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High Priority!
August 2001
 

Rich Tehrani Customer Service In The Palm Of Your Hand

BY RICH TEHRANI
GROUP EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, TMC

[ Go Right To: TMC Launches Planet PDA Into Orbit ]


Had I asked 100 people five years ago if they or anyone they knew had a PDA, I probably would have gotten 99 blank looks. "PDA? What's that? The Preventive Dentistry Association? Public Defenders of America?"

Yet, 1996 is the year that the very first personal data assistant, the Palm Pilot 1000, was introduced. Although at the time it was heralded as an amazing device, in retrospect, its slow processing power and 128 KB of memory seem almost laughable pitted against the truly amazing devices available today. Personal data assistants are the wave of the computing future, essentially acting as a bridge between the desktop PC and the user's life and business; and, in some cases, replacing some of the functions that formerly could only happen on a PC. Make no mistake: we are in the middle of a computing revolution, and it's literally happening in the palms of our hands.

A Bit Of History
First, here is a bit of basic information for readers who may not be familiar with the handheld computing world. PDAs come in two flavors, or operating systems. Your first choice is the Palm OS, invented and used by Palm, Inc. and also by the company Handspring, which was founded by two of the original creators of the Palm OS. Both Palm and Handspring build their products around this model, and devices that use this operating system are famous for being light, compact, easy-to-use and long on battery life. Inputting information is accomplished through a method called "Graffiti," which enables a user to write characters on the input pad with a stylus. A minor amount of self-training is required to learn the slightly modified Graffiti alphabet, as several characters, notably k, q and x, must be input with a single stroke of the stylus, without removing the stylus from the input screen. Some characters are tricky; I often had problems with the letter "v" being recognized as "u," until I learned that drawing "v" from right to left solved this common problem.

The other player in the handheld computing field is the Pocket PC operating system, invented by Microsoft and used in models manufactured by Compaq, Casio and Hewlett-Packard, among others. The Pocket PC-based handhelds are best known for being fast and having a great deal of both internal and expandable memory as well as terrific graphics. For input, the Pocket PC-based PDAs use a method called "Character Recognizer," which is similar to Graffiti but, in my estimation, about 10 percent more difficult to master.

So, What Do I Use It For?
In their earliest models, PDAs were little more than electronic calendars and address books that possessed the ability to create short notes, but no actual word processing documents. Today's newest, sleekest models, notably the Palm M505 and the Compaq iPaq 3650, allow users to surf the Web, send and receive e-mail, create and spell-check word documents (the iPaq comes standard with a mini or "pocket" version of MS Word), play MP3 files, take digital photos (with appropriate hardware additions), play complex games and even connect and run remote server-based applications that don't reside on the PDA via programs from companies like Citrix, in the case of Pocket PC-based units.

Wireless CRM, Of Course!
It doesn't take a stretch of the mind to imagine the wondrous things that could be accomplished in the name of customer service with the help of PDAs. We all know that skills-based routing is an integral part of providing the best service to your customers. But the right expert may not always be at his or her desk, quietly working at a PC. The desired expert might be a technician on the road, a multilingual agent "on call" but attending a Little League game, a company executive on vacation or a contact center manager in a classroom conducting a training session. What would it be worth in the world of customer service to be able to reach the right person to handle a customer contact at all times, not only by voice but on the company's computing platform?

Some companies have recognized the inherent potential of wireless CRM and have begun developing software that ties the handheld platform to a company's customer service functions. One such player is Shared Resource Management, which late last year introduced its allegro anywhere product that uses the Pocket PC technology to enable delivery of all customer service functions onto a user's handheld.

Questra is another company that has begun treading the path to wireless CRM by partnering with Intel, Siebel and Palm to produce a suite of products designed to link enterprise applications with remote devices using the Palm OS.

Sales Force Automation
This is another area with huge potential for handheld computing. Today, most sales people who spend a great deal of time on the road have cell phones, but must wait until they check into a hotel to dial up on their laptops and have access to e-mail, the Internet and company contact management software or databases. In order to check a name or telephone number in the company contact management software, road-warrior sales people must rely on office-based coworkers to farm through the database or Web surf for them and relay details awkwardly over the telephone.

Imagine the value of being able to use a handheld device to send and receive e-mail from the user's PC desktop (as opposed to a special palm.net account), check a contact database for customer history information, instantly perform stock and price checks and quickly access the company's official RFP (request for proposal) templates?

