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October 2008 | Volume 27 / Number 5
CRM, BPO & Teleservices

Mobile CRM: Are We There Yet?

By Brendan B. Read
Senior Contributing Editor, Customer Interaction Solutions

Getting the mobile channel to where enabling CRM through accessing applications or web sites a.k.a. mobile CRM is as seamless from desktops is akin to taking young children on a long ride who then inevitably ask: "are we there yet?"

The answers will depend to some extent on the nature of the journey being taken. If the trip is for work, such for field sales staff and support reps the destination is in sight.

CRM suppliers have been releasing new editions that have been customized to fit hot multichannel smartphones. FrontRange Solutions’ GoldMine Mobile 3.0 supports the BlackBerry platform, is integrated with its e-mail and phone mechanisms, has offline access to data, and has been designed to utilize the popular device’s navigation and security management.

There are also tools such as OpenSpan that can mobile-enable legacy CRM solutions like Clarify. Their functionality can be accessed by simple web applications on devices.

Maximizer Software recently launched a mobile CRM brand to strengthen its market presence. Angie Hirata, director of worldwide marketing and business development, says that workforces are now enjoying robust CRM functionality directly on their smartphones. These include opportunity and account management, client e-mail, call logging and mapping.

"The days with a field sales rep or technician having to go back to the office to get on the desktop for updates and additional information, are over," says Hirata.

If the travel is for everyday business, such as banking, buying products, and obtaining service via the Internet or accessing data-rich content like videos, i.e. mobile commerce or "m-commerce" then there is a little more ways to go.

Emmett Higdon is a senior analyst at Forrester Research who wrote a recently published report on financial services mcommerce. He identified a lack of commerceand- CRM-enabling mobile applications such as user authentication, payment methods for banking, or tools that leverage the GPS units in phones so that retailers can make offers if customers/prospects are in their vicinity.

"Mobile banking especially is waiting for a lot of that functionality to take hold before it will be adopted in greater numbers," says Higdon. "Customers are waiting on applications that are timely, secure, location-aware, and transactional."

Asians and Europeans have gotten a head start on mobile CRM, hitting the road as an alternative route to expensive and slow-toinstall landline voice and Internet-delivering networks in those regions’ countries. North Americans are now finally catching up. A new report by mobile analytics firm Bango predicts that American mobile web use will soon surpass that in the UK.

ASR, and Patience Keys To Mobile Voice CRM
Serving customers who are accessing organizations while mobile requires consideration and response to their environments.

In North America ‘mobile’ usually means ‘driving’, which means keeping the need for users to touch their devices to a minimum to ensure safety and to comply with a growing number of increasingly strictly enforced state and provincial hands-free wireless laws.

In response, there are a growing number of automatic speechrecognition (ASR) enabled solutions that allow customers to access customer care services.

John P. Joseph Vice President, Product Management and Marketing, Envox Worldwide cites directory assistance, financial services such as account information and ATM or branch location, and entertainment such as movie listings that are accessible through mobile devices via ASR. The other reality is that mobile users still sometimes experience poor quality and dropped calls, resulting in repeated interactions to accomplish the same interactions or transactions. Contact center agents must be patient with such callers; after all they too are or will be mobile customers.

Fortunately these instances are fading, though they have not yet disappeared, as wireless coverage improves, thereby making calls easier and less costly to minutes-counting users and leading to lower call volumes and costs at contact centers.

"Well-designed IVR systems and CTI software lower the call time and reduce the number of repeated connectivity encountered," explains Joseph. "Other innovations such as virtual on-hold, where callers can request a call back instead of waiting on hold, also lessen the likelihood of connectivity becoming an issue."

"The US share of the browsing market has grown as an increasing number of phones come with bigger screens and service contracts that include unlimited Internet access," explains Adam Kerr, Vice President, Bango North America.

NJ Transit Keeps Mobile Customers Connected
Transit agencies have a customer care challenge that matches that with keeping their buses, trains, and ferries
on time.

These departments must provide service to customers to attract and keep them out of their cars and supply customer service, both on limited and taxpayer-funded resources.

