The explosive growth of smartphones and tablets has had an enormous impact on customer service and the customer experience. Mobile devices allow consumers to find information or interact with companies wherever they are. They make it simple to get in touch across multiple channels (from email and social media to voice and text), driving increased contact volumes. Always-on mobile consumers expect a seamless experience, across devices and channels, and if they don’t receive it will head to competitors with a tap of the screen.
And as mobile adoption increases so does the use of unstructured language, and new ways of interacting. For example, our own research tells us that a person will ask the same question in three different ways through three different devices. With mobile devices encouraging interactions on the move, people have less time to get their message across, which means an increase in unstructured language. Companies therefore need to look at technologies such as linguistics to understand the context and deeper meaning of questions.
Every year the telecoms industry gathers in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress (MWC), the annual conference and trade show dedicated to mobile devices and the networks they run on. So what are the big trends from the event, and how are they likely to affect customer service teams in the near future? I’ve picked four areas to focus on:
1 Smartphone growth isn’t slowing down
Research shows that over 50% of the population in Western countries now have a smartphone. At MWC, many companies unveiled handsets to target the remainder of the market, with companies such as Nokia, Samsung and Mozilla launching cheaper models. This means two things for customer service. Firstly, even more people will be contacting them through mobile devices, so they need to ensure the mobile customer experience is as seamless as possible. Secondly, mobile phone operators will have to cater for a new demographic of smartphone owners, with different needs and (potentially) levels of technical knowledge. Both of these add up to a greater mobile focus in the future.
2 Smartphones are getting bigger
The latest generation of smartphones have screens that are 5 inches or larger, making them easier to use for more complex tasks. This is likely to drive an increase in mobile interactions as consumers find it simpler to use their phones to contact companies while they are on the move. Already the smartphone has replaced the laptop as the primary communication device for many people, and this trend will accelerate. For example, it is much easier to type on a larger screen than on smaller version, so expect a greater number of consumers to send emails via their mobile devices.
3 The future is wearable
As technology gets smaller and easier to package, it is being incorporated into devices consumers can wear and use to control their world. From watches to bracelets, major manufacturers launched new products, following in the footsteps of the previously announced Google Glass. This technology has benefits and drawbacks for customer service. It provides the ability to instantly access information and use it in real-time, for example to identify customers and greet them by name, but also raises potential privacy concerns.
4 Everything is connected
It isn’t just phones or clothing that is becoming smarter. The Internet of Things, which will embed communications and intelligence in previously dumb products will connect people, companies and everyday objects. There were lots of announcements about connected cars at MWC for example. This raises expectations and means companies need to deliver a seamless experience across every device that interacts with a customer. To do this customer service will need to be more joined up, linking to information from lots more systems in real-time – such as smart energy meters, or wearable health devices.
As the news from MWC shows, the future will be increasingly based on mobile devices. This means organisations need to ensure that they are providing the right mobile customer experience across every channel if they want to attract and retain consumer loyalty.
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.