Why Mobile Customer Service Needs Clouds and UC
As everyone understands by now, UC is not just a single product or service, but is a combination of device independent, communication applications that can be used for both person-to-person contacts, as well as for direct interactions with automated business applications. UC is becoming more important because of the rapid consumer adoption of mobile smartphones and tablets, where the flexible choice of user interfaces from a single mobile device is more necessary than at a wired desktop.
So, while mobile users are all chasing the latest and greatest multi-modal smartphones and tablets of their choice, business organizations are just starting to realize its not just “employee BYOD” security that they need to be concerned about. Now that mobile consumers are more accessible to online, self-service applications, coupled with UC-enabled “click-for-live-assistance,” as well as time-sensitive, personalized alerts and notifications, the customer service bar has been raised for traditional contact center responsibilities. This approach will not only make overall customer services more accessible, flexible, and cost efficient, but it will increase customer satisfaction by providing more direct access to information.
Although virtualized, “cloud” based business and communication software applications have already been increasingly implemented for internal use by employees, moving mobile customer self-service applications to the “clouds” can provide greater operational flexibility and business performance benefits than legacy, premise-based call center technologies.
Public and Private “Clouds” to the Rescue
Self-service “mobile apps” that organizations want to offer mobile consumers for business needs must have the following characteristics:
- Have to be accessible from anywhere
- Have to accommodate all popular consumer mobile devices
- Have to have minimal impact on the user’s device, i.e., be extremely “thin” and not normally require downloading any software application changes to an endpoint’s software “client”
- Have to support mobile user choices for multi-media input/output interfaces (UC enabled)
- Be consistent with existing, online applications
- Where required, provide for authentication and encryption of any data or transactions that are involved in the application. This will be applicable for those applications that will be available only to authorized customers.
- Provide easy access to relevant community social networking between customers
- Last, but not least, be UC-enabled for a mobile user to flexibly escalate from any self-service application to access live assistance in any form of contact
(I’m sure there may be more requirements for different vertical market applications, but this just a basic top-of-mind list for what the customer will want.)
Given that “mobile applications” will be software based, they will constantly be changing and evolving. In addition, “consumer BYOD” means that there will be a variety of mobile and desktop devices and operating systems that must be served by a set of consistent versions of online applications. So, it won’t be just one software application that must interface to the customers and their smartphones, tablets, or laptops, but a matched set of every application that must also share the same databases in common. This makes the challenge of developing, supporting, and managing all self-service applications a lot more complex, and demands that such applications be centralized and location independent for mobile use.
Clearly, this means that “cloud” solutions, whether public, private, or hybrid, are the only practical approach to the challenge of universal BYOD. However, multi-modal mobility requirements also means that all self-service applications, whatever the medium chosen by the end user, has to be UC enabled in order to allow flexible contact with live assistance on demand. This will be particularly important, as mobile customers using online self-service apps, will often require the kind of technical assistance that employees get from a “Help Desk.”
Who is Going to Help Organizations Implement Customized Cloud-based UC-enabled Applications?
While there are many business benefits to be gained by providing UC-enabled mobile self-services through cloud-based applications, the real challenge is in how to do it. Not only is it complex, but also most organizations will never have the IT resources to take on all the ongoing responsibilities for developing, integrating, and maintaining all the customized software involved.
So, while we can all envision the future of business communications and the role of self-service applications, the technology tools must still be strategically applied by expertise outside of the organization. Such expertise has to come from support organizations that are directly familiar with operational needs, as well as knowledgeable about available technologies from more than one vendor. Gone are the days when a phone system supplier had all the piece-parts for business communications. Today, vendor channel partners, along with independent consultants, are becoming the trusted advisors for implementation planning, technology support, and ongoing management. They will not completely replace the role of internal IT staffs, but they can provide the basic services needed to move old premise-based applications into UC-enabled “clouds.”
Fortunately, most telephone system vendors, as well as the public carriers, have seen the “writing on the wall,” and are quickly moving to support the next generation of IP telephony, messaging, mobility, and UC through hosted/managed services that are “cloud” based. Not only are they developing the necessary software tools for such transitions, but are also helping their VARs transition to becoming qualified to implement and support customized business communications through “cloud” based application services. Take a look at our recent podcast discussion with 8x8 on this subject.
Stay tuned as this mobile UC evolution continues to increasingly impact the customer service market in 2013.