In 2011, we truly became a connected world—a world in which it is a rare occurrence to find ourselves cut off from others. This has now extended to every facet of our lives. Gartner predicts that mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide. Wi-Fi is so widely available in major metropolitan areas that most tablet users don't even need a wireless data plan. Tablet sales grew 264 percent in 2011 over the previous year, and this year, Yankee Group is predicting the sale of almost 25 million tablets in the United States. Mobile devices are showing up in a range of locations and instances—mobile- and Internet-equipped automobiles, Smart Meters to provide near instantaneous readings of actual energy usage, Wi-Fi-equipped flights, and more.
What all this translates to is an increase in the demands consumers and business users are placing on the companies they engage with, both in terms of the interaction channels and availability for accessing customer service. These connected devices are becoming the preferred communication medium for many, and in 2012, we'll see these smart devices start to replace the call center as the primary interaction channel.
It won't happen all at once, and not everyone will prefer this channel, but the benefits for both consumers and businesses are compelling enough that both will contribute to a major communication shift. Businesses want to strengthen and improve customer relationships; customers want the most value out of their products and services for the least amount of money. For this to occur in a competitive market, businesses need to not only provide that value, but to make it visible to the customer as well.
Meeting Customer Needs in 2012
With smartphone traffic on wireless networks expected to increase 700 percent over the next five years, according to research by Morgan Stanley in 2010, customers will look to this channel as the primary communications portal for services and communication for several reasons:
- Maximized value. A key benefit of customer service on smart devices is that the devices offer greater transparency into the value customers are receiving and products/services that are offered. Apps on these devices have the capability to offer tailored plans, products, and promotions, based on their data usage, plan features, and what they may find valuable based on past behavior and preferences. For example, if a customer has gone over her text messaging limit for a few months, a smart app can make the recommendation that it would be beneficial to upgrade to unlimited text messaging. Customers who purchase certain pay-per-view programs could receive a recommendation to upgrade their service to include one or more premium channels. The result is the delivery of relevant and tailored offerings.
- Information accessibility. It's not enough just to offer a mobile channel—mobile applications create an opportunity to provide greater access to information customers need. When calling a call center, customers depend on an agent to tell them something or give them access to certain information. On mobile devices, customers can access billing information directly, troubleshoot and fix issues, view "how to" information on features and services, or ask questions.
- Powerful search capabilities. Smart devices not only enhance accessibility, but they also improve the method of interaction—particularly when customers seek to troubleshoot a problem or find answers to their questions. The benefit of touch, type, and talk capabilities that smart devices provide is that customers can use the method that is most convenient for them at that time—and it may be a blended method. To be most effective, the mobile search options need to have a certain level of understanding. Intelligent apps will take what someone speaks or types and translate that to what the intent was based on deep knowledge of the customer. This results in the presentation of the correct answer or a significantly narrowed set of menu options.
Business Benefits in 2012
In today's crowded market, companies are struggling to differentiate themselves from their competitors; in many cases, the playing field is level when it comes to products, services, and pricing plans. Increasingly, customer service is becoming a key driver for organizations looking to distinguish themselves by providing unique and effective customer experiences. Smart devices have changed how consumers communicate with one another and the companies with which they do business. Companies that recognize this change and create customer service strategies and tools that leverage these connected devices will have a real opportunity to impact their bottom line and retain and grow their customer base.
- Customer loyalty. By connecting with customers on the go, companies create a sense of customer loyalty, which translates to retention as customers choose to stay with the company, and ideally grow in what services they use, products they buy, and the amount they spend.
- Call deflection/cost reduction. Calls previously handled by contact center agents are addressed directly by consumers through direct access to information and troubleshooting tools and diagnostics. This will also aid in driving down costs.
- Consistency across all interaction channels. By keeping information up to date and consistent through a smart mobile app, customers receive the same answer regardless of channel. This enables a deeper understanding of customer relationships (types of products and services they use, current location, past usage, payments, preferences) to deliver a tailored and personalized experience.
In today's business environment, there's a heightened need to remain competitive. New and innovative smart devices are hitting the market rapidly, and consumers are looking to them as the primary communication hub for all of their services. Blind loyalty cannot be expected, as customers know they have choices and will prefer to do business with those companies that can enhance the user experience and meet their needs when and where they are expecting it. As smart devices—tablets, smartphones, etc.—gain widespread adoption, and providers offer rich service features on the go, call centers will become a secondary mode of communication, no longer preferred by the masses.
Scott Kolman is senior vice president of marketing at SpeechCycle, a provider of customer self-service solutions. For more information about SpeechCycle, visit www.speechcycle.com or follow it on Twitter.