The Future of Customer Service: Autonomous Self-Healing Robotic Avatars in the Cloud – Part 4

The Times They Are a-Changin” and so is Customer Service.  Wonder what’s in store for the future?  We asked John Burton, Director of Product Management for SAP CRM, to provide his thoughts in this 4-part series.  For previous installments, look here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.  For our final post, John discusses the relevancy of mobile applications for customer service.

/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/3174336661_880bf6b80c_m_430260.jpgThere’s an app for that… but should there be? Are you sure?  Really?

Many companies have introduced mobile smart phone apps. But does this really make sense? Just as no one wants to carry around a wallet full of loyalty cards, most people are reluctant to bog down their phones with dozens of apps from retailers. Simply because I shop at a particular grocery store or gas station doesn’t mean I want to install their mobile app. And I definitely don’t want to give their app access to the contents of my phone’s SD card, my family vacation photos, or my Facebook friends list.

Certainly, I might install a generic app like GasBuddy that allows me find the lowest priced local station, but I am not likely to install a company-specific app like Shell Motorist App so I can “get more out of driving” (whatever that means) or so Shell can provide me with “the latest information on Shell products.” I’m not singling out Shell, but seriously? Come on guys!

Similarly, while I might potentially download a grocery shopping app like Grocery IQ that lets me make weekly shopping lists and includes a bar-code scanner to check prices, I am not likely to be interested in installing a bunch of individual retailer-specific apps from Walmart, Target, Safeway, Albertson, Kroger, Whole Foods, and so on.

On the other hand, there are some companies with whom I do business fairly regularly and where, due to the nature of the interactions, I might well choose to install an app. For example, I often travel for work and embarrassingly go out of my way to book my flights on United or one of their Star Alliance partners. (Side note: It’s not because of United’s customer service that I travel with them. Their customer service is deficient, when they even attempt to provide any at all. Rather, I am a begrudging hostage in their reward miles loyalty program). On the many occasions when my United flights are delayed or canceled, I use their app to rebook myself on another slightly less-delayed flight.

So should companies offer their own apps, or more pertinently, should companies expect customers to embrace their mobile apps? Like most good questions, the answer is probably “it depends.” But also probably, as a rule of thumb, the short response is “no.” The best candidates for mobile apps are companies with whom customers interact frequently, and with whom the relationship would otherwise necessitate visiting the company’s website.

I shop for groceries on a weekly basis (or sometimes daily, depending on how hungry I am). However, I have never visited any supermarket’s web site. So clearly, I have no need for an app. On the other hand, I shop online at Amazon frequently (several times a month, at least) and of course, I need to visit their website to do so. In this case, a mobile app makes perfect sense. That way, for example, I can order new shoes when I am bored, walking around the airport waiting for my delayed United flight.

Ultimately, the decision to provide a mobile app should be based on customer demand for it, not on the Marketing department’s prerogative.

CC image courtesy of Casey Fleser on Flickr

John Burton grew up on his grandmother’s farm in rural Northern Michigan. When he wasn’t milking goats, he was writing computer programs on his school’s Radio Shack Tandy 1000. John has spent the last fifteen years at SAP, where he helps design products for CRM, Customer Service, and Social Media. Prior to joining SAP, John taught business computer courses at Central Michigan University.  John is also the author of the SAP Press book Maximizing Your SAP CRM Interaction Center.

We hope you enjoyed John’s series on the Future of Customer Service.  Considering elevating your customer service to a social-level? Learn more about potential use cases in Hypatia Research’s report on Customer Centricity. Read more here

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