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Mobile Phones
The new platform for secure, two-way customer interaction.
Posted Jun 1, 2007
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Customer interactions take place through a variety of delivery channels that have emerged over time. From call center agents, IVR, and online services, each new delivery channel has provided customers with greater convenience and increased flexibility to obtain information, conduct transactions, and access customer service. What's the next step in secure, two-way customer interaction? With over 229 million U.S. subscribers, the answer seems to be mobile phones. Owned by an astounding 76 percent of the United States population, mobile phones are more pervasive than the Internet and more readily available. Just as the Internet began as a communication medium and evolved to become a customer interaction channel, the mobile phone is likewise moving beyond voice communication and is poised to change the landscape of customer interaction. Existing channels for phone-oriented customer interaction work poorly on mobile phones. Using an IVR on mobile phones is a frustrating experience, as is waiting on hold for a live agent. Recent efforts to apply online services to the mobile phone through wireless access protocol (WAP) have failed due to numerous problems, including small screen size, too many keystrokes, unwieldy navigation between windows, and difficulty inputting alphanumeric usernames and passwords. Could messaging be the key to unlocking the power of transactions over mobile phones? Consider that according to CTIA--The Wireless Association, Americans sent 48.7 billion text messages in the last half of 2005, more than double the amount sent in the same period in 2004. Additionally, at $35 billion a year, text messaging accounts for 90 percent of carrier nonvoice revenue, according to a 2005 Harris Interactive study. Recently introduced technology creates a new two-way channel between mobile phone customers and the companies they have accounts with, including financial institutions, retailers, and local merchants. Using any mobile phone's existing messaging capabilities, this technology enables customers to directly access their accounts with these companies directly and concurrently empowers these companies to directly contact their customers. Avoiding the operational nightmare of loading new client-side software for the over 12,000 different handset configurations, this technology operates on any messaging-enabled mobile phone, regardless of carrier, manufacturer, operating system, or platform.
This mobile customer interaction channel gives customers the ability to securely retrieve account balances from their bank, confirm transactions from a retailer, pay bills from their electric company, or receive promotional coupons from local merchants--all done safely and securely via text messaging or wireless email without relying on live agents, IVR, or online channels. Customers can even reach customer service without waiting on hold by sending a text message ("call me") to companies, which inserts them into the call queue. Customers receive an automated reply informing them of when to expect a call back. For customers, this eliminates the annoyance of waiting on hold while their cell phone minutes waste away. For businesses this reduces 800-number and infrastructure costs, improves operational efficiency, and increases customer satisfaction. Additionally, the mobile customer interaction channel can be used to actively involve customers in preventing fraud and identity theft. For instance, a potentially fraudulent activity like the creation of a new bill-pay payee or credit card or check transaction would automatically trigger an actionable alert to be sent to the customer's mobile phone. The customer would then send a text reply to approve or deny the transaction, or to request additional information. The transaction will not proceed without the customer's active participation and approval. These two-way, actionable alerts will help companies reduce losses from fraud and identity theft, and greatly improve customer service. Retail banks have been the first industry segment to embrace mobile customer interaction, affirming studies showing that customer demand exists. According to eMarketer, for instance, 40 percent of U.S. adults would access or manage bank accounts from their mobile phone. A 2005 Forrester study revealed that one in four customers would consider switching banks if offered free mobile banking. A study by the Henley Centre showed that over half of customers aged 18 to 24 wanted to receive text alerts about their account balances, 39 percent of 25- to 44-year-olds wanted text overdraft warnings, 29 percent wanted to text requests (e.g., to transfer funds) to their bank, and 26 percent wanted to receive text reminders for credit card payments. Clearly, with today's increasingly mobile customers and the requirements for greater security in the face of identity theft and online fraud, optimizing any mobile phone for two-way customer interaction is a growing need to which financial institutions, retailers, and other businesses must respond. Simply put, there will be no choice but to provide account access, transaction capabilities, and other customer services on the most pervasive platform in the world. Mobile phones are the logical next step in the evolution of two-way customer interaction, and leveraging any mobile phone's existing messaging functionality is the ideal approach for enabling it. About the Author Joseph Salesky is CEO of ClairMail. Please visit www.clairmail.com.
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