SOCAP International

Mobile: It's Time to Take Charge

We need to shape the direction of our consumers’ experience for our brands on mobile. Here are some tips to get started.

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5 Quick Tips for Mobile
If you want to better leverage mobile, keep these pointers in mind:

  • Treat mobile with the same level of importance as your other channels.
  • Reach across the aisle and partner with marketing and consumer insights colleagues.
  • Set high expectations for response times, and use brief actionable answers.
  • Repurpose agent-facing content for public self-serve consumption.
  • Use the same coding for mobile that you do for all your other inquiries.

By now, we’re all well aware that smartphones have reached critical mass in the United States and many other parts of the world. In the United States, by the end of 2013, mobile surpassed desktop computers in all age categories as the dominant way to browse the web, watch videos, play games, send email and communicate on social media, according to comScore Media Metrix Multi-Platform. So why is it that we as consumer affairs professionals are just now beginning to grapple with the implications of this new reality? 

While new technologies pop up on a daily basis, 
breakthrough technologies only come along every once in a while. Think about the sea change that toll-free numbers, fax machines, email, web chat and then social media caused for the consumer affairs profession. Each innovation required us to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape and develop new ways to respond to consumers. 

Toll free numbers, for example required us to learn how to handle massive increases in call volumes. LL Bean, one of the last major direct sales merchants to adopt toll free numbers for its order lines, saw volume jump 30% to 40% when it published their first 800 phone number. With the advent of email, we had to learn how to write more succinct and informal replies and manage email workflow. Levi Strauss & Co. dubbed newly anointed email reps “cyber agents” and crowded around a computer to watch the emails trickle in.

Mobile is similar to prior tech innovations, but differs in one crucial way: Mobile is a quieter trend. We see everyone using mobile everywhere all the time and accept its prevalence as normal. For example, we no longer think it’s strange to witness a couple on a romantic dinner date texting or browsing the web on their phones during their meal. So why aren’t our consumers or our work colleagues dragging our consumer affairs departments or companies kicking and screaming into the mobile age?Game_changer

Contrast mobile with social—the last big tech innovation we faced. With social, we were forced to react to this new technology. Damaging posts started creeping onto blogs, community forums and later, on company Facebook pages. At first, we and our marketing colleagues freaked out. Then slowly and painstakingly, we learned how and when to respond to these posts to provide damage control, maintain our brand reputation and ultimately build brand loyalty.

So should we “sit out” mobile until we’re forced to react? Well, that depends on if you want to exert some degree of control over your consumers’ experience, or if you’d rather have your marketing colleagues and their agencies control your consumers’ experience. As we learned with social media, marketers are still great at pushing messaging, and we, as consumer affairs professionals, are still experts at engagement. Mobile is fundamentally a very intimate
engagement medium. Mobile is becoming an extension of our body's brain; it’s an important resource that we carry around in our purses, pockets, hands and most
recently on our wrists. 

Shaping the Consumer Experience

While mobile permeates many parts of our lives, it has not permeated consumer affairs. But the time has come for us to step up and be proactive. As consumer affairs professionals, we need to help shape the direction of our consumers’ experience for our brands on mobile. Mobile is clearly an opportunity that we can and should take advantage of. 

In talking with respected colleagues, living deeply within the mobile space for the past 18 months and initiating dialogue with over 65 companies and vendors in the food and beverage and consumer package goods space, it’s clear that an age-old consumer affairs lesson persists today. We need to reach across the aisle and partner with our marketing and consumer insights colleagues more than ever before. 

