Smartphones, Tablets, Apps Streamline Customer Interactions

Smartphones, tablets and mobile applications are changing the way customers behave. While companies need new mobile strategies to keep up, there is no blueprint for how all these technologies can work together.

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By: Samuel Greengard

In the last few years, many organizations have grappled with the task of managing customer relationships effectively. As traditional communication channels, such as print, have morphed into a growing tangle of electronic offerings, the tools and methods required to connect with customers have undergone a fundamental change.

Nowhere are the challenges more acute than in the mobile arena.

"Organizations face enormous challenges and opportunities in today's business environment," said David Nichols, America's leader in the CIO Services Practice at Ernst & Young. "A well-defined mobile strategy is now a critical part of how a company deals with its customers."

How can organizations define a basic customer-focused mobile strategy? How can they use mobile applications and tools to fully engage customers and boost loyalty? And how can they cope with customer-driven IT decision making and generations of tools that change in the blink of an eye? There are no easy answers.

The first thing to understand is that interaction in the mobile space is "fundamentally different" than it is any other channel, including standard Web browsing, observes Andrew Borg, an analyst with the Aberdeen Group.

Pushing Buttons

While most industry observers are busy trumpeting the consumerization of IT, Borg is taking a somewhat contrarian view and describing the current environment as the "IT-erization" of consumers. Either way, "They've taken the reins and they now dictate what types of tools and systems organizations will use to interact with their customers," said Borg. Above all else, this means that retailers and others must create a stellar user experience, both visually and functionally.

"It's not enough to simply port over a Web app to a smartphone or tablet," Borg said.

In fact, it's increasingly necessary to optimize a site and performance for different types of devices: plain old cell phones, smartphones and tablets, as well as laptops and desktop PCs with a standard Web browser.

"The bar is set extremely high with mobile apps," said Borg. "Consumers are demanding this level of usability and performance across the device spectrum, and they bring these demands into the workplace as well."

Moreover, it's critical to incorporate the range of capabilities that a device offers. All the various sensors embedded in a device must become part of the developer's toolset. These include GPS, cameras, audio, WiFi, accelerometers and other capabilities. It also means tying into social media and other tools to create features that didn't exist-and in some cases couldn't have been imagined-only a few years ago.

As Nichols puts it: "The sum of the technologies is greater than the individual parts."