Newsletter, March 2012
Is the Contact Center Moving On-Device? Q&A with Daniel Hong, Lead Analyst at Ovum
The advance of smartphones and the avalanche of mobile apps are forcing enterprises to rethink their customer care services.
Where do mobile apps fit in? How can they complement contact centers to provide and user-friendly customer care, allowing customers to interact directly with the enterprise and find answers to service requests? Why should organizations bring everyone to the table NOW to create a cohesive customer care with mobile at the middle to boost loyalty and drive revenues?
We catch up with Daniel Hong—Lead Analyst at Ovum, a leading technology consultancy and research firm—to identify the business advantages of connecting an on-device mobile app to the contact center,
The rise of mobile apps is obviously a driver here. But customer care is multi-channel. Where can mobile improve customer care?
Companies that have a customer service culture designed around multiple channels of engagement—such as phone and web—should be discussing what they are doing and need to do to develop a mobile strategy, and how they’re going to incorporate smartphones into that strategy. Even companies that typically don’t have that much call volume or inquiries need to integrate mobile over time. Given the decline in consumer landlines each year it just makes sense. For these companies it's a good start to offer basic applications that are designed for information provision and evolve the application over time. They can put these up on app stores and the mobile Web. Often it's enough to provide updated product or service information because that's what many customers want in the first place.
Are there specific sectors that are further along on the learning curve, giving us clues to what the mobile is going to be moving forward?
We’re noticing today that leaders in this—companies leading with applications that offer functionality, features and the deepest integrations with existing customer data—are those in the early-adopter verticals. Travel and tourism companies, airlines in particular, stand out in terms of innovation. Additionally, retail banks are well advanced in providing their customers apps that allow them to access their bank accounts, information and conduct transactions. The retail sector is where we are seeing companies fold more customer service into the apps they offer. This sophistication ensures that customer can interact with the retailer for purchases and service requests, and then switch to voice if they need to escalate a call and speak to an agent. So, these are the three leading sectors right now. At the same time, there are some pockets of innovations in sectors such as insurance. Here companies are empowering customers to understand and use apps to improve claims processes and customer care. In the area of insurance we have the example of GROUPAMA Rhône Alpes Auvergne. This company offers a cool video-based application, complete with many self-service functionalities, that’s connected to their contact center agents. This allows the customers to file a claim if they get into an accident on the road.
Is there agreement on what qualifies as an innovative and effective mobile strategy?
We’re working on a study where we’re interviewing leading enterprises and thought leaders in the area of customer care. It's clear that these companies are pursuing a mobile strategy and we’re likely to see a major uptick in roll outs over the next 12 to 24 months. However, the approaches are fragmented. I can’t draw a trend right now. But it is clear that mobile is part of a larger strategy, a larger initiative aimed to personalize the customer experience, or significantly improve the customer experience. These companies have a clear ROI for their mobile strategies and, once they sell it internally, it becomes part of a larger initiative for customer experience.
There are cost advantages when you can cut down calls or just call handling times—in a call center. How would you quantify the potential saving associated with connecting an on-device app to the contact center? Or if you can't give a figure, then how about the boost in customer retention?
You’re right, it’s hard to quantify. A lot of companies want increased stickiness with that customer, so the improvement in customer experience doesn’t necessarily have to mean a reduction in costs. Many companies want to create a culture where they can enable the customers to talk to agents, and thus improve the overall customer experience. Therefore, they don’t mind if calls to the call center increase. This increase means they're able to improve the stickiness with the customer and even start a dialogue by means of this interaction that will allow them to improve the app based on customer feedback.
It seems the opportunity isn’t so much about cost reduction; it's about giving customers choice and allowing them to decide how they want to interact with the company. Digital Natives may go for the app and others will want to start with the app, but have the option to get to a call agent.
Yes. I'm seeing that larger initiatives to improve the customer experience are focused on engaging with the customer on the customer's terms. That’s good because that may ultimately lead to improved customer retention and customer loyalty, and potentially sales conversions later on.
In your reports you point out that apps and agents are complementary. You also suggest companies should focus on deliver smart connected interactions. Please detail what you mean by this.