New Jersey Transit is one of North America’s largest and mostservice transit agencies serving in-state commuters and those bound for New York City and Philadelphia on buses, light rail, and trains. The agency has found a way forward with mobile CRM combining a mobile-enabled site that includes a Contact Us form and a subscriber-based text message alert system that gives individual commuters up-to-the-minute travel information for their specific trips. Customer feedback is routed with a Salesforce.com CRM application to specific subject area experts for quick and accurate handling.

NJ Transit has also been testing social networking with Salesforce.com’s Ideas platform that allowed customers to post ideas and view what others had said whose suggestions would be seen and analyzed by management.

These strategies have been successful. Mobile CRM has reduced call volume and in conjunction with the spread of residential IP allowed it to replace its customer service toll-free line with a conventional number, saving $500,000 annually; toll-free service remains for the hearing-impaired using TTY devices.

Listening to customers has also already paid off. A suggestion to divert New York City-bound buses to nearby rail stations when there is congestion in the Lincoln Tunnel linking New Jersey to the metropolis has been implemented on several occasions.

"Some very good customer ideas have already been implemented and our message is we want to hear more," says NJ Transit Executive Director Richard Sarles.

Fast Connections Key
North American wireless carriers are upgrading their networks from 2G or 2.5G to 3G. 3G which makes Internet access, downloading and uploading data and bandwidth-intensive applications like video and conferencing feasible. 3G has also proven popular in other countries that had introduced it on a large scale. In the works is 4G that offers even greater capacity at lower costs.

Danny Locklear, Vice President, Carrier Networks Marketing, Nortel, explains that 3G relies on IP packet switching as compared with circuit switching with 2G and 2.5G. IP architectures offer service providers greater flexibility and lower the cost of carrying traffic. They provide a better experience for users, as well, by making it possible to run more than one application concurrently.

"2G is perfectly good for voice and 3G is what makes mobile broadband data possible, but it doesn’t end there," explains Locklear." The next step is 4G with WiMAX and LTE further improving the user experience by bringing wireless broadband closer to what you get with DSL or a cable modem. That’s what we see with 3G today and that’s what we will see in 4G as users demand an even better wireless broadband experience."

One of those applications is Avaya’s new Avaya Voice Portal, an integrated voice/video application that enables callers to interact with firms using video-based menus and content through 3G mobile devices, as well as via video kiosks or desktop softphone/videophones.

Instead of just hearing options, customers can see branded menus and options embedded in video, and speak commands to the company’s automated system. Visual ads or instructional videos can also be seen while customers wait for agents.

"Initially what we are seeing is that the acceptance of these interactive video solutions is much higher in Asia and Europe due to the high availability of video enabled handsets and high speed carrier networks," says Michael Perry, Director, Avaya Self Service Applications, contact center division. "While to date the US has not adopted some of the standards as quickly but our expectation is that the devices and services will become more readily available here within the next 9-16 months."

Mobile Web issues and solutions

There are other road bumps that are inhibiting getting to a fully functional truly user-friendly desktop-equivalent mobile CRM environment, where service-enhancing and cost-saving tools like Web self-service can be fully applied and utilized.

These include a lack of mobile-friendly search capabilities, long and complicated URLs that are difficult to enter from wireless devices, and a multitude of mobile browsers and a wide array of handsets requiring CRM and other applications to be specifically written for them.

Vidya Drego, senior analyst with Forrester Research, is author of a wide ranging report, published in early 2007: "What’s Wrong With The Mobile Web?"

She identified these issues, along with high data costs, as reasons why Web access via mobile devices have not been popular with users.

Since the report’s publication Drego has found that some but not all of the matters have been alleviated. Among them:

• Less costly data access thanks to more flat rate plans that make sense to users and greater competition between carriers This is good news for marketers. A Direct Marketing Association (DMA) report, Mobile Marketing: Consumer Perspectives found that consumers, especially the young and affluent will respond to offers over their mobile devices, delivered chiefly via SMS. Yet the study also revealed that usage costs may be inhibiting mobile commerce growth. One third of respondents to a survey that the report centers on cited airtime costs as why they did not reply to marketing pitches. Also, half of those who responded to them and over one quarter of those who did not reported strong interest in not being charged for airtime.

