Mobile, Multi-modal Customer Self-Services – Less Talk And More Action!
The business communications world is changing dramatically, as the Internet, mobility, unified communications, and social messaging become part of the business process landscape for both internal and external end users. While there is great value in improving the efficiencies of internal “collaborative” communications, there is often even more value in improving interactions with consumers/customers for greater revenue generation. In particular, the role of the traditional contact center operation for customer services is changing with the rapid consumer adoption of multi-modal smartphones for more flexible access to information and people.
Smartphones, in effect, can now provide mobile consumers with a convenient way to access a variety of online applications (“mobile apps”) that can include customized business applications to support customer self-service needs as an alternative to always requiring real-time live assistance. The requirement for self-service applications, however, is that they all still require simplified and flexible access to live assistance whenever the customer runs into a problem or question, which can typically happen 30 percent of the time.
So, there are two basic challenges for any size organization interested in exploiting the new world of mobile self-service applications:
A convenient platform for easily developing, maintaining, and running such “mobile apps”
Providing integration with contact center customer assistance staff (wherever they may be located) through “click-for assistance” multi-modal contacts
“Different Customer Service Strokes For Different Folks”
Regardless of the type of business that an organization is in, there will still be a variety of customer services that must be offered. Some services can be “self-service,” some will require live assistance. However, every self-service application must allow for access to live assistance in the event that the customer has a question or runs into a problem with the self-service application. The basic concept for exploiting the growing number of online self-service applications, is that consumers will prefer to do things by themselves first, and, then, if necessary, access live assistance in their choice of contact.
By starting with an easy-to-use self-service application, there is then greater “contextual” history that customer-facing staff will see before interacting with the customer and thereby more efficiently handle the customer’s needs.
The differences in how customer assistance can be provided will be based on a variety of factors, including:
Different relationships – High-value customers, new prospects, customer-facing staff roles, etc.
Different assistance skill needs – Questions, information, transactions, problems with apps, complaints, mobile devices, authorization/approvals, etc.
Different modes of contact/response needs – “Click-to-chat/call/message/social post,” proactive automated notifications
Having the flexibility to provide services across all forms of interactions that next generation mobile consumers expect, when using multi-modal smartphones and tablets, can best be described as “Multi-modal Interaction Services.” This is what legacy call/contact centers must transition to in the future of customer service.
The Two Biggest Operational Challenges For Customer Service Management
Whenever you talk to contact center management, you always hear them voice concern about two primary operational performance metrics:
When the wired, voice-centric telephone was the fastest way to make contact for customer services, the “customer experience” was limited to how well and how fast live assistance could be provided to a caller. Pro-active notifications were also hampered by the fact that recipients were not readily accessible at a wired phone number and there was no guarantee of accessibility to a busy phone number, other than a voicemail message.
So, the “customer experience” became dependent on staffing resources and voice telephony accessibility to the customer. If the information the customer needed was extensive or complex, voice telephony was not an efficient medium for such delivery.
Of course, contact center management has always been concerned with having enough staff to support inbound call traffic. It also was concerned with training agents for efficiently handling different modes of customer contact. With the advent of smartphones, voice is not always the best choice of contact for a good “customer experience” and the flexibility of customer choice, based on their environmental situation and varying informational needs, dictates “multi-modal” solutions.
Self-service Mobile Apps in the “Clouds” to the Rescue
The two basic operational problems, satisfying varying “customer experience” needs and lowering the need for qualified agent staffing, can both be handled by minimizing the need for live assistance in the first place. In the past, when most consumers didn’t have PC or laptops to access information online, nor could they use such devices anywhere, any time, in any mode of interaction, real-time live assistance by telephone was the only way to keep up with customer needs. Today, however, as more and more consumers become mobile and “multi-modal” with personalized smartphones and tablets, it is time to exploit such capabilities to minimize those two key operational responsibilities related to contact center performance.
