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What it Takes to Get Mobile Service Right

It’s official. As of this writing, there are an estimated 7 billion active mobile phone subscriptions—one for every living person on the planet, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Of course, the number can be misleading given that many people in developed regions have multiple devices, while others still do not have access. Even so, the proliferation of mobile, growing percent of the world’s population that has a device, and the prevalence of smartphones (at close to 3 billion) represent a breathtaking social and technological development. Ones that will forever change contact centers!

The impact on sales alone—never mind all the ways service is delivered—is stunning. Goldman Sachs estimates that 535 million consumers around the globe made a purchase on their mobile devices last year, which will grow to 686 million in 2015. By 2018, the number will reach 1.9 billion. 

If you manage a contact center, buckle your seat belt—this is getting interesting! You’ll find it no surprise that mobile represented the largest growth in access channel usage over the past year, according to ICMI research:

  • Mobile – 18.9%
  • Chat – 12.5%
  • Social Media – 9%
  • Video – 7%
  • SMS – 6.4%

Mobile is, of course, much more than just a channel (an issue reinforced by an interesting #ICMIchat discussion on mobile support). 

From a service and interaction 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)

So, how do you further your mobile strategy? How do you tackle this vast and fast-changing opportunity? 

Our encouragement is to start by getting your organization aligned. Ensure that everybody, across functional areas, is working towards the same objectives. 

I recall visiting a health care organization that was working on a suite of mobile-based health management tools—very 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. The solution was to create a cross-functional team with a comprehensive view of the customer experience, and then incorporate planning activities into ongoing developments. Customer experience improved quickly.

Once the organization is onboard and aligned, there are some emerging practices we strongly encourage, including:

  • Provide communication channel options. As feasible, give customers choices in how they interact. See, for example, two recent articles by Kevin Fredrick and Rich Pinnington on incorporating SMS. 
  • Cultivate unified tools and processes. Enabling a similar look and feel across channels contributes greatly to simplicity, effectiveness, and the overall experience. And be sure agents have the tools they need, a case Liz Osborn lays out well. 
  • 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). And your customers will have their preferences on how interactions progress—see Tim Pikcard’s article on personalized service
  • Enable easy connections to agents. ICMI recently found that 74% of customers use three or more channels for customer service related issues. Being able to reach help from where you are, e.g., an app, can boost the experience significantly.

As you think through your strategy, don’t be afraid of opening up agent-assisted access. It may seem counter intuitive, 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.) 

Mobile is an unprecedented opportunity to differentiate through service. Yes, restructure your organization as needed; update your customer access strategy; and plan and manage workloads as they evolve. But above all, ensure that strategy and planning in this fast-moving space is a living, ongoing part of your organization’s  development.