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CONTACT CENTER CORNER: Customer Service Goes Mobile: Is The User Experience Enhanced?

Customer service-related product release announcements in recent weeks point to the continuing advances in offerings targeted at enhancing customer experience over mobile devices, which makes sense given there are more than 3 billion mobile subscribers in the world and that number is expected to exceed 4.7 billion by 2011, according to Gartner Research. That and the fact that the only way I can reach my 19-year-old nephew (who falls into that elusive 18-34 demographic making up a quarter of the U.S. population) is via text messaging to his mobile phone. Forget voice or emails.

That the mobile phone channel will be vital to a successful overall multichannel service strategy is clear. What’s not so clear is whether the user experience will actually be enhanced. Will organizations have the finesse or restraint, depending upon your perspective, to effectively blend targeted marketing opportunities with customer service applications while saving on a cost-effective communications channel inherent in a mobile service channel? Or will they fall into the common trap of mistaking that what’s good for the organization – read lower cost to serve and reach – might not be so good for the customer? How some of the latest technologies and applications recently announced are actually deployed will tell.

Avaya announced in early November the launch of two customer service solutions developed by their professional services organization for the financial and healthcare industries – Proactive Outreach for Financial Services and Proactive Outreach for Healthcare — that use outbound communications over phone, email and short message service (SMS) and self-service automation with the goal, says Avaya, “to drive new efficiencies, improve cost-savings and enhance customer experience.” Think alerts to customers on overdrafts or potential fraud, reminders on annual checkups, scheduled doctor appointments and tests using phone, email, and texting.

Convergys, which in July of this year acquired interactive voice response (IVR) vendor Intervoice, also announced in early November the latest version of Intervoice’s IVR platform Voice Portal 6.0 (IVP 6) along with Interaction Composer, its next-generation application creation environment for developing voice self-service applications. IVP 6 can be ordered as of this week, according to Convergys. IVP 6 comes in various packages flavors; you’ll need the Voice-Portal Enterprise Pro solution package to get the application creation environment and the outbound notification capabilities within IVP which includes a gateway that provides the ability to proactively alert customers to updates and issues via outbound calls, email, SMS and fax.

Fax? Really?

Contact Center vendor Interactive Intelligence announced on November 24th the addition of short message service (SMS) texting channel as an additional media type to Customer Interaction Center (CIC), its all-in-one, multichannel contact center suite. The company says mobile customers will be able to use SMS to communicate with the contact center; have those SMS messages routed, recorded, and reported on the same way as other media types. Contact center agents will be able to reply using SMS and customer notifications can be sent via SMS. The product is expected at the end 2008.

There are a lot of applications that make sense and have truly enhanced my customer experience. I absolutely love getting my weekly summary alert on my financial picture – well, except for the last few months – from Mint.com and text alerts from American Express on my weekly balance, or from Bank of America when a large or small deposit hits my account. I did like receiving via text a phone number from information so I didn’t have to pay two bucks to get the number again, but that was before GOOG411. These mobile service applications make my life easier. Mobile devices facilitate the most personal of channels – you take the channel with you; it’s indeed an anywhere channel and, if my experience with my nephew is any indication, it’s thechannel for “the newest generation of customer.” But organizations will need to think through whether sending unsolicited marketing messages about sale items or collection notices via SMS while text charges are incurred by the customer is enhancing customer experience.

Monique Bozeman is a contact center industry expert/analyst, marketing consultant, writer and speaker.  She can be reached at info@moniquebozeman.com [1]