If a contact center agent is aware of what the customer was trying to accomplish while using the on-device application, and has access to relevant data from the appropriate systems, then they can better address the direct needs of the customer. Ovum defines this as "smart, connected interactions". Applications that share information across platforms — and in doing so provide the contact center agent with current, accurate data about what the customer was doing before escalating the problem to a voice call — lead to better interactions. In other words, representatives that are aware of the context of the interaction can help resolve the customer issue, alleviate the situation, and expedite the transaction. At the other end of the spectrum, the enterprise can leverage knowing when a customer typically reaches out to a contact center — what triggers this —to improve the application to address this, or simply change processes in the contact center to help improve customer satisfaction overall.
You suggest that companies automate the first line of inquiry through an app, and leverage their human agents for solving the more complex issues. How do enterprises get there from here?
It's about using the smart device as a channel. Right now it’s a conduit for multiple different channels, so it’s like the critical choke point right now for customer care. You have voice, SMS, email, Web, mobile apps and video and cameras. I think if you can have some intelligence there letting you know that the customer is calling in with a smartphone or a tablet, then you have more flexibility in how you can communicate with them and what you can share with them in a truly multi-modal fashion. So, the value isn't so much the self-service channel, but engaging with the customer in multiple different ways on a single device: their personal mobile device. When there is a critical time-sensitive issue to resolve, people still need to talk to the agent. At that point chat or email won’t cut it, you pick up the phone and you call. Our data shows that 70 percent of consumers in the U.S look to the phone as the most successful channel to resolve their issues on the first attempt.
The benefits of connecting on-device apps with call centers come through loud and clear. Moving forward, what has to happen to make it really happen and for companies—not just the innovators you mentioned—to implement and execute on this strategy?
The biggest obstacle right now is not talent or technology. To make it a reality companies have to break down the silos. The marketing department, the IT department, the customer care/contact center department, the business lines. They all have to come together to come up with a cohesive strategy defining what they want to achieve with mobile. Right now many departments within companies are creating their own applications by themselves and putting them up on the App Store. This doesn’t reflect a unified strategy and will only hurt the organization in the long run.
The goal must be to have a centralized and common infrastructure, and governance, where all business units and departments have their mobile apps plugged in so they can achieve economies of scale, as well as having centralized management, data gathering and analytics. Obviously certain departments should focus on different data and analytics — that is, only what is pertinent their business. In addition, the company should be able to monitor and analyze all datapoints across different departments to get a holistic view of their customers. This is the mission for what we know today as the customer experience, and customer service is part of this. Towards this end the potential for cross-collaboration and sharing intelligence is better for the company overall as it looks to boost customer loyalty and revenue.
Ovum is conducting a major research study to try to understand the impact of smart, connected devices on customer care. To participate in the study and receive the final report, please check out the Smart, Connected Care Website.
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New Research Reveals What People REALLY Want In Customer Service Apps
Mobile app downloads continue to grow from strength to strength, breaking records and exceeding analyst expectations. However, a raft of reports — including a recent survey by Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project — suggest the appeal of instantly downloading the latest apps is losing its luster. Specifically, the Pew report found the vast majority (68 percent) of smartphone users open only five or fewer apps at least once a week. This could spell trouble for games and entertainment apps — the app categories that generate the most downloads and market buzz. But what are consumer attitudes toward customer service apps? Nuance teamed up with Vocalabs to find out what consumers really think about their self-service apps. The findings are a wake up call to companies everywhere.
Think that people downloading and using you customer service apps are Digital Natives who prefer high-tech to high-touch? Think again.
New research from Nuance—based on a December 2011 survey of 900 smartphone owners conducted by Vocalabs—shows a whopping 72 percent of respondents have a more positive view of a company if they have a mobile app.
What's more, these app users also tend to be active brand advocates and ambassadors. The survey reports 78 percent of respondents will tell others about their positive app experience, effectively recruiting more users for the apps (and brands) that succeed in satisfying their service requirements.
"The high number is not nearly as surprising as the demographics," notes Christy Murfitt, Sr. Manager, Solutions Marketing. "Mobile apps are used by all age groups, not just tech-savvy Millennials. In fact, mobile apps have a significant appeal among more mature users, a customer segment that "typically values convenience, ease of use and life-simplifying solutions."
