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Mobile CRM apps aim to connect smartphones, contact centers

Customers won’t start from scratch with new mobile app “bridge” programs that transfer their information to contact centers.

Next year, American Airlines passengers will be able to use a mobile application -- while flying -- to determine whether they’ll make connecting flights.

If a passenger needs to reschedule, he can call an airline contact center agent right from the app. Not only that, the agent will see all the information the passenger entered and won’t have to ask questions over and over again.

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It's just one use of a new mobile CRM technology several vendors have started offering to calm frustrated customers who will quickly consider deleting an app if it can’t transfer their information to customer service.

The market for this technology has suddenly become hot, as illustrated by the unveiling of a handful of similar programs in less than a month. The programs hold the same promise: When a customer starts talking, the agent knows the full story. No more repeat questions.

“The smart companies will move this into their multimedia channels. This is part of the trend. It’s catching up with what the consumer wants,” said Richard Snow, research director at Ventana Research, based in San Ramon, Calif.

Consumers love downloading mobile apps, but having a secure, direct connection to a business within a mobile CRM app for the transfer of information has been the one missing element, he said.

A direct connection can succeed, Snow added, but companies “better get the back end of it right, the exchange of information. If the app doesn’t work, you’ve already started off with a frustrated customer.”

That frustration would mirror what customers already feel when they repeatedly have to relay information when speaking to a call center agent. But several companies have recently started offering programs that they hope will launch a new phase in mobile CRM app use and make customers even happier to conduct business on smartphones and tablets.

Upgrading CRM to mobile apps
Virtual Hold Technologies has for years provided click-to-call back software, allowing customers to leave their numbers with a company and have an agent call them back at their convenience. The Akron, Ohio, company has extended that service from the telephone channel to websites and is now offering the capability through a native mobile application.

With Conversation Bridge, a company's mobile app can include a basic function that allows a customer to push a button to request an immediate call from an agent or one at a scheduled time. The program determines a call center’s wait time and asks customers when they want to be reached.

When it’s time to talk, the agent has all the data a customer has entered into the mobile app, and doesn’t have to ask the consumer to repeat personal information and the reason for the call.

“When the phone rings, you’re connected to an agent who knows all of the context of the call,” said Eric Camulli, vice president of marketing for Virtual Hold.  

Conversation Bridge provides an interface for iOS and Android mobile devices, so businesses can insert it into their own channel platforms, he said. The program can integrate with back-end systems such as screen pops and routing.

Aside from the mobile offering, the program can also slip into the interface of Web television consoles -- such as those offered by Boxee and Roku -- allowing a viewer to get a call back by hitting buttons on a remote control, Camulli said.

Several vendors offer mobile CRM products
Virtual Hold has had a partnership with Genesys, leasing its queue management system to the California contact center software and service provider. But Genesys didn’t team with Virtual Hold on a mobile app bridge; the company is offering its own connection, Mobile Engagement.

Similar to Virtual Hold’s offering, Mobile Engagement allows customers to push a button and communicate with an agent, who sees every bit of information entered into a smartphone or tablet app. The agent also views the customer’s full profile and history.

The conversation can occur over the phone, by chat, text or video. Customers can schedule a conversation at a later date with a feature called Snooze Me. The product can also track a customer’s location to help him, say, find the nearest bank branch.

“We find ourselves in an opportunistic position with mobile. It’s where all the customers are,” said Mayur Anadkat, product marketing manager at Genesys.

The two companies announced their new products in April, just as a third, NICE, in Rutherford, N.J., claimed its mobile service was the industry’s only “comprehensive offering.” NICE’s Mobile Reach also ensures direct contact between mobile apps and the contact center, allowing customers’ calls to bypass the interactive voice response and placing their information on agents’ desktops.

Also, with its new software platform for multiple mobile operating systems, Indianapolis-based Interactive Intelligence aims to bridge the mobile self-service and live service chasm. The Interaction Mobilizer product offers customers a call back at their choosing, while securely pushing their names, type of mobile device and Global Positioning System coordinates to an agent.

A fifth company, Aspect in Chelmsford, Mass., also says it transfers customer data entered on a mobile device to a pop-up screen on an agent’s desktop.

Several businesses have started to integrate Conversation Bridge into their apps, Camulli said, including Bank Hapoalim in Israel.

American Airlines has tested Mobile Engagement and will go live with it on some flights this summer, with a full rollout by next year, Anadkat said.

If companies can find a service that gathers and holds customer data across several channels, Snow said, they’ll put an end to customer frustration on the other side of the smartphone.

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