If, and when, live assistance is needed, it is most important to assign the right person to assist a customer. This has always been done in legacy contact centers with “skills-based routing” technology. However, unless you knew more about a caller and what they wanted, the routing decision was pretty crude. With legacy IVR applications, there was a limited amount of such information available, and most callers hated the time consuming limitations of IVR applications. Now, however, visual online self-service applications, can provide not only more utility to a mobile user, but can also provide more useful, up-to-the-minute, contextual information about the customer’s recent interaction activity and current status (e.g., location, mobile accessibility, etc.) for more selective routing intelligence.
With customer mobility, comes increased response accessibility. That means it is less necessary to service a customer assistance request instantly, even if it is for a voice conversation. The request can be instantly acknowledged with a message to the mobile customer, whether that request is done through a “click-for-assistance” or even as a traditional inbound voice call, and a live chat or voice call can be done at any time that the customer designates in response to the “acknowledgement” message.
What is also different, is that “cloud” based self-service applications can be more easily and cost efficiently implemented, integrated, trialed, managed, and changed in a “virtualized” environment, than a premise-based operation. Whether private, public, or hybrid, “cloud” implementations are particularly key to dynamically serving a variety of different mobile end users and customers. “Cloud” implementations also cost efficiently facilitate differentiated and personalized self-service applications, as highlighted earlier.
The “customer experience” is a two-way street, in that whatever the customer does interactively with a self-service application can be productively used to proactively suggest simplified access to appropriate customer assistance resources. This would improve the overall, personalized customer experience with self-services by bringing in options for live assistance as soon as the need is noticed, rather than wait for a customer reaction to trigger the request.
Mobile Customer Outbound “Notifications”
Another source of relief to the staffing problem is to exploit the increased accessibility to individual customers who can be notified of important situational or time-sensitive information. Again, consumer multi-modal mobility opens the door to such proactive “alerts” and “reminder” messages, but they can be done by automated business process applications, rather than by live agents.
Such notifications are really outbound messages, which can also provide links to interactive applications in online portals, as well as links to “click-for assistance” options in any mode of contact the recipient desires. The message can be created and delivered in text format, but can be retrieved with text-to-speech on demand if the recipient so desires, e.g., while driving a car.
Proactive notifications also help reduce inbound call traffic by avoiding more complex problems that would require greater customer assistance, if the situation were not attended to promptly. Needless to say, such service would also be viewed as improving the “customer experience.”
The Two Challenges in Developing Customized Mobile Customer Service Applications
As previously mentioned, all self-service applications for customers MUST allow convenient access to live assistance when the user runs into a problem or has a question. Such access doesn’t have to be in real time, nor does it necessarily require a voice connection. Depending on the circumstances, such assistance access can selectively be chosen by the end user. However, that choice must be easily supported by the application that is being used.
So, there is a need for an application tool that can create the mobile application in a “cloud” environment, can be accessed from a thin client on the user’s endpoint device, and can integrate with the contact center facilities for routing the request for assistance to appropriate customer assistance staff. This will also include capturing all necessary contextual information about the customer’s current use of the mobile app.
These requirements are often difficult for the user organization to implement, and offer value-add opportunities for channel partners to provide. However, having a platform for both cloud application development and easy integration with contact center functions, will be critical to making the task of application design, implementation and management much easier, faster, and cost efficient.
Support Mobile Applications with “Cloud” Services
Business communication applications have become more software-based and thus lend themselves to being integrated and interoperable and sharing common platforms and data like directories and user information. While networking hardware is still key to connectivity, Internet connections support all forms of data and communications access, rather than separating the media into different connection silos. This is why “unified communications” through multi-modal smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers are replacing voice-only telephones.
For self-service “mobile business apps,” they are best made available through ‘cloud” services, where they can be most easily implemented, integrated, trialed, managed, and supported. They can also be offered as shared, “multi-tenant” application processes that still use separate context data, or as “single tenant” applications devoted to a single organization or group.
From both a cost perspective, as well as an efficient, ongoing “time-to-market” implementation approach, we see new mobile, self-service applications being done in public and private “cloud” environments, rather than only on premise-based data systems.