Thanks to the advance of smartphones users across all demographics now share a common trait: they are empowered. Their devices provide them easy and instant access to information they need. Interestingly, respondents have also come to expect their customer service apps to deliver what they want on their terms.
Almost half (45 percent) of respondents say they like to use customer service apps because they are convenient. Another 40 percent are hooked on the always-on nature of mobile apps, answering that they like and use apps because they are "always available."
Customer service apps—apps sharply focused on satisfying service requests—target both existing and potential customers. "And this is key," Murfitt explains. Having to cater a customer service app to both customers who are familiar with the product or service, and those who are not, "turns up the pressure on companies to find the right balance between features like tracking an order, booking a flight or checking a bank balance, and ease of use." Put simply, using a customer service app must be intuitive since all users are time-sensitive and likely to delete apps that try their patience.
Vertical app appeal
Clearly, customers use apps that provide them value. The critical question is: Are all apps from all verticals delivering what they promise? Unfortunately, Nuance consumer research reveals some verticals are shortchanging their customers—and themselves.
The good news is banks and mobile operators lead with the largest number of app downloads. The bad news is banks and mobile operators stand out as the verticals that experience the most serious drop-off in usage. While 60 percent of respondents have downloaded customer service apps from mobile carriers, only 25 percent are actually using them. That means over one-third (35 percent) of respondents are not using the apps. Banking apps show a similar disconnect.
Turn it around, and the research also identifies a huge opportunity for these two verticals to increase traffic to their customer service apps.
As Murfitt sees it, these verticals have already done most of the hard work, they just need to improve the app experience. "They have the customers and they have convinced them to download the app. Now these companies have to focus on boosting engagement and ways to ensure their apps become part of their customers' daily routine."
Freedom of choice
What features and functionality could convince consumers to use their customer service apps more? Again Nuance consumer research highlights areas where improvements would pay dividends. Over one-third (35 percent) of respondents would appreciate a seamless and effortless way to shift from a self-service task on their app to connect with a call agent.
"If consumers can't accomplish what they want within an app, they have to disengage and try another channel. But transitioning to another channel means starting all over, explaining why they are calling in the first place," Murfitt says. That adds up in both call minutes and increased customer frustration with the brand. Granted, there will always be people that want to talk to agents first. But there is also a significant and growing group of consumers that want to perform self-service tasks on an app and connect to an agent (without having to hold) only when an issue can't be resolved using other channels.
Connect the dots, and people increasingly want to decide how they will interact with enterprises, not the other way around.
For more information about the survey data, check out our latest infographic.
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Supercharging Contact Centers with Cloud Services
The Cloud is the one to watch, with surveys and reports ranking it high in the list of 2012 mega-trends. But the real story isn't about the unlimited storage the Cloud offers companies and consumers to stockpile their digital stuff. The Cloud is moving up the business agenda because it facilitates the easy deployment of advanced services and software. At one level, organizations are guaranteed access to the capabilities they need to function and thrive. More importantly, cloud-based services allow companies and vendors to share knowledge and know-how, in both directions. What better way to stay in step with the breakneck pace of technology and advances in mobile? Dena Skrbina, Senior Director, On-Demand Solutions Marketing, walks through the reasons why companies struggling to stay on top of their game—and keep pace with the fast and furious rate of technology change—should move to the Cloud for their contact center solutions.
The Cloud is much more than a place for consumers to socialize and store data; it’s also a valuable tool for business. The Cloud allows companies to take advantage of critical infrastructure and complex software they might not otherwise have the expertise, funding or time to procure and deploy. Companies can now tap into the Cloud for what they need: computing power, software applications—and much more. Clearly, sharing infrastructure and software via the Cloud frees resources and allows enterprises to focus on the business at hand. However, the advance of mobile devices and the requirement of today's always-on consumers for instant responses to their customer service requests highlights a new and pressing reason why enterprises must connect to the Cloud: it allows them to keep pace with technology change, rather than be crushed by it.
It's a given that companies must go where their customers are. Today those customers are increasingly mobile, reaching to their smartphones throughout their daily routine for advice, information and answers. The enterprise must think mobile, particularly when it comes to delivering contact center solutions. However, the massive investments in technology, software and know-how necessary to keep up with the breakneck pace of technology change in mobile is a more than most enterprises can manage. This is where cloud-based services add tremendous value.
