5 Ways to Turn Mobile Apps Into Customer Service Tools

February 8, 2011

At a retail outlet of a major wireless provider, a salesperson was recently heard explaining to a potential buyer why she should consider a smartphone. He went on and on about how a smartphone would allow her to access store coupons and have those coupons scanned at point of sale. Another selling point was how everyday chores, such as banking, could be done on-the-go, and how she would be able find any product or service she wanted, when she wanted, all through her mobile device.

Yes, this might have been the biggest undersell we’ve witnessed in a really long time.

The value of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, as a customer service tool for businesses and their customers are rivaling, if not in some ways, exceeding that of PCs. There really is an app for that–no matter what “that” is, and businesses and their customers are reaping the rewards.

Zengage spoke with companies that are leveraging mobile platforms to deliver affinity- and edge-building value. Combining their collective wisdom, here are five principles for turning mobile apps into effective customer service tools.

1. Create an app that’s purpose-built. It’s not difficult to build an app–or to have one built for you. What’s more challenging is creating an app that serves a real purpose. Whether it’s a couponing system, an engaging game, or an early alert to sales and promotions, apps that provide real value to the customer will be accessed and utilized. Apps that don’t will be ignored or deleted–perhaps along with customers’ reasons for remembering to do business with you.

2. Make sure the apps makes sense on mobile. Not every function lends itself well to mobile platforms. In some cases it’s the platform that’s the limiting factor, and in others it’s customers’ perceptions. Phil Keiken, managing partner and mobile practice lead for UXFACTORY, a digital agency focused on the user experience of emerging technologies, said functions that are linear in nature (Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, etc.) or those in which customers are hitting actual views of data work best in a mobile app environment. Keiken added that functions that are security- and/or privacy-sensitive may not be the best fit for mobile apps–not because data can’t be secured on mobile but because of users’ perception of whether it can be secured. Those perceptions will change as more and more business is done via mobile devices and comfort levels rise.

3. Make customers’ lives easier. Digital Federal Credit Union, based in Marlborough, Mass., has launched an app called Mobile PC Deposit that allows members to deposit a check using the iPhone and Android-based smartphones, among other platforms. This eliminates what was probably the last reason people had to physically visit a bank on a regular basis. That’s making customers’ lives easier and that should be one of the main goals when building mobile apps.

4. Empower employees to more effectively serve customers. Eighty-five percent of Safelite AutoGlass’ customers choose to have technicians travel to their home or business to perform service. Safelite’s IT team has developed a suite of mobile service fulfillment utilities, including an app that provides technicians with guided workflow, real-time work order notification and status, driving directions, and credit card and pre-inspection automation. This is an example of a mobile app suite built from the ground up based on customers’ demonstrated need. The apps have also equated to a gain of one to two jobs per day, per technician.

5. Empower customers to more effectively help themselves. UXFACTORY’s Keiken said the companies he has worked with, including numerous Fortune 500 organizations, are apt to push hard for a model of self-service. For example, he said, an insurance company UXFACTORY consulted with is driving more of its customer service reps’ high-volume call issues into mobile applications, including claims management and processing, access to insurance cards, and communication with roadside service. Applications like this allow customers to support themselves and ease the issue volume on CSRs, he added. Self-service apps have long been used to save businesses time and money, and mobile apps can extend that value exponentially.

With the iPad becoming the fastest-selling consumer device–ever–and the continuing popularity of iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android, mobile platforms are only going to increase in adoption and utility. Smart companies will put significant customer service-focused energy and resources toward smartphone and tablet platforms.

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