Criteria for Selecting Mobile Application Developers
While there will always be some organizations that have adequate IT staffing to do their own mobile applications development and support, the fact is that most organizations won’t have such skilled resources and will have to rely on third-party expertise to develop and manage customer self-service applications and any integrations with customer assistance personnel. This will be particularly important for smaller organizations that will face the same type of demand from their customers as larger enterprises.
In selecting such third-party expertise, look for vertical market specialists who are partners with vendors who have the following qualifications:
Contact center experience
“Cloud” service offerings that are both reliable and secure
Mobile application development tools and experience
Efficient and simple integration of self-service applications with contact center staff resources
Ability to integrate with existing contact center operational management for a graceful migration to a variety of self-service applications
Where Do You Start?
It is not desirable nor necessary to “rip-and-replace” existing contact center technologies, since servicing new mobile customers can simply be an added service that should be integrated with existing resources and activities. As usage shifts, the old technologies can be replaced with the new for a graceful migration to the future of customer services.
Getting ready for the future will require doing some homework, which could well require third-party expertise for planning purposes.
- Identify new, high-priority mobile customer service use cases that can benefit from multi-modal self-service
- Keep existing online and IVR apps in place to serve current traditional desktop and telephony customers
- Find an experienced technology provider who specializes in complete software-based contact center applications, integration of premise and ”‘cloud” implementations, and has strong channel partner relationships for implementation support
- Work with objective consultants and trusted channel partners to plan, design, integrate, and trial mobile apps in a “cloud” environment. This will include reviewing current online and IVR apps that must now be updated for mobile smartphone users, but still need to be retained for non-mobile customers.
Customer services are in a state of transition from legacy telephony-based call center operations to the next generation of multi-modal self-services with flexible, “click-for assistance” to customer-facing staff. This means that all forms of customer interactions must be fully integrated at a device-independent level to support “Customer BYOD” for personalized, consumer business application needs in different vertical markets. Interactive Intelligence has long implemented core contact center technology from an "open” software based platform that lends itself particularly well to the new, “all-in-one” demands of mobile consumers with multi-modal smartphones and tablets. Their new software offering, Interaction Mobilizer, is a good example of simplifying the development and ongoing management of customized mobile self-service applications, coupled with critical, flexible access to live assistance.
Smart phones are rapidly replacing traditional wired and cell phones for business communications, and must now be viewed as the endpoints devices that consumers will use when interacting and communicating with service and business organizations. This means that mobile customers will have more flexible access to online self-service applications “mobile apps,” be more accessible to automated notifications and reminder messages, and will require more selective and flexible access to live assistance when they need it.
Customer assistance contacts are now rapidly shifting from traditional phone calls, using toll-free numbers, to “click-for-assistance” or voice commands from within self-service visual applications or voice/visual notification messages. Mobile customers will also need and want more choice and dynamic flexibility (Mobile UC) with the modes of communication used for interacting with live assistance, including various flavors of messaging, chat, voice and video connections, and co-browsing.
What will be fundamentally required by every organization that services mobile consumers is the ability to easily and rapidly create self-service apps for a variety of different customer needs, coupled with the ability to easily access and integrate with live assistance in a variety of interaction modes. This will require new platforms and application development and management tools that interoperate efficiently and cost-effectively.
While the limited capabilities of legacy IVR applications may still be useful for handling traditional inbound phone calls, the real benefits to the mobile “customer experience” will stem from offering the power of new, more personalized, multi-modal, self-service applications in hosted and managed “clouds.” This will also benefit customer service operations by minimizing support staffing requirements, providing more “contextual” information to customer–facing staff for better and faster responses and interactions, and reducing ongoing self-service application implementation support costs through “cloud” services.
Note: Mobile customer services are still evolving. Interactive Intelligence sponsored a new and interesting study of what customers want, as well as what customer service organizations were looking for in terms of information and communication technologies to support customer experience needs. To get the full report, go to: