about building a Mobile Customer Service Strategy, please download the whitepaper, check out the webinar, or purchase the complete research report from ICMI and Voxeo.

You can also learn more about emerging technologies and the agent’s impact on customer engagement in the upcoming webinar sponsored by USAN, “Customer Engagement: The Agent’s Value to the Multi-Channel Contact Center.”