Want to Put Customers First? Go Mobile First

I was amazed—and amused—to learn that we are more likely to report the loss of our mobile phones BEFORE the loss of our wallets. Amazed because my wallet is my life, and amused because I realized my phone is, well, my life. For my money (and apparently yours), this is a ringing endorsement of the critical nature of personal communications to our work and personal lives. It is very reasonable, then, to conclude that where personal communications goes, so does communication with businesses and service providers.

In the telecom industry, savvy marketers are beginning to embrace the role of customer retention with as much enthusiasm as acquisition, and are finding that the mobile platform is their new BFF. The key to this mutually beneficial relationship is designing for mobile first. This demands a different approach for marketing, sales, and service, grounded in connecting with customers where they are—and that just isn't in front of the PC anymore. If you don't believe me, perhaps you'll be persuaded by Google chief Eric Schmidt: He is the one who coined the term "mobile first" and the guy who believes we are seriously missing a trick if we ignore the most exciting opportunity in customer contact since the 800 number.

With the stratospheric rise in smartphone penetration, one would think businesses would be breaking land speed records in the drive to make it as easy as possible for customers to interact with them via mobile channels. You would be wrong, though. It seems to be that most firms are still treating the mobile Web as an afterthought at best, or not at all. And that is a major tactical error.

We are entering the age where we can be with customers 24/7, and that is going to be both a privilege and a responsibility. While some companies are managing the relationship well, proactively offering increasing functionality and support to customers via a mobile Web platform, others continue to make just a few tasks available, as though customers will not expect to interact directly with companies through the sophisticated PC they call their phone, simply and completely. Any firm that is committed to creating great customer experiences must take steps now to flip its contact strategy to mobile first.

One major telco has taken the concept of putting customers first to a new level, undertaking an enterprise-wide "lifestyle change" represented by a renewed and steely determination to be the most recommended company in the markets it serves. The company is making changes across the board, in every function, involving everyone. Its capex and opex decisions are far more grounded in the customer than ever before, and one of the best examples of that is its continued investment in mobile Web.

The telco's research confirmed that customer effort is a very strong predictor of customers' likelihood to continue to do business with the company, give it more business, give it all their business, and, ultimately, recommend it. The company's mobile first strategy is entirely supportive of its ambition: making it easy for customers to get and stay connected to their world. The firm is changing the nature and duration of the customer contact experience by building functionality that not only matches the online and contact center experiences, but exceeds them. Early results are confirming the importance of easy access, simplicity, and reliability to customers using the mobile Web. The best news of all? It's paying its way. Call deflection numbers are encouraging and fueling the rollout of additional functionality and services.

With clarity around the company's number one priority, delivering on its future-friendly brand promise, the telco's customer service team quickly established three guiding principles essential to superior customer experience—superior in this case meaning simple, bulletproof, and complete—principles that I'd recommend to any organization that wants to pursue a mobile first strategy:

1. Ubiquitous accessibility: no device left behind. Despite the extraordinary rise in smartphone ownership, the telco continues to support significant numbers of feature phones. Smartphones provide a considerably better experience, but the company's call center volumes reflect significant numbers of non-smartphone requests, making the potential benefits to customers and the company's costs much greater. The firm chose software that allowed it to "gracefully adapt" the application so that all customers, regardless of device type, could participate—demonstrating that every customer counts.

2. Low effort + rich experience = app addiction. The telco's voice of the customer data clearly showed that customers expect the company to respect their time and understand their needs. The firm knew it had to build an easy-to-use, clean, and appealing experience that balanced rich functionality and simplicity in order to earn customers' trust and consistent usage.

3. It's a journey—steadily increase performance and adoption. Launching the mobile channel was the first step; the next steps will continue for the foreseeable future. Adoption is an ongoing program, internally and externally, and continuous improvement of the mobile site is always on the team's to-do list.

And what of the company's goal of being the most recommended company in the markets it serves? The telco has posted extraordinary improvements in likelihood to recommend in its consumer business in the past year, attributable to a variety of improvements the company is making, including its drive to mobile first. It's also making operational efficiencies a reality in its business. The company has seen a marked improvement in repeat calls in the past six months in its wireless care operation alone. With more than 20,000 (and growing) daily log-ins, customers are voting with their adoption rate and telegraphing their approval of this new way of interacting with the firm.

That's welcome news for those in the call center industry. We were promised a dramatic fall in call volumes with the advent of online and, to a certain extent, operators did see some benefit. However, it was not nearly in line with the business case predictions—a painful lesson for call center management and for customers, as service-level improvements fell short of expectations.

One of the reasons for the gulf between business case and reality was the failure to understand the complete journey from a customer's point of view. An online experience that is not simple or complete makes it necessary to seek assistance from—you guessed it—the call center. Mobile Web is different. Its immediacy and accessibility make it more customer-friendly. With thoughtful design, an eye on channel interoperability, and an obsession with robust performance, mobile Web will most certainly be the savior of call centers and of customer experience. And that's really putting customers first.

Telecom consultant Carol Borghesi has more than 30 years' experience helping companies address customer experience and customer advocacy issues. She is founder and principal of Customers First Culture, a consulting firm that helps companies put customers at the heart of what they do. Previously, she has held positions at Canadian telecom company TELUS, British Telecom, and Bharti Airtel.

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