We in consumer affairs have been focused on perfecting the art and science of engaging with consumers for decades. Our friends in marketing and their agencies are consumer focused as well, but two-way engagement is a relatively new focus for them, brought on particularly as a result of social media. Because we are still the most direct connection to the consumer and established as the engagement experts within our organizations, we should be taking the lead during this phase of innovation in
mobile. And as we’ve learned with social media, consumer experience and adaptability usually comes quicker and with greater rewards if we join forces with our marketing

SOCAP Members Weigh In

For additional perspective on what we should do about mobile, I turned to several SOCAP members and asked them to share what they are doing. Jack Sullivan, operations manager for Unilever's North American consumer engagement center, says, “We need to chase the technology that consumers are using. … And we need to make our brands more available to consumers and figure out ways to scale and operationalize that.”

Marie Shubin, director global consumer relations for E. & J. Gallo, echoes Sullivan’s sentiments, saying “Like many companies, we see that mobile presents convenience for consumers, for customers and field personnel, so we’re researching this fast growing channel. ... In consumer relations, we’re interested in developing mobile solutions to provide self-service features that educate consumers and help them shop effectively for our products.” 

Jeanne Jones, former director of consumer affairs at ConAgra and now director of client advocacy at business process outsourcer HGS, reinforces the notion that we should leverage our experience as engagement experts, saying, “We should think about mobile and mobile apps in the same way we think about a call: Is this the right call flow? Can I collect the information effectively? Am I doing all the right things to deliver a positive experience?” 

With mobile, many companies are dealing with the same challenges that social media presented: Who is accountable for responding? Who is responsible for reporting? Resolving these issues requires real cross-functional cooperation. As always, the perennial challenge according to Jones is “getting a seat at the table … consumer affairs needs to continue to evolve. We need to continue to prove our value and the relevance of the consumer experience in every part of the business.” And to get a seat at the table, Sullivan reminds us that “we need to constantly sell ourselves.” While this can be tiring, it’s critical to your success.


Three Ways to Become More Mobile Literate

So what can you do specifically to make a difference and help your company become mobile literate? Here are three suggestions by Jones, along with some enhancement from the author.

1. Set great expectations.
Set the same consumer contact handling expectations for mobile as you already do for calls, emails and social media. In fact, set higher expectations in terms of response times and brief actionable answers. Consumers are often “in the moment” (e.g. at point of sale, etc.) when they are on mobile, and they need immediate answers. If you can’t answer immediately, set appropriate expectations on when you will respond.

If you’re looking at solutions such as texting or chat, consider building these to work on mobile first and desktop second. Consider investing in video chat. This technology is relatively mature, but few have invested in it except for Amazon and a handful of other companies.

2. Invest in knowledge.
Invest more in your knowledge base to ensure it is an effective and efficient experience; make sure it’s accurate and right the first time. Many of you have built deep internal-facing knowledge bases for agents to use, but aren’t leveraging that content on your websites. Your marketing colleagues and their agencies own and control that content and, according to many of you, that content is not as specific, accurate and up to date as your agents’ content.

If you think about how many people self-serve on your websites, your self-serve volume is likely 10 to 50 times higher than the volume of live inquiries your contact center receives. Unlock this valuable agent-facing content and invest time and resources to repurpose it for public self-serve consumption. Why? Because you have an obligation to present a more consistent consumer experience across all channels, and you are uniquely qualified to do this.

3. Code your inquiries.
Create cases for your mobile inquiries and use the same coding that you use for all your other inquiries so that you can use your mobile data to identify opportunities for continuous process improvement, product quality defects and overall risk mitigation. You should have the same early warning systems in place that you do for all other channels of communication. 

The bottom line: Consider mobile another channel that should be treated with the same level of importance and attention as your other channels. Use your considerable consumer engagement talents to expand the scope of your traditional contact center reach to drive a better consumer experience for your company. Take charge of your destiny!

Asher_headshotTom Asher is VP and general manager of The Action Company, maker of the Action! App, a universal customer service app for smartphones. Previously he was director of customer care at Sunrun, the largest residential solar energy company in the United States, and headed up consumer relations North America for Levi Strauss & Co. Tom joined SOCAP in 1997, served on the board of SOCAP International for six years and was chairman in 2007.