How to Differentiate with Excellent Mobile Customer Service

Starbucks customers use the company's mobile payment app so much that it accounts for more than 15 percent of all purchases at its U.S. stores. The key to this success is that Starbucks did not set out to build a new mobile app, but rather to address a clear problem in its customer experience (CX): waiting in long lines to order and pay. The mobile app happened to elegantly solve the problem.

That approach remains rare, unfortunately. Customers are mobile-first, but mobile customer service lags behind. Only 17 percent of the companies Forrester surveyed use mobile to transform customer experience. Apps that force customers to leave the app for service—by sending them to the phone's dialer or providing a mere link to shrunken and squeezed FAQs—disrupt customers' experiences and might even influence them to abandon the app altogether. Customer service organizations looking to differentiate using mobile service must deliver on a strategy that focuses on three dimensions: customer insights, technology, and organization.

Start by getting to know mobile customers. Because companies still see limited sales through mobile, they have the perception that it has limited business impact. That, alongside typical resource constraints, causes companies to place a low priority on mobile analytics. They are missing the bigger picture, however. The opportunity in mobile is first and foremost about customer engagement—improving satisfaction and loyalty by giving consumers anytime, anywhere access to contextual information and services. How many companies today know when customers are using mobile technology or what specifically they are doing with that technology? Very few: Today, just a little more than 10 percent of digital business professionals even use mobile app analytics.

On the technology front, brands must move beyond the "shrink and squeeze" approach of transposing services designed for a PC onto the small screen. Instead, customers need experiences that take advantage of the idiosyncratic processes, tasks, and tools that mobile enables. Just one example: Mobile customers are primed for proactive engagement experiences. Customer service teams can take advantage of mobile notifications to proactively reach out to customers to remind them of bills, changes in service status, or other emergent issues. But as the modern consumer demands that companies connect the dots of customer experience for them, customer service pros can also proactively surface context-appropriate content when a customer follows a certain clickstream on a mobile website or in an app that indicates a looming customer service issue.

Additionally, mobile customer service demands and even helps foster cultural change. Mobile already has a home in enterprises, or at least that's what the marketing teams that develop mobile apps believe. To successfully turn their organizations into mobile customer service powerhouses, customer service and experience pros need to shift organizational thinking about mobile. But they also need to recognize that this is as much an exercise in cultural change as it is a technology shift. Service organizations often get left out of decisions about marketing-driven mobile properties. But if the mountain won't come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain. This means that it falls to service execs to knock on marketing's door if they want to embed service into the mobile experience.

Lastly, although it might seem obvious, customer service teams will need to make quantifiable business cases to the C-suite. The benefits of mobile customer service range from assessable metrics, such as incremental revenue or cost savings from shorter handle times, to softer measures such as experience improvements. Many of the benefits customer service teams look to mobile to provide fall into the softer/experiential camp. However, to sell the idea of organizational change and technological investment to those holding the purse strings, customer service execs need to focus on the hard-dollar use cases first. This means that improvements to service experiences might need to come as stealth gains. Remember, reduced handle time from persistent authentication also means reduced service friction for customers; soft benefits can accrue from the same changes that drive hard dollar savings.

Ian Jacobs is a senior analyst at Forrester Research covering app development and delivery.