Quite simply, the Cloud is the perfect delivery mechanism for rapidly evolving technology like mobile. It leaves the heavy lifting— the work of scaling hardware, integrating software and working through all the potential issues at the intersection of cross-media (IVR, mobile, Web) and customer care —to the company sharing its services and software via the Cloud.
The benefits to the enterprises that 'plug' into the Cloud are significant. They are free to focus their attention on improving their business agility and adding value to their offers, the key capabilities that distinguish industry leaders from also-rans today and tomorrow.
Take the example of the Nuance On Demand service, a cloud-based service where the infrastructure and the software is shared across enterprise customers. Each customer uses the shared infrastructure plus the up-to-date software Nuance On Demand offers to assemble their unique IVR (Interactive Voice Response) application. IVR effectively automates interactions between the enterprise and telephone callers.
Say a new version of the speech recognition engine version is released. Every enterprise customer of the Nuance On Demand service has immediate access to the new version.
In practice, Nuance On Demand enterprise customers receive automatic updates with the hottest natural language, newest text to speech and audio advancements, personalization tools, and mobile self-service innovations. Because Nuance is expert at using these technologies, customers get immediate benefit — often a full 12+ months earlier than with any other provider.
As a result, everyone shares and everyone benefits from Nuance innovation and learnings. It's also a great way to aggregate feedback —in both directions — creating a virtuous cycle where innovation and experience ensure constant and continuous improvements to the technology.
If we consider that Nuance On Demand is processing 2 billion incoming phone calls translating to nearly 10 billion caller interactions, Nuance has deep insights into what consumers demand and how they interact. This data feeds back into the speech recognition engine, making the technology better and smarter.
Invest once, benefit often
Tapping into the Cloud allows enterprises to deliver improved IVR services ensuring that the contact center solution is up-to-date and in sync with customer requirements. But the story doesn't end there. Nuance On Demand extends the benefits as enterprises sharpen their focus on mobile and solutions to serve their connected customers.
No need to ask (or answer) the tough questions: When are my customers going to stop using IVR? Might the popularity of applications like Siri raise expectations for customer care services? What role does text messaging have in the mix? Nuance On Demand takes the guesswork out of it planning because the contact center solution evolves based on real customer behavior.
Using Nuance On Demand means enterprises can take their investment in phone self-service and push it back into their mobile apps. This equips the enterprise to develop an application that understands natural language, and then leverage it across other channels, including mobile.
And natural interactions aren’t purely about customers using voice. The experience (and context) can be extended to the website, where customers type, not talk. Great customer service is truly about delivering customers what they want on their terms: interaction that is convenient, effective and accepts the central role that mobile devices are beginning to play in their daily lives.
This is also the view of Bill Meisel, founder of TMA Associates, an independent consultancy providing insights and supporting companies that want to incorporate speech technologies into their offer, or improve their own enterprise efficiency. In a recent interview with m-pulse, a weekly vodcast produced by Untether.tv and MobileGroove, Meisel argued that the rise of personal smart assistants have whet our appetite for Siri-like services that take the heavy-lifting out of dealing with customer service issues. "A lot of enterprises are going to realize they need a smart [mobile] personal assistant—and that people are going to expect that."
When worlds combine
Moving ahead, it's clear the advance of smartphones and tablets, and the phenomenal popularity of apps play in favor of the Cloud and cloud-based contact center solutions. What can we expect?
From a customer perspective, popular natural language apps like DragonGo! and Siri are blurring the line between IVR and mobile. They’re also training consumers to interact naturally with a device rather than a human. And, they’re resetting expectations for convenience and getting answers fast. Businesses need to examine how consumers are interacting with their mobile devices, and incorporate the same friendly, intelligent, personalized interaction into their IVR as well as their mobile customer care.
Look for a seismic shift in self-service technologies as the barriers between IVR and mobile break down. Against this backdrop, being able to leverage investments across the critical customer touch points (IVR, mobile, Web) is a key capability, and belonging to a Cloud community—where technology and innovation is shared and improved to deliver positive results for everyone—is essential.
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