Key Advice To Enabling Successful Mobile Web and Data
Beth Eisenfeld, Senior Consultant at DMG Consulting, offers this advice when setting up mobile Web and e-mail and handling data:

• Format e-mail and other information so that they can be viewed on small screens

• Design sites that are either mobile-friendly or specific. Use less text, avoid scrolling horizontally, use few images, make good use of navigation shortcuts and links such as to site maps, search engines, and go directly to content as often as possible

• Address security needs. If a mobile device is lost (or stolen), the company needs to have remote administration capability to disable the device and/or securely delete its contents

• Google and Yahoo! Now have mobile-enabled sites and have made their searches much easier to use. Searches are now segmented by images, media sites, and sites designed for mobile. The structures behind the links increasingly being grouped together so that users can jump directly down to the type of media they were looking for.

"It wasn’t enough to display all the content, which they were doing before," explains Drego. "There had to be different ways to organize and make sense of it. " There is still work to be done. For example to avoid keying in long URLs handset makers and websites need to have barcodes and applications on phones to permit users to shoot and connect into sites.

• There are now tools being deployed by software developers such as AJAX, which stands for asynchronous JavaScript and XML, to create interactive web and or rich mobile-friendly Internet applications. AJAX permits data retrieval such as users’ identifiers or location from the background of a Web site without interfering with the sites’ pages. AJAX-enabled sites are faster loading, which gives users more continuous Web access even when they are in areas with spotty coverage.

• A slow movement towards open platforms such as Apple’s iPhone and its apps store and Google’s Linux-based Android, now adopted by T-Mobile for its 3G phone expected to be launched this fall.

"While there is inherently no benefit in these platforms themselves to end users, coming to a consensus in the mobile development community does make it easier to develop for these platforms," explains Drego. "That will result in more applications and services on them."

Chuck Dietrich, Vice President, Salesforce Mobile, sees the trend toward, simpler, more full-featured and user-friendlier mobile browsers. A majority of his firm’s customers are using a more manageable set of mobile devices with a limited number of browsers. "Device companies that provide low grade browsers that do not support common standards will likely lose market share by excluding the developer communities that build applications for mobile use," warns Dietrich.

David Trice, Vice President of CRM Strategy at Oracle points out that software vendors and independent software vendors have been prevented access to some device capabilities such as tighter integration to the phone, better cross application functionality and more efficient data sharing within the devices.
The following companies
participated in the preparation
of this article:


Bango (News - Alert)


Direct Marketing Association

DMG Consulting

Envox Worldwide

Forrester (News - Alert) Research

FrontRange Solutions

Maximizer Software

OpenSpan (News - Alert)



SugarCRM (News - Alert)

Mobile browsers, which are an alternative to resident/native applications, often require significant user customization to deliver quick and easy Web usage. They also sometime suffer from network-caused delays.

"We see a hybrid approach as offering significant user value," says Trice. "Critical features that are commonly accessed by users must be always available through the use of native applications. Supporting information and additional capabilities can be offered through browsers."

Martin Schneider, SugarCRM director of product marketing and a former CRM analyst says the way forward lies in Web 2.0: open source applications written in XTHML that are Internet-architected that can be integrated with other browsers and applications and which offers other functionality such as mapping the next location and click to call.

Sugar 5.1, the latest version, avoids the need for companies to download, deploy, and maintain separate mobile software applications on their users’ handsets. They use the same URLs to access the core products; these applications detects that users are logging in from wireless devices and not a full screen computer and reacts accordingly.

"We saw the answer lying with the browser," explains Schneider. "Mobile browsers have become so much more intelligent to present what is out there to the users, which led us to release XTHML client for web 2.0. Without a web 2.0 framework underneath, such features would be impossible to provide."

One major challenge that is gradually being resolved has been screen size and usability. Small screens and tiny keypads have using wireless devices for anything more than sending or receiving SMS or short e-mails or for quick surface web browsing not practical. In their stead are touchpads like Apple (News - Alert)’s iPhone and pullout keypads.

"What we’re now seeing is a new generation of handsets that is addressing this form factor issue," says Paul Gorman, Ciboodle’s product management director. "As their use proliferates there will likely be more of them that begin to
effectively and functionally merge the mobile and desktop experiences into portable usable go-anywhere devices."

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