Why “Mobile” Isn’t a Channel

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While many vendors in the customer engagements industry look at mobile as a communications channel for customers, most consumers do not. A convincing and appealing mobile customer experience must leverage all channels available on a mobile device so it is misleading to consider “mobile” a channel, or assume that smart phones will drastically simplify how to serve customers in the contact center. Smart phones are a platform supporting multiple methods of communication, and each supported channel has its own benefits and reasons to exist.

So within the mobile platform, contact centers still need to be ready to support a variety of communication channels:

  • SMS is the channel that allows the most concise, to-the-point communication. It can handle simple questions and short interactions best. It also gets the most immediate attention when sent outbound: 90% of all SMS is read by the intended recipient within 3 minutes, and 99% of all SMS are opened (but be careful not to overuse SMS for marketing purposes – we don’t want this precious channel to “wear off”). By nature, SMS tends to be a real-time communication channel.
  • Chat (web chat, IM) is similar in nature to SMS in that it is a channel typically for pure textual communication, but it doesn’t have the length restrictions of SMS and therefore works best for longer dialogs required for slightly more complex issues. Chat is a pure real-time communication channel.
  • Social networks, specifically Twitter, are again textual and therefore similar to SMS and chat, but add a social component to the mix – messages exchanged here are visible by the public, until they are carried to Twitter’s private DM (direct message) channel. Social networks are therefore good for peer service (asking friends or other customers for help), as well as for the dreaded public complaint. Social networks as a communication channel are typically asynchronous in nature.
  • Mobile native or web apps (this includes websites meant for the “big screen”), a pure self-service channel. All of the other channels mentioned here can originate from apps.
  • Email is still a great medium for sending “letters of complaint” in which you want to elaborate on an issue, or when you need to attach images or files with your inquiry. Email is an asynchronous communication channel.
  • Calls (including video calls) are increasingly becoming a customer’s “last resort” when needing help. When all other channels fail to resolve an issue, customers switch to using the good old “phone” channel to discuss matters “in person,” with the agent, who is now considered an expert – as most issues can nowadays be resolved through self-service. I put “phone” in quotation marks, as voice/video calls can also originate from other sources, e.g. a web browser on a laptop, or a mobile app on a tablet.

I believe none of these channels will truly “go away” despite the proliferation of smart phones, as there are reasons to exist for all of them. If anything, the messaging channels of SMS (as well as USSD or joyn/RCS) and chat could collapse into one in the long run. Trends such as Over-The-Top (OTT) messaging services slowly replacing the carriers’ SMS point in that direction.

The problem you therefore need to solve in your contact center is how to offer and manage conversations on multiple channels, while preserving context and transaction history among them, and also when switching from self-service to live service. This is the omni-channel challenge. 

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Tobias Goebel

Tobias is Director of Emerging Technologies at Aspect. He has over 14 years of experience in customer care technology and the contact center industry with roles spanning engineering, consulting, pre-sales engineering, program and product management, and product marketing. As part of Aspect's product management and marketing team today, he works on defining the future of the mobile customer experience, bringing together channels such as mobile apps, messaging, voice, and social. He is a frequent speaker and blogger on topics around customer service and, more recently, the (re-)emerging chatbot, NLP, and AI technologies. Tobias holds degrees in Computational Linguistics, Phonetics, and Computer Science from the universities of Bonn, Germany and Edinburgh, UK.
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