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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Two Views of Mobile Customer Services

If you have been reading technology reports lately, what you will notice is that many UC industry experts are now focusing more on UC for customer services as better source of business ROI rather than just the productivity benefits of employee  “collaboration.”
All business communications have been impacted by user mobility, with organizations trying to adjust to the realities of employee BYOD who want to use a single smartphone (or tablet)  for all their multi-modal communication contacts. The same view is starting to be recognized by the contact center industry about what I have been calling “Customer BYOD.” UC enablement there is an even bigger challenge for supporting customer services, because it affects not only mobile customers, but also customer-facing support staff.
Call centers used to be pretty simple because both callers and agents used a single common form of interaction with voice, the telephone. It got a little more complex for the agents when customers initiated contacts with email and chat. However, contact centers “siloed” these activities, so that while agents had only one modality to deal with, they still shared the same customer information to handle the interactions. With mobile, multi-modal smartphones and tablets, customers can now interact in a variety of communication modes and even easily change modes dynamically, as their mobile circumstances dictate. The question is, can the customer support agent be able to keep up with what a customer can do with a mobile smartphone or tablet?

Start With What The Customer Can Do With a Mobile Smartphone

In any business operation, the customer typically comes first!
So, it is necessary to look at the impact of Mobile UC from a customer’s perspective as the starting point for what the customer-facing organization will face to meet new mobile customer needs. Those needs range from online self-service applications to mobile notifications and alerts that are personalized and authorized by customer recipients to selective contacts with live assistance.
One reason to list the different things a mobile consumer/customer can do when interacting with a business organizations, is to identify the primary means of contact interfaces and options for dynamically switching seamlessly to other connections on demand. That is essentially the key benefit for UC enablement that can be applied to business process applications.
1.  Contact initiation – Unlike traditional telephone calling, where the caller needs to know a specific telephone number, mobile users can benefit from starting with access to an online website, using browser search facilities. Depending upon the user’s current situation, e.g., driving a car, sitting in a meeting, etc., the user can dynamically choose the medium of input and output most appropriate at the moment, i.e., speech or other input and output.
2.  More self-service applications – Once online to a desired website, the mobile user can explore appropriate options to access various types of information and to perform various self-service transactions. 

3.      More selective live assistance Most customers will only need live assistance on an exception basis, so whenever they reach such a point, that is when they can initiate a contact for live assistance. Most importantly, such assistance can be much more selective and contextual; that is, the customer can choose the mode of contact that is needed, and the context of whatever has been done with self-services, will better determine the skill level required for such live assistance. 

     The fact that a mobile customer is now more accessible and flexible with a smartphone means that the response can include a choice of different options for any real-time connections with live assistance.
4.      More proactive notifications – With more automated business process applications in play, there is now an opportunity to increase operational efficiencies and improve customer satisfaction, by proactively notifying customers of personalized situations that are important and time-sensitive. This will not only reduce problems caused by awareness delays, but can also increase operational efficiencies and people productivity. (Health care, financial, legal, government, and travel vertical markets are good examples.)
The bottom line is that customer services will not necessarily start off with a traditional phone call, but can involve a voice or video conversation when deemed necessary. Needless to say, the real-time connection may be made through new WebRTC protocols, rather than legacy PSTN connections.
How Will Customer-facing Agents Be Affected?
There will also be several things that will change the way that live customer assistance for multimodal, mobile customers will occur because of Mobile UC. These will affect both inbound and outbound contacts with mobile consumers.
1.      Inbound contact mode – First line agents or experts will have to be prepared to interact with a customer in the customer’s mode of contact, voice, IM, text/voice message, chat, video, social network post, etc. Their desktop must provide multi-modal communication capabilities, just like a customer’s smartphone.
2.       Agents won’t have to respond in the same mode – Unless it is a real-time conversation with voice or chat, agents will be able to use different forms of response to a customer contact. Incoming video calls can be responded to with just voice, voice messages can be retrieved and responded to with text, chat can be escalated to voice or video, social network postings can be responded to personally, etc.
3.      Real-time outbound contacts to mobile customers will contextually exploit recipient availability (presence) – Traditional phone call notifications will increasingly be replaced by automated notifications, as noted earlier. Live contacts will be enabled once an automated contact is made and the recipient then wishes to interact with a live person in their choice of mode (Voice, Video, Chat). Therefore, agents must be prepared to communicate dynamically with what the recipient wants, including change modes from chat to voice to video.
4.      When video is involved, agents won’t necessarily have to be “on camera” – Traditional call center agents and “home agents” benefit by not having to be seen, just heard. So, even though video can be exploited, it can be optionally and selectively used in conjunction with a voice conversation. In particular, it will be most frequently used to exchange information, e.g., demonstrate how to do something, show the status of something, etc.
5.      Any real-time connection with a customer can be escalated to an “expert” or authorizing manager – UC enablement will facilitate escalating the customer connection (inbound or outbound) from the agent to an  “expert” or a manager to satisfy the customer needs. As with any access to live assistance by a mobile consumer that can mean responding when such resources are available in a choice of response modes.     

What I described is the future of next-generation interaction centers that will support live assistance, as it will impact customers and the agents that must provide assistance in a mobile, multi-modal world. I haven’t discussed the role of “cloud” based customer services and self-service applications, which will also facilitate management of mobile customers and home agents.
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