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Is mobile customer service the future of CRM?

Mobile applications are defining the future of customer relationship management.

Riders on the New Jersey Transit system get real-time data on arrivals, departures and delays for any bus or train via a mobile device -- and they have lots of options for doing so. They can send an SMS text with the route number, check the Twitter feed for that route, look up the route on the mobile website or call an automated voice line.

Anthony Grieco, senior director of customer service for NJ Transit, said they've been adding real-time mobile data and scheduling information over the past few years as customer feedback demanded it.

"We heard more and more that customers want to know about service disruptions," Grieco explained.

NJ Transit's mobile services and website, which is based on Salesforce's Services Cloud platform, illustrates the fast-rising need for mobile information and customer service in addition to e-commerce. Experts have said this trend is continuing to rise. The Yankee Group's February 2013 report, Mobile Customer Touchpoints Drive Investment, found customer preference for traditional channels such as home phone, email and the Web have declined considerably in favor of self-service mobile apps, mobile sites, mobile chat and mobile phone, which have all risen.

"The adoption of mobile devices is outpacing organizations' re-engineering of their websites," said Jim Rembach, member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association expert panel and marketing executive at Customer Relationship Metrics, a customer service consultancy. "They don't realize that it can be a huge competitive advantage."

When experts were asked to name companies' top mobile customer service mistakes, they uniformly pointed to these common problems.

Miniature websites: Readability is critical to any site, and mobile users are quickly frustrated by sites that can't be easily read on their devices.

"If I try to view something that's designed for my desktop on my mobile phone, I have to scrunch it down. Navigation is a big frustration for people," Rembach said.

One popular trend is to create a downloadable app for each mobile device, which can access information from the site. But not all customers want to download an app to get customer service, Rembach said. The better approach is a single website that can detect a user's device and provide right-sized elements for each, he said. That design technique, called responsive Web design, can detect the device's properties and present appropriately sized images and text.

Bare-bones functionality: A common element that companies with great mobile service all have in common is the depth and range of functionality and content available, according to Eric Feinberg, senior director of mobile media and entertainment at Ann Arbor, Mich.-based ForeSee, a company that provides customer center metrics and consulting services. It does so by investing in mobile development and leveraging customer data to provide highly personalized Web experiences. When a customer signs in, they may be greeted by name as well as with reminders of the last products they viewed, a saved search or recommendations regarding what the customer might like to view next. They also allow users to help themselves; for example, check order statuses, get product information, read reviews, search the site and do most of the other things a user would do on the desktop version of the site. There's an incentive to sign in, Feinberg said, because of the useful information provided.

Companies don't have to require a sign-in to make their sites more valuable. Providing self-service information such as product documentation, order tracking, refund instructions or customer service chat are appreciated by customers, experts noted.

Wrong channeling: uses "right channeling" with its mobile app by providing a substantial functionality via the app and not offering alternative channels of communication. Feinberg said that right channeling is a strategy for driving people toward the customer support area the company wants them to use, partially to save on costs and to encourage customers to use mobile services.

However, Rembach and Sheryl Kingstone, director at Boston-based Yankee Group, both noted that right-channeling can backfire if customers can't find what they need and feel abandoned.

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Kingstone believes SMS texting will become more popular for customer service. Today, companies use it mainly to send alerts, such as for package delivery, but it could be a two-way communication channel.

"You really can't offer customers too many options for communication," Kingstone noted. As NJ Transit has found, customers' communication preferences vary, and the easier the process is made for them, the more they will do their own self-servicing on mobile devices.

Because riders have requested these capabilities, the next step for NJ Transit is creating a downloadable app and adding ticket purchasing services so riders can buy a ticket and simply show the screen to the conductor. Mobile services make riders happy and can provide cost savings to companies. Real-time arrival queries via SMS text or to the automated text to speech phone line is approaching a million per month.

"There is some cost to it, but it saves us overall because those would have been calls to our call center that would've required human interaction," Grieco said.

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