To meet the demands of wireless sales force automation, Invensys CRM earlier this year released a product called eConfiguration. The software is designed to allow mobile sales professionals to create error-proof sales proposals on the spot on their Pocket PC devices, with all data based on enterprise information and delivered via the device's Internet connection. The resulting sales proposal can be created quickly and easily, without the possibility of miscommunication, reliance on old data or plain, old-fashioned goof-ups. Additionally, if a customer requests a reconfiguration of a proposal, it can be done automatically and in real-time.

One example of a similar application developed on the competing Palm OS was wrought by an agreement between Nortel Networks and Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) and was released late last year. The new solution is a wireless extension of Nortel's eFront Office CRM suite.

Just as a final bonus for mobile professionals who must navigate to appointments, imagine having GPS (global positioning satellite) capabilities on your handheld, combined with a service such as Mapquest, enabling you to have all the benefits of a telematics service such as OnStar, but for a fraction of the cost. Traffic reports delivered via wireless could let you know that there is an accident or a lane closed twenty miles ahead on your present route, and the traffic service could then suggest an alternate route, helping you get to your next appointment on time.

Vertical Market Applications
There are too many vertical markets that would benefit from the use of wireless CRM delivered to PDA platforms to count, but I can mention just a few of them here.

The travel industry. Imagine if the travel industry could offer to its best customers the ability to change travel plans on the fly: to browse a Web site and change a flight time, request a special in-flight meal after perusing the choices, make a rental car reservation or even just confirm a flight via his or her handheld computer. At this point, there is nothing to stop airlines from being able to issue boarding passes directly to a handheld computer, allowing the traveler to beam his or her boarding pass to a device at the airport gate.

Appliance or utilities service and maintenance. Providing PDAs to service personnel who make home-based visits to service appliances or for utility companies, thus allowing them to then order necessary parts, look up technical information or make notations to a customer's file, could save a phenomenal amount of time and money for an organization and help eliminate errors and delays.

Warehouse or store inventory management. If you have ever witnessed how painstaking the inventory process can be you can imagine in a heartbeat the benefits of being able to remotely provide a central database with inventory data to help speed the process.

Healthcare. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare personnel were the first people to universally carry pagers, so it's no surprise that this segment may be the first to universally carry handheld computers. In addition to using the device to stay in touch with an office for messages and emergency alerts, healthcare professionals can use them to make notations to patients' charts remotely, send prescriptions to pharmacies, look up a drug's side effects and potentially dangerous interactions on the Web, keep in touch with a patient's insurance company's policies and most importantly, schedule tee times.

Banking. Yes, most banks today have a Web site on which customers can do online banking, and all have toll-free numbers customers can use to interact with an IVR and receive account balances, monitor checks cleared, etc. Imagine the convenience for a bank customer to use his or her PDA to view all aspects of his banking, from account balances, IRAs and check status to mortgages and loans, all in a custom-designed Web page, delivered to a PDA.

Stock trading. While a WAP-enabled phone can deliver stock prices and changes, the broader memory, functionality and better graphics of a PDA could deliver predictions, analyst reports, graphs and news reports about a particular company in a much more complete way than a WAP-enabled cellular phone ever could.

Real estate. Imagine how much easier it would be to maintain real estate databases and current financing info if an estate agent could carry a wireless enabled PDA? Appliances that turn handheld computers into digital cameras (such as Handspring's EyeModule2) could allow an agent to take a photo of a house newly put up for sale, and the agent could than post the photo, along with a write-up and pricing information, to the real estate company's main database instantly, allowing other agents access to selling information on the house from the road, eliminating the need to return to the office. Along the same vein, real estate agents might benefit from some of the new Internet-ready digital cameras, such as Ricoh's RDC-i700, which gives users the ability to send and receive images via e-mail, and to browse the Internet. With such technologies, an agent meeting with potential buyers could call up mortgage rates from competing companies for the benefit of the buyers, retrieve insurance quotes, town statistics and tax information, historical details about the house, etc.

Location-Based Targeted Marketing
Let me say from the get-go that this technology, which enables a marketer to determine when a customer is in a specific geographic location and send a promotion to his or her Web-enabled PDA or WAP-enabled mobile phone, should be conducted only on an opt-in basis, and not sent to customers who don't wish to receive such messages. But imagine that you operate a chain of successful coffee shops. Your loyal followers, who prefer your double-mocha half-caf latte to anyone else's, could opt in to your wireless, location-based marketing program, and voila, each time they're in a new city they can receive a message from you that lets them know you have a shop nearby and that, if they buy a cup of coffee today, they get a free almond biscotti. You could even let your coffee-hungry customers "download" an e-coupon to their PDAs, and then give them the ability to beam the coupon directly to your cash register via their handhelds' infrared synching capabilities.

