Published: May 28, 2014 | Comments
Consumer adoption of mobile applications for a wide variety of products and services is exploding, fueled by the penetration of smartphones and the role they've established as a primary way of being connected. While large organizations have long offered a mobile application to provide customer support and enhance the customer experience, small and medium sized organizations are increasingly offering mobile applications to their customer bases as well.
Well-designed mobile applications are an excellent way to present content to customers, build brand awareness, initiate low-cost marketing activities, and provide a variety of self-service options. These are the classic use cases for a large number of mobile applications currently available. However, agent-assisted customer service is increasingly being adopted in these applications.
We believe that mobile applications present an almost incomparable opportunity for effective and efficient customer engagement. Customers are largely accustomed to using their smartphones for text-based conversations using SMS and other Social Networking applications. This same paradigm, if well implemented, can create a seamless interaction channel from within a mobile application.
While this type of interaction is most akin to a classic chat interaction, there are some very important differences:
Timing - A customer's expectation of smartphone interactions is largely shaped by their use of messaging either via SMS or a Social Media application. Therefore, they'll most naturally expect to be able to send a message, receive a response and then have some flexibility as to the timing of their next response. This is somewhat different from a typical chat interaction launched from a desktop, where it is generally expected by both parties that a conversation will move quickly.
Format - Customer expectations of the style of interaction will vary. Some will think of it in terms of several short messages (like SMS), while others will tend to write rather longer messages that are more similar to a short email. These will have servicing implications, particularly when also considering that there may be long gaps without a reply from the customer.
The most important rule of creating a good customer experience is that you must be flexible enough to serve your customers in they way the prefer, instead of asking them to yield to your processes. By allowing a customer a relatively broad level of flexibility it becomes difficult to manage these interactions as you would a more traditional chat session. If a conversation spans hours or even days, it is obviously not possible to allow one single agent to handle the interaction. Nor is it practical to have an agent keep a session open waiting for a reply, even if they are simultaneously servicing other sessions.
Here are a few tips from our experience providing service to this new generation of customer interactions:
Be Adaptive - We've found that keeping a chat active with a particular agent while awaiting a reply for a short amount of time works well. If no reply arrives, then it may be placed in a queue while awaiting a customer reply. When the reply comes, it may be assigned to the original agent (if available) or a new agent.
Focus on the Experience - There are numerous ways to enhance the service experience, depending on the type of service being supported. Assuming the customer had to log in to the application, it's essential that the customer's information be passed to the agent. Beyond that, we'd suggest treating the response service level targets similar to chat - even if the conversation is asynchronous on the customer's end.
Application Design - Informing the customer of what they can expect from the in-app service experience (including limitations, if any) is an important framing device to set expectations. In addition, notifications create a much better experience than requiring a customer to check the application for a reply.
These operational challenges can, to a large extent, be solved through a mixture of good process and supportive technology. Ultimately, effectively providing service for the next generation of mobile applications requires a shift in thinking. Organizations willing to innovate will be rewarded with cost benefits and an improved customer experience.