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.
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.”
A Mobile Initiative Must Be a Good Fit for the Organization
Putting Mobile to Work
Above all else, a mobile initiative must be a good fit for the organization and its customers, but this could be difficult to achieve, given today’s tight budgets, limited development capabilities and constant change. In many cases, a business must decide what provides the biggest boost to the customer’s actual experience.
“Simply having a mobile app or offering one isn’t good enough,” Borg explains. “Unless an app can increase end-user intimacy, transaction rates and the overall business value there’s really no point.”
Borg believes that organizations must pay close attention to digital marketing tools, electronic coupons, proximity-based promotions, digital wallets, loyalty data and more. Although all the technology pieces haven’t yet come together to create a seamless solution, it’s only a matter of time.
“The mobile environment is moving extraordinarily fast,” Borg said. “Mobile-enabled commerce is without a doubt one of the biggest, unrealized opportunities before us.”
Nichols adds that it’s important to put analytics and big data to use-while recognizing that “different groups and subcultures are reachable via mobile devices and mobile platforms.” It’s also possible to target customers and interact with them using GPS data, social media feeds and other tools.
“We have entered a new era, and companies must understand that the customer now drives the technology that’s used, how it’s used and how the overall communication process will take place,” Nichols said.