Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are radically changing how customers interact with companies. Rather than being tied to their PC consumers are now demanding access to information anywhere and anytime, both for research and making final purchases. Businesses therefore need a mobile strategy to support consumer needs, with a seamless, high quality experience vital to winning and retaining customers.
Companies have to make key decisions on how they are going to deliver mobile service – do they adapt their existing websites so that they work across every device or create mobile apps focused on particular operating systems? And if they go down the app route do they build standalone customer service apps or integrate with other parts of the business? The answers to these questions will obviously vary from company to company and industry to industry, but what is vital is to put in place a customer-focused strategy now to ensure that mobile doesn’t leave you behind.
Showing the importance of mobile, the latest Gartner research, based on a survey of over 2,000 CIOs, forecasts an enormous increase in the number of mobile customer service apps. From just 200 in 2012 there will be over 1,200 by 2014, as companies extend their customer service to multiple devices. These apps will cover particular areas of customer experience, meaning that vendors need to make their CRM software open and easy to break into bite size chunks.
- Demand – what do customers want and what does the business need
- Supply – what staff and skills are available to manage external partners
- Control – who owns and manages the strategy
- Risks – what could go wrong and derail the strategy and what other factors could affect it
Consultancy IDATE predicts that there will be more people accessing the internet through mobile devices than PCs by mid-2014. As the centre of gravity on the web shifts, the companies that can deliver the right customer experience will flourish, while those that fail to embrace the new opportunities will see sales shrink. As Gartner points out now is the time for CIOs to develop a mobile CRM strategy if they want their companies to benefit from the mobile revolution.
Delivering the best service is often about understanding what makes your customers tick – recognising them, knowing their likes/dislikes, what channels they prefer to be contacted by, and even on a basic level whether they prefer to be addressed formally or informally.
In theory the huge amount of personal information now freely available online provides companies with the chance to deliver that personalised service. However at the same time as demanding improved service consumers are increasingly worried about the privacy of their online information and how it is used.
Balancing these two conflicting areas is difficult, as British Airways is currently finding. Last week the airline launched its “Know Me” system, which allows customer service representatives to access data about clients from BA’s systems, as well as information including photographs from the web. This is used at check in and by flight attendants with iPads to help identify travellers and deliver a personalised service to frequent flyers.
However it has flown into a storm, with privacy campaigners claiming that BA may be breaching the Data Protection Act by using web information in this way. The airline has hit back strongly, declaring that it is fully compliant with the law and is only using the information to improve service.
BA’s system seems to be a genuine attempt to use the resources around it to provide improved service, but the fierce criticism shows how difficult the whole area of using personal information is in the internet age. Companies need to be very sure that not only what they are doing is legal, but that it is something that customers are happy with – and if possible, have given their informed consent for. And, of course, that the improvement in customer service that it delivers is both real and long-lasting. Consequently customer service departments in companies in all sectors will be watching BA’s progress with great interest and seeing what lessons they can learn moving forward.
Delivering consistently high levels of customer service is a constant balancing act comparing resources against demand. While it can be relatively easy to deal with a small number of customers, when your sales increase you have to be able to scale customer service to cope.
This is particularly true when your product or service moves from just being used by savvy early adopters who are happy to work round issues (or even fix them themselves) to a more mainstream audience, who may not have any specialist knowledge and are traditionally more demanding when it comes to service.
A recent example of a consumer electronics company that has moved from a niche to mass market is Apple, which recently announced record sales. And, according to the latest US National Customer Service Survey report, while it continues to score well in some areas of technical support, in others it has slipped behind rivals such as HP and Dell. In the first six months of 2011, 58% of customers interviewed were ‘Very Satisfied’ with Apple’s phone based technical support, a drop of 15% since last year.
It is interesting to compare these results with the 2011 Eptica Multichannel Customer Service Study, which surveyed consumer electronics companies operating in the UK on how they responded to basic customer service questions via the web and email. It found a stark gap between the best and worst performing companies – while two companies could successfully answer 7 out of 10 questions online, the sector average was just 4.8 and one company only answered a single question satisfactorily. And only half of manufacturers let non-customers email them with queries – hardly an incentive to buy.
Given the fast moving nature of consumer electronics and the ever increasing complexity of products it is clear that manufacturers need to put the infrastructure in place that scales to keep pace with their success – otherwise their reputation and future sales will definitely suffer.