Conventional wisdom in the contact center is that self-service options for customers reduce the number of their telephone calls. However, my benchmark research into the use of technology in contact centers throws doubt on this, finding that companies still expect the volume of interactions through all channels, including the phone, to increase. This is further supported by my benchmark research into customer experience management which shows many customers starting out with self-service opt to call the contact center because they cannot resolve their issues. In recognition that for the foreseeable future agent-assisted service is likely to sit alongside self-service,  NICE Systems recently announced Mobile Reach,an application that ties self-service on mobile devices to agent assistance.

In the past companies largely implemented self-service technologies such as Web-based self-service and IVR to save money on calls. Because these systems are disconnected from the contact center, customers who could not complete a self-service interaction had to call the contact center and start from scratch with an agent who had no knowledge of what the customer had already done. Responding to the popularity of smartphones and tablet devices, companies have tried to overcome some of these limitations by developing apps that include a “call me” icon. The idea is that a customer unable to complete an interaction could tap the icon and be connected to an agent. In practices this typically did not improve on other self-service implementations because tapping the icon took the user out of the app, the information was lost and the customer had to start over again. Mobile Reach avoids this situation by allowing a user who taps the icon to remain in the app and the agent to see and share what the user was doing; the interaction continues without forcing the customer to re-enter data. As well as the data it retains any security measures already completed on the mobile device. And it allows developers to bypass IVR by using data collected on the mobile device to route the call.

Mobile Reach works on both sides of the interaction. For developers NICE Systems provides a module that can be integrated into a mobile app and contains all the additional features supported by Mobile Reach, such as “call me,” integration with GPS and data sharing. Today the product is available for the Apple iPhone and Android-based smartphones, and NICE promises a version for the iPad soon. On the server side it uses features NICE acquired in purchasing eGlue to share data with the agent in a user-friendly form. Again using features from the eGlue product, developers can enhance this data by extracting data from other business applications, thus putting the information in a fuller context of the customer; for example, it can show whether the user is a high-value customer and reference any special services that status includes. Other features allow integration with GPS, thus putting the interaction into the context of location and any special services that enables (such as how to find the nearest branch office for in-person assistance), and it allows exchange of photos (such as sharing a picture of a bill under discussion). Using technology NICE acquired from Fizzback, at the end of the interaction Mobile Reach can send the customer a short survey and integrate the output from it into the company’s voice-of-the-customer program.

Using features on both sides of the interactions enables developers to make the interaction more conversational and allows sharing of information between parties. This personal touch is likely to increase the percentage of interactions that are truly completed at the first attempt, which could help increase customer satisfaction and successful business outcomes. But I have a reservation about mobile service: Success will center on companies not making the same mistakes they made with previous attempts at self-service; for example, I don’t believe customers hate IVR, they just get frustrated by the way many companies implement it. Mobile Reach provides robust development capabilities, but companies will have to design apps that reflect customers’ perspectives and meet their expectations. NICE Systems continues to expand its portfolio as observed by my colleague and this mobile enablement should be a welcome additions to customers who need assistance from their smartphone.

Have you considered mobile self-service? If so please tell us more and collaborate with me on this topic.

Regards

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director