The Two Challenges in Developing Customized Mobile Customer Service Applications
As mentioned in the first article in this series, 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 neither 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 (News - Alert) 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. Its 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.
Smartphones 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: