Customer Service In The Age Of Mobility


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mobility and customer service

In this post I want to explore mobility from the perspectives of both the consumer and the Customer Service team.

Let’s talk consumer first.

The level of smartphone ownership in both the UK and US populations is north of 50%. Tablets are not as ubiquitous but are nonetheless owned by around 1 in 5 consumers. Web sites have gone responsive as a result and app mania continues.

Competition for consumer eyeballs is intense. Successful brands have already discovered what it takes to keep an app in active use and thus benefit from a direct digital connection with a customer. They’ve been fast to recognize the difference between a downloaded app and one in active service.

If you venture into the world of mobile UX, you quickly discover just how tough it is to make interaction and information services work on these reduced screen sizes. Designers these days need a Zen like simplicity in their approach.

This is an important lesson for customer service operations that see an opportunity to drive their self service agenda by offering a mobile window into their service portfolio.

We know even on desktop sized 24 in screens, self service navigation is often poor. The user experience seems entirely ignored. No surprise then that a mobile-sized screen triples the challenge and demands a fundamental rethink.

The secret of course is to see it from the customer’s perspective.

We Know What We Want

As users, we instinctively recognize the unique benefits of each type of mobile device we own.

Smartphones have the convenience of always been carried around with us and are therefore useful for any ‘on the move’ service interactions.

They are also fully multi-modal. In a service context they allow us to interchangeably consume information via live voice, text or video. Something tablets can only partially imitate.

This means we are able to choose our preferred airline seat by responding to either voice or visual prompts according to whichever feels is the easiest way of making our choice.

The same goes for visual IVR. I can scan the options faster than hear them. For me, this is a more empowering version than its traditional ‘auditory only’ option. It saves me time and avoids any effort to recall what I’ve just been told.

A polished mobile customer service app should offer greater control over how and when the customer wants to connect. Offering a callback service is proving popular. And multi-modal access provides choice for different situations the customer finds themselves in. Sometimes the option of ‘click-for-assistance” is best. Other times, a voice command to drive the self service options makes sense. It’s early days yet for this form of mobility, but it’s on the way.

So smartphones are loved for always being with us and for being the most flexible. But that said, those screens really are small. Especially if your eyesight is not as it was. Or when 3.5 inches of screen cannot do justice to what you are looking at.

This is when tablets really score. Their screen size and high resolution makes browsing a true visual pleasure. This is why pre purchase research is most often conducted via a tablet.

Maybe it is no co-incidence that 80% of mobile commerce in fact takes place in the home. This is where we can settle to do our detailed research and decision making.

Some of us of course cannot afford the luxury of both a smartphone and tablet. Or maybe we just want a simpler life and carry fewer devices around with us. Remember when we needed a blackberry for work and something else for personal use?

So for any of these reasons, enter the so called ‘Phablet‘. Apparently something you get when cross breeding a smartphone with a tablet! I’m not an owner so cannot speak from experience. But I guess their appeal lies in being ‘a bit of both’.

So how important is mobility right now for customer service operations?

I’m Mobile, Therefore I Exist

The evidence is all around us.

  • Steve Jobs takes the credit for first popularizing the ‘post pc’ tag. Remember some economies have gone straight to mobile and missed landlines entirely
  • A major travel business I know is busily re-inventing itself as a digital enterprise with smartphones and tablets as the interface. Elsewhere, the feeling is that BYOD (bring your own device) is now too embedded to be ignored
  • I recently read that the first iPad-only university opened in Holland. Game over for lugging around a bagful of textbooks

However we don’t really move much past laptop benefits if we are remain tethered to certain locations in order to get online. For many of us, either home or our place of work provides guaranteed connectivity with some movement. But we are now breaking free to roam further.

Enabling technologies such as WiFi, Powerline and 4G are increasingly filling in the gaps for a seamless connected experience. We are still at the point of noticing new connectivity. In the Underground, on a plane, a train, in a shop. But as this happens, the more we will just expect it as another utility.

Of course it all depends where you are in the world.

While a third of us are connected, two thirds of the world’s population is not. Adoption in this group is growing by less than nine per cent each year. Happily there are some big plans to accelerate this.

As you may have heard Google is being typically ambitious in its attempts. Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.

Most recently, an association of brands has teamed up for the same reason. Facebook has partnered with Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, and Samsung to launch Its start up strategies include a commitment to providing new data compression techniques, reduced costs of data transmission and new business models to fund connectivity.

So hopefully in the not too distant future, we really will be living in a connected world as we move the dial towards a hundred percent inclusion.

Help My Call Centre’s Gone Walk About

I started by saying I wanted to talk about mobility from both the customer and organisational perspective. Here are some closing thoughts on organisational implications.

From a mobile user perspective, a pure cloud based call centre becomes just another service. One that can be consumed via a connected browser on a voice enabled device. To my mind that is incredibly cool. Imagine having a call centre on your smartphone!

Not only does that make home working a non issue, it allows anyone in your service ecosystem to be connected with customers. Not sure if anyone does it yet, but that could be an R&D egghead troubleshooting their latest invention. Or imagine a product expert from a brand you re-selling enrolled as a tier three support option.

That’s one way to break free of constraints. By pushing the boundaries of who can be included.

Here is another one. In truth this one attracts me even more simply because of the ‘wow’ factor.

Imagine you are doing ‘Red Nose‘ day. Why not raise your profile and take your call centre for walkabout up and down Oxford St in London? You can take inbound donations. Also collect from the crowd. Even record the calls. All while creating social buzz meandering in loose formation. For those who remember, imagine Hare Krishna rebooted for the digital economy!


Mobility is here to stay. Yet at a breakfast seminar I hosted a few months ago, the feedback was that customer service adoption remained low. Is that true? Are customers really not using their smartphone or feature phone when making contact? Or are call centers yet to fully focus and lack awareness of this behaviour?

You tell me.

Photo Credit: 55Laney69 via Compfight cc


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