Room To Grow
The PDA market is certainly nowhere near its maturity. Data transfer rates are still quite slow, and PDAs that can connect to the Internet or be used in the manner of a cell phone of course require a cellular carrier (and be subject to the frustrations of the U.S. cellular industry with its self-defeating competing standards) and Internet service provider. Should you move to an area that is not serviced by your chosen providers, you will experience all the inefficiencies of regional cellular restrictions and ISPs.

But in the near future, battery life will continue to improve, a wider variety of accessories will sprout up and, in a few years, even today's most advanced devices will seem primitive in terms of memory, processing speed and applications. There is still an issue of security, as well. If you hand your remote sales person or remote customer service agent a PDA that contains sensitive customer or company information, a unit left on an airplane or in a restaurant could conceivably be misused by the finder.

Earlier this year we learned about the potential for the Bluetooth Wireless standard in PDAs. Bluetooth will improve on the traditional infrared transmission standard in most existing PDAs as, unlike with infrared, Bluetooth transmission can happen between two handhelds around corners, through walls and from a greater distance. A Bluetooth-enabled PDA would no longer require plugging into a synching cradle via a USB port to share data between the unit and the desktop PC.

Finally, cellular phone manufacturers have been teaming up with the dual PDA platforms to design PDA cell phones, or "smart phones," which are predicted to eventually eliminate the need to carry around both a cell phone and a handheld computer. These devices, still in their prototype phase in the U.S., are currently expensive and a bit too bulky for most consumers' tastes, but as the combined technology expands, the units will become increasingly practical and affordable.

An Industry To Watch
This magazine has, for twenty years, been dedicated to bringing our readers the latest and most useful information on delivering the very best of customer service. We are excited about the burgeoning personal data assistant market and its applications to wireless CRM, and plan to keep our eyes and ears open for the kind of news and information that can help you run the very best contact center possible. I invite you to share your stories of how you are using or intend to use wireless CRM in your customer service operation.

Sincerely,

Rich Tehrani
Group Publisher
Group Editor-In-Chief

[ Return To The August 2001 Table Of Contents ]

TMC Launches Planet PDA Into Orbit

We at TMC are proud of our reputation as one of the leading producers of cutting-edge, high-tech trade shows, not to mention our quality publications. We feel so strongly positive about the future of the PDA market and its rapidly advancing applications, that we have crafted an exciting new show to educate the enterprise market about the opportunities and applications that exist in handheld computing strategies. Called "Planet PDA: The Global Summit on Handheld Productivity Solutions," the event will be held December 4-6, 2001 at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

As more and more communications technologies evolve to reduce reliance on a desktop PC, business professionals are increasingly taking their business communications on the road, to their homes and cars and to their satellite offices. Most business doesn't happen on our desktops...it happens across the globe and in all the places that people need to be. Cellular phones are valuable tools for staying in touch, but we have all discovered in our operations that voice alone is no longer acceptable. The enterprise market has begun to realize that it needs to unplug both voice and data to succeed, and TMC wants to provide the forward-thinking companies with a forum in which they can learn about the awesome possibilities that handheld computing can bring to their businesses. As a result, we plan to bring together a dynamic group of vendors and service providers who collectively represent ground zero for learning about all the hardware, applications and vertical and horizontal market possibilities that exist today and are evolving for tomorrow. Attendees can gather research to enable them to make informed, intelligent decisions about incorporating handheld computing into their existing infrastructures.

Industry research firms predict that nearly one billion handheld devices will be sold by the end 2005, ensuring that the business of supporting and extending these devices will become one of the most lucrative and fastest-growing technology sectors around.

Planet PDA will focus on helping business and MIS professionals learn about the latest technologies and become informed about the best ways to incorporate handheld computing into their systems. Topics that will be addressed are field sales automation, wireless CRM, m-commerce, security in wireless communications and the development of wireless connectivity solutions. To help companies better understand how their businesses can benefit from incorporating handheld capabilities across their networks, TMC will offer discussions in case study format to demonstrate how companies that have successfully integrated PDA technologies into their enterprises accomplished the task.

Since 1982, TMC has been crafting publications and trade shows designed with the goal of helping companies achieve a razor-sharp edge over their competition. As business increasingly leaves the desktop, so must the business processes. We are proud to be the company that takes businesses where they need to go to compete and succeed, and Planet PDA is no exception. As many of us here at TMC are PDA enthusiasts and find them vital in our day-to-day work environment, we are personally as well as professionally excited to be bringing this ground-breaking event to you in Las Vegas in December.

Come join us at the Venetian Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, December 4-6, 2001. We look forward to seeing both you and your PDA there!

[ Return To The August 2001 Table Of Contents ]


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