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Shaping Your Mobile Customer Service Strategy

Mobile is developing at lightning speed—literally by the day. It represents a serious threat to organizations that don’t evolve their services—but is a significant opportunity for those who shape strategies that meet or redefine customer expectations.

So, how do you get started? Let’s begin with a short note on definition. Mobile is often referred to as a “channel” in contact center circles... but it’s, of course, much more. Consider the sheer breadth of the mobile services many of us use daily: travel, banking, navigation, shopping, productivity, news, social, service and support, videos and photos, and communication, to name a few. (I recall getting briefed on a new line of smart phones, and the company engineer added this to the end of a long list of capabilities: “It makes calls, too!”) We carry in our pockets and purses enough connectivity and computing power to put yesterday’s mainframe computers to shame.

From a contact center perspective, mobile can enable new channels (e.g., interactions that begin within mobile apps), can be a seamless conduit to existing channels (i.e., phone, chat, social communities, and others), and can enable new combinations (e.g., texting a picture or short video to a support agent or insurance adjuster while reviewing the case with them). Mobile is a fast-evolving and vast ecosystem, and I believe we need to think of and manage it as such.

The following represent important aspects of strategy and planning when building out mobile services and support:

Anticipate evolving customer expectations. There are ten primary expectations customers have when interacting with organizations:

  • Be accessible
  • Treat me courteously
  • Be responsive to what I need and want
  • Do what I ask promptly
  • Provide well-trained and informed employees
  • Tell me what to expect
  • Meet your commitments and keep your promises
  • Do it right the first time
  • Follow up
  • Be socially responsible and ethical

Mobile can really shine when enabling combinations. For example, Moen, which provides a popular line of faucets, enables contractors to send pictures to support agents, who can provide on-the-spot assistance with specs and installations. Brainstorm the possibilities, put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and in that context think through how these expectations are evolving and where they are likely to go in coming months.

Update your customer access strategy. The ten components of an effective customer access strategy include:

  • Customers: How do you segment, serve and learn about them and from them? Some industry professionals are arguing that mobile creates new kinds of customer segments with unique expectations and needs, and I concur.

  • Contact types: This component anticipates all of the major types of interactions that will occur, e.g., inquiries, orders, policies, support, feedback, automated customer care notifications (for those who opt in), and others.

  • Access alternatives: This step identifies how mobile impacts both traditional communication channels (telephone, email, chat, self-service, et al.) and creates new alternatives (e.g., surveys, user communities, text-based interaction, and others).

  • Hours of response: Today’s mobile customers are “always on, always connected,” creating evolving perceptions of access and responsiveness. Many service teams are wisely wrestling with this issue and how to best respond.

  • Service level objectives: As with hours of operation, your service level objectives for agent-assisted interactions should be driven by the gravity of the conversations taking place and the responsiveness appropriate to your brand. In a mobile setting, shorter windows of time (and less tolerance for queues) are common.

  • Routing: What tools and processes do you need to identify, prioritize, and deliver mobile interactions to the right agents?

  • Agents required: This step identifies who will handle service issues for your mobile customers, how you will incorporate these agents into your structure, and the tools and support they will need.

  • Information required: What information on customers, products and services will need to be accessible to agents and customers? What information can and should be captured?

  • Analysis and business unit collaboration: This step defines how you will capture and share information that can help improve the organization’s products, services and processes.

  • Guidelines for deploying new services: This aspect of strategy summarizes technology architecture, investment guidelines (how plans must be analyzed for returns, etc.) and other overarching considerations.

Let me offer some advice around a mental cost hurdle: Don’t be afraid of opening up agent-assisted access. It may seem counterintuitive, but easy access to agents often builds confidence in and more use of self-service capabilities. The mobile app of one of the airlines I often fly provides easy alternatives for reaching an agent. I’ll always go as far as possible with self-serve, confident help is there if needed. Another carrier I fly makes reaching an agent from their app far less intuitive; their intent might be to avoid calls, but I tend to call sooner and more often, not wanting to start from scratch if something gets complicated. (See sidebar, Best Practices in Access Strategies.)

Best Practices in Access Strategies:

  • Provide communication channel options—give customers choices in how they interact.
  • Cultivate unified tools and processes—enabling a similar look and feel across channels contributes greatly to simplicity, effectiveness, and the overall experience.
  • Establish direct links and easy transitions between the channels—some channels are more suitable for evolving issues than others (e.g., agent interactions can sometimes benefit from providing on-the-fly links to web resources).
  • Enable easy connections to agents— being able to reach help without leaving an app can boost the experience significantly.

Forecast and staff for evolving workloads. Mobile impacts staffing resources, and different types of interactions each require a specific approach to resource planning. The five most common examples include:

  • Self-service. The requirement here is to be cognizant of how existing as well as emerging channels and interactions will be impacted. You’ll get fewer of some types of contacts, more of others. Perhaps most importantly, the content and complexity of interactions will evolve as mobile services mature.
  • Real time, with single response. In this example, the organization handles interactions as they occur (e.g., text or phone conversations initiated by customers), with one response generally being sufficient. These are service-level-type interactions, and the staffing approach is like that for traditional inbound calls.
  • Real-time, with multiple exchanges. In this case, the organization strives to handle interactions when they are initiated, and the dialog involves multiple back-and-forth messages. These are service-level-type contacts with staffing considerations like those of chat.
  • Interactions that can be deferred. This approach involves addressing inquires or issues that do not require an immediate response. In this scenario, staffing is response-time oriented, like that for email or outbound contacts that are scheduled.
  • Outbound. Here, the organization contacts the customer—in a mobile setting, often proactive through text or a call. Like traditional outbound calls, these interactions are easier to manage and incorporate than customer-initiated contacts, but must be staffed and managed nonetheless.

Uphold a strategy of quality management across all channels. The well-worn practices of monitoring, coaching and quality improvement for traditional channels should also be an inherent part of managing emerging mobile interactions. We’ve found that the majority of quality criteria apply across channels—you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Objectives such as identifying customer needs, delivering the right information and service, and accurately capturing needed and useful information are uniformly important. And remember in building your quality approach that the most powerful potential is in capturing information that enables you to improve your products, services and processes beyond the contact center. New ways of interacting with customers offer powerful additional opportunities for sharing strategic (cross-functional) intelligence.

Ensure your organization is aligned. I recall delivering an address for an executive level planning conference at a California-based health provider. The organization was working on a suite of mobile-based health management tools—really useful new apps. But they were being developed and launched largely independent of contact center involvement (different divisions, separate teams). The results were predictable: service misses and gaps.

As any seasoned contact center manager knows, even “self-service” tools impact virtually all types of customer interactions, including traffic patterns, handling times, the nature and demands of existing contacts (e.g., agents become de facto tech support for web and mobile services) and customer expectations. For all the potential and positive impact of these new capabilities, the rollout was creating new problems in service expectations and delivery. The solution? They created a cross-functional team with a comprehensive view of the customer experience, and then incorporated forecasting and planning activities into the ongoing rollout. The results improved quickly.

My overall message to contact center leaders is this: See mobile for the tremendous opportunity it is and don’t leave your approach to chance. Engage with your organization in creating and rolling out services your customers need and want; update your customer access strategy; restructure your organization as needed; and plan and manage workloads as they evolve. Though mobile initiatives can start out as self-service apps, they tend to quickly foster new ways to connect with, interact and serve customers. So, strategy is not a one-time project; it must be a living, ongoing part of service development.

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