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Thrive in a Down Economy
Cut costs and improve customer service with self-service software.
Posted Feb 9, 2009
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Today's economy is causing many budgets to shrink. The evening news is rife with stories about decreased consumer spending and volatile markets. But what this trend means for call centers and mobile operators is not always clear. When reassessing their budgets, how will customers evaluate their mobile phones and providers, and what effect will this have on mobile operators and contact centers?

During difficult economic times, consumers often save their cash and make fewer discretionary purchases. Fortunately for mobile operators and contact centers, a 2008 Pew Internet and American Life Project report shows that customers place cell phones at the top of the list of technologies they can't live without. This fact does not, however, mean that mobile operators and contact centers are immune from tighter budgets and decreased spending. Consumers want more value for each hard-earned dollar, and this means that mobile operators must deliver a superior customer experience across all touch points.

Excellent service is also important as mobile operators shift their focus away from strategies to add customers and focus instead on retaining their current subscribers. As market saturation in developed markets such as the United States nears 100 percent, there are fewer and fewer new subscribers to reach. But efforts to retain customers are complicated by the need to keep costs down.

Lowering overhead

Quality customer service is crucial for customer retention. A recent study from the American Management Association shows that 68 percent of all customers who stop doing business with a company cite a bad service experience as their reason. This figure is especially relevant in light of the dizzying array of features and options on today's mobile devices that are supposed to add value and satisfy customers. But these more complex phones often overwhelm users, leading to feature fatigue. Customers want quality support and a seamless, relevant experience whether they are experiencing issues with devices, services, or billing.

Customer service providers need to find a solution that strikes the elusive balance between low overhead and happy customers. Simply replacing live agent support with IVR systems does not solve the problem and can frustrate customers. Yet, continuing to offer live support comes at a high and sometimes non-sustainable cost. Companies worldwide were projected to employ more than six million agents and spend more than $100 billion in customer care in 2008. In addition, estimates suggest that 200 billion calls are placed to customer service numbers around the world every year. An estimated one-third of these calls come from mobile phones, and the figure is expected to grow to two-thirds before 2010.

Providing excellent customer service and lowering overhead need not be disparate goals. For many mobile operators, self-service technologies bridge this gap. Self-service technologies can range from comprehensive Web sites to IVR systems. But as many frustrated consumers know, IVR systems and Web sites are often poor substitutes for live help if they are not designed with the customer in mind.

Improved self-service

Fortunately, a new form of self-service software is poised to dramatically change the way customers and mobile operators think about self-service. On-device self-service software enables customers to resolve many problems on their handsets by providing relevant, intuitive instructions to guide them through problems.

The software can also detect and proactively solve issues before users even notice they exist. It can also automatically update settings, such as those required for roaming, messaging, or data networking, to save time and satisfy customers. Subscribers can pay their bills, check remaining minutes, upgrade their data plans, and obtain information about their accounts-all directly on the handset.

Contact centers benefit

North American and European pilot programs have shown that self-service software can successfully solve 60 percent of customer issues on the device. The software allows operators to categorize customers into groups to present each caller with personalized tools, and can also automatically place a call to the correct customer support department for those customers wishing to speak to a live agent. Data already gathered on the handset is then routed to the CRM system for the support representative's use so that the customer doesn't need to repeat information.

These capabilities benefit customers and call centers alike. Live agents can focus more of their time on complicated problems that require human intervention, and are not overwhelmed by a high volume of unnecessary calls.

The trend towards tightening budgets shows no signs of reversing. To stay ahead and overcome the obstacles in today's economic climate, it is imperative that companies seek new technologies that satisfy customers, lighten the burden for call centers and their employees and lower costs. For many top companies today, self-service software answers this call.

About the Author

As vice president and general manager of Nuance On Demand, Mikael Berner is responsible for the overall leadership and direction of the Nuance On Demand business. Mikael has an extensive history of success in delivering innovative technology solutions to address new markets.

[For more on CRM amid the economic downturn, see the February 2009 edition of CRM magazine, The Recession Issue.]

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

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