Embed Customer Service Right into Your Mobile Apps

We'd all agree it would be patently absurd for a customer to walk into an electronics store to buy a ultra-high-definition television only to be told by the sales clerk that they would need to call Samsung's call center to get answers to questions about the TV. Nevertheless, that's essentially what happens to customers every day.

Most large brands create mobile applications with no practical way for customers to receive customer service. At best, those apps have a 'Contact Us' button that takes the user out of the app and into the phone's dialer to make the phone call to a call center. When that call lands on a call center agent's desk, the agent has no idea who the customer is (even though the customer was authenticated in the app), no idea what the customer has done (even the though the clickstream through the app is stored in the app), and no idea what the customer wants to talk about (even though the app knows what page the customer was on when he clicked 'Contact Us').

Dead-end mobile apps, however, are just one example of the ways in which brands frustrate customers with their lack of customer service. Instead of frame of reference, we should think about the frame of experience. Customers choose the experiences they want—online, in mobile apps, in games, or in physical branches or stores—and companies should strive to keep customers within the frame of those experiences, even when the customer needs service.

This concept can and should be applied to all sorts of scenarios for service, loyalty, and pre-sales interactions.

To do that, customer service and contact center folks should be prepared to support the following:

  • The real-world situations of service experiences. A director of brand communication for a global oil company described to me the importance of understanding the service experience the company delivers to its customers before deciding on how to increase customer loyalty. His go-to example: A mobile app, generally a popular choice for loyalty building, would only serve as a dangerous distraction to a consumer operating a gas pump. To keep customers inside the frame of their experience, the oil company could embed the loyalty program functionality into the gas pump screen itself.
  • The reality of mobile app usage. In a Forrester survey, more than half of global telecommunications decision-makers whose firms are developing or have already developed customer-facing mobile apps claimed that customer service was one of the most important functions of those apps. Only half of those decision-makers, however, actually saw an improvement in customer service. As I mentioned above, apps that force customers to leave the app for service—a Contact Us button that jumps to a phone's dialer or an email client—break customers out of their experiences, and fickle users are more likely to discard them. Why use that app for service when the experience is actually worse than just using chat?
  • The experiences that leaders, such as the gaming industry, have pioneered. The economics of gaming have changed signifcantly in the past two decades. Many game publishers have come to depend on in-app purchases or microtransactions for profits. This new model means that when customers leave the game for any reason, the gaming company's revenue stream leaves the game. This gives gaming companies a strong incentive to embed support directly into the game. Some companies embed knowledge base access into their games, while others have begun to offer agent-assisted chat inside the frame of games.
  • Customers in the tools they use to communicate with friends and family. Some online retailers now offer customer service through Facebook Messenger. Louis Vuitton and China Merchant Bank offer agent-assisted service through WeChat in China. These brands have bought into the idea of not breaking the frame of experience, but they also recognize that consumers increasingly live inside messaging apps. So, they are bringing the customer service directly to those experiences. It also helps that many brands are now experimenting with commerce through messaging apps. Customers expect service to be available wherever they buy something.

The idea of embedding service inside the frame of experience shouldn't be a radical one. But there are limitations, including a scarcity of mobile design shops that truly understand how to integrate customer service back-end systems into mobile apps. But if you are a brand that prides itself on service, start to use the frame of experience as a primary prism in your service process design.

Ian Jacobs is a senior analyst at Forrester Research.