It couldn’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the tablet computer (and mobile devices on the whole) have cemented themselves firmly in the lifestyle artillery of the modern consumer, says Henry McCracken, regional sales director, Africa at Aspect Software. 
According to Gartner, tablets will see an explosion in sales over the next four years, selling 60% as many units as PCs – add this to Ofcom’s recent report that over a quarter of adults and almost half of teenagers now own a smartphone.
The customer service community talks about the influence of mobility on consumer’s lives, their attitudes and choices and the way they now communicate with each other, but so far, organisations have been slow to bring this into the business. Customers now expect to be able to engage with their suppliers in a way that is convenient to them, and conducive to their everyday lives.
Mobile technologies offer both the consumer and the organisation a convenient communications channel and perhaps crucially for many organisations, provide a self-service first-point-of-call that may reduce the need to interact with an organisation altogether. It has caused a seismic shift for marketing and advertising too; prospects can be targeted through SMS, mobile portals, apps, video and QR codes.
Customer-centric organisations have twin, yet conflicting, aspirations – to reduce costs and improve the customer experience through new channels and technologies; yet capital outlays, technical challenges and cultural/training issues create important barriers.
Traditionally, meeting face-to-face is the most expensive interaction type for an organisation, followed by telephone, then e-mail. Conversely, it is perhaps the more initially “expensive” options that help build better relationships with customers and develop deeper insight into what customers want, how they behave and think.
New channels historically rely on one “killer app” to bring it into the mainstream. For instant messaging in the 1990s, it was MSN Messenger, and for VoIP, it was Skype. This time around, despite being available for a number of years, video calling is finally making a breakthrough.
Although used heavily by the enterprise for video conferencing and by consumers making long-distance calls, typically the quality was sketchy and often more hassle than it’s worth.
As a medium, video is a solid part of people’s social lives – YouTube for example, swells by 60 hours of footage every minute. This, together with the growing penetration of 3G/4G LTE services worldwide and Apple’s introduction of FaceTime has brought mobile video calling to the masses, and not just for calling Aunty Edna in Australia.
Let’s look at the figures. In-Stat reported that 63-million people could be counted as active video calling users in 2010. In 2015 that number is expected to balloon to 380-million. The research firm believes that mobile proliferation has been a major driver in this adoption, despite the technology being relatively archaic in the dissolute consumer technology market.
The research suggested that desktop computers will remain the most popular platform for video calling, but the “technology’s expansion to smartphones, tablets and even televisions will also play a role in accelerating adoption”.
Similarly, developments in enterprise networking, data centre capability and better bandwidth, as well as the proliferation of Microsoft Lync, has boosted organisations’ unified communications (UC) strategies and re-affirmed the benefits of video communications in business.
However, how well adopted is this by organisations for customer engagement?
Some at least are catching on. Air France KLM recently announced the intention to deploy a mobile customer service system that provides customers with free realtime information and is integrated with 15 other partner applications to make travelling as smooth as possible, on the go.
British Gas has also announced a trial period of video calling with customers, following the advice of independent research that showed 66% of customers believe that being able to see a customer service agent will help resolve their queries more quickly.
Recent research conducted by Aspect has predicted a significant period of mass adoption of mobile technology for customer engagement over the next year. When asked if their organisation was planning to support mobile technology, including video calling, for customer contact over the next year, almost half (49%) claimed that they were.
Not one respondent stuck their neck out to say that they would never support it, however a further third (37%) of those surveyed say that they weren’t considering it at the moment.
A significant proportion of organisations say that they did have the technical infrastructure to support mobile technology, with 56%.
Furthermore, an impressive 86%of those that were planning to support mobile technology claimed to have the infrastructure currently in place, or were planning to, demonstrating that they were well placed to move into new methods of engagement. Encouragingly, only a very small proportion (4%) of those that plan to implement mobile technology didn’t know whether they were able to support it.
Inbound customer service was by far and above considered the most useful application for mobile customer contact technology, cited by around four in 10 organisations (42%).
New customer sales/prospecting and upselling/cross-selling to existing customers pulled an impressive second and third place with 17% and 16% respectively. Less popular answers included marketing research and screening customers.
As endorsed by British Gas, mobile technology for customer engagement is driven by the need to improve the overall customer experience. Four in 10 (40%) of the organisations surveyed by Aspect considered it to be the biggest driver in implementation.
The need to drive a UC strategy and work towards a single view of the customer was also a consideration, with almost a fifth (19%) of respondents seeing mobile technology implementation as an opportunity to integrate all customer communications via the contact centre.
Perhaps surprisingly, the ability to derive valuable customer insight scored low, with only 8%. The more touch points that a customer uses and interacts with an organisation through, the more that the organisation can learn about who buys its products and services and their individual behavioural habits.
The adoption of customer insight as both a strategy and set of tools (which includes voice analytics) has been alarmingly slow, but recent independent research commissioned by Aspect indicated that this is set to increase in the next 12 to 18 months with over one in ten organisations intending to implement it.
When asked about the barriers to implementation, the results are not surprising. Reasons were widespread, but pulling ahead just slightly was capital and ongoing costs and integration with legacy systems (18% and 17% respectively).
Most organisations have already invested significant CAPEX in voice-only call centre technology and are obviously not eager to replace it. In addition, they would also need to support all video call protocols, including 3G/4G LTE and an IP client.
The time is clearly right for video calling and other mobile technology to become a mainstay in future customer engagement. Organisations are comfortable that they can support it and the next generation of networks will improve the overall experience, which has perhaps traditionally been low quality.
Compliance, training and security issues may create hurdles for some industries (namely financial services), but with some forward-thinking organisations already reporting successful trials, this “archaic” technology has a window of opportunity that cannot be missed.