How Amazon and Salesforce.com Are Shaping Mobile Customer Support
NOT WITHOUT COSTS
Video chat, for all its appeal, does come with a few downsides, though. For one, unlike text-based chat apps that allow agents to handle multiple conversations at once, the video chat experience is uniquely personal, with agents handling only one customer at a time.
The costs for deploying video chat are not trivial, either. In addition to development, equipment, and implementation costs, contact centers will probably need to reallocate and retrain staff.
"The people you put on video chat are going to be more expensive than the ones you put on [phone] calls," Dawson points out.
Video chat agents will also need to be in relatively quiet spaces that are free from the usual noise and clutter of traditional call centers. And then it's probably a good idea to have standards for how they dress—ideally, they should all wear uniform shirts with the same colors and corporate logo.
Companies might also need to hire a different set of agents who are "camera-ready," meaning they project the right tone through their facial expressions and body language, to staff the video chat channel exclusively. Agents who are great on the phone might not present as well on video.
"Agent skills are primary," Dawson says. "Not everyone can function well in [a video] environment."
Companies will need to ensure that their communications networks and infrastructures can handle video traffic. They will also want to integrate the video channel with their CRM systems and other customer communications channels, with unified reporting to understand inquiry patterns and optimize queuing, routing, and agent resources.
Furthermore, because video chat is a relatively expensive support channel, companies might want to limit the service to only their most valuable customers.
"Live video chat shouldn't be made available to everyone, but as a premium service to a select group of customers," Skaff says. "It behooves a brand to only offer it to its top-tier customers."
In fact, the service could almost be positioned as a unique reward. "For the highest level of loyalty programs, for example, a service-focused application that gives the customer faster, direct access to special customer service teams provides a really differentiated experience," Jacobs says. "The service app with dedicated service becomes a perk of being a good customer."
Skaff agrees that this is a good idea and recommends that brands limit in-app mobile live chat to loyal customers who have downloaded their mobile apps and use them regularly.
Experts also advise against jumping right into video chat. "Text chat should be your first step; then you can add video chat [later]," Skaff suggests. "Start small. You can always roll out more as you go further along."
Dawson also warns that a live video chat feature built into mobile apps isn't for everyone. "This is a fancy wrapper on a very basic service process. If your underlying service structures aren't very good, then the wrapper is not going to be much more effective than any other shiny object—just a distraction from flawed processes," he says. "If you’re going to call attention to your service capabilities through a central button, then your underlying process has to be bulletproof."
Skaff agrees. "Don't start something you can't sustain," he states emphatically. "Offering it and then not following through is really damaging to your brand."
WHY MOBILE? WHY NOW?
Still, doing nothing in the mobile space can be even more problematic. To illustrate just how important it is for companies to provide customer service through their mobile apps, Pew Research Center reported earlier this year that 64 percent of American adults now own smartphones. Worldwide, smartphone users numbered 2 billion at the end of 2014, and that number is projected to reach more than 5 billion by 2019, according to Forrester data.
Of those who own mobile phones, 63 percent claim to use them several times a month to seek customer support, according to a report by Software Advice, which was acquired by Gartner in March 2014.
As one might expect, mobile customer service was particularly important for younger consumers, with 77 percent of 18- to 24-year-old respondents using their mobile devices at least once a month to contact customer support. Three-quarters (75 percent) of 35- to 44-year-old respondents engage in the same behavior. Older adults (over the age of 65) were less likely to use mobile support, but even among that age group, 26 percent use mobile devices more than once a month to contact support.
"Across every part of business, the shift from desktop to mobile is opening tremendous opportunities for companies, and that's especially true when it comes to service," Salesforce.com's Patterson says. "Customers are more mobile than ever before, and they expect to engage with companies and products through these mobile devices, and that means through mobile apps."
And Salesforce.com has research to back this up. In its "State of Service" report, the result of a survey of 1,900 customer service leaders from around the world, it found that consumer behaviors and expectations continue to be reshaped by experiences on smartphones and connected devices. According to the report, service embedded into mobile apps is expected to at least double in the next 12 to 18 months. Additionally, mobile customer service apps are continuing to grow, with 56 percent of service leaders saying they will provide service and support via mobile apps for customers within the next two years.
And, when they do, video chat with screen sharing, annotation, and remote control of devices to perform tasks on behalf of the customer will be a primary focus, predicts Kate Leggett, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.
Dawson sees WebRTC as part of the bigger contact center technology shift as well. WebRTC, he says, "is the underlying mechanism powering Mayday, but it's more important as a way to add click-to-call functionality to smartphone applications and Web sites.
"WebRTC…is bigger than any one particular application for it, like Mayday or SOS," he adds.
Senior News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.