With many predicting 2012 is the year of the customer service app, MyCustomer.com examines the adoption so far and asks whether apps are a fad or the future of customer service.
Smartphone ownership is skyrocketing. Last month, research from the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PwC revealed that 53% of the population now owns a device and, combined with the growth of mobile tablets, this has sparked a surge in brand apps.
With so many now using smartphones and studies showing that many users spend more time using their mobile apps than their mobile internet browsers, a growing number are suggesting that 2012 is likely to be the year of the customer service app.
And this seems logical, after all, consumers are crying out for a service channel that is convenient, has unlimited availability and no call waiting, and apps would fit the bill. Meanwhile, there are also multiple benefits for brands – businesses will be able to decrease costs by deflecting calls, reduce call resolution times, and drive customer satisfaction.
Forrester analyst Kate Leggett is just one expert who is forecasting that 2012 is the year customer service apps become a must-have. She expects that a growing number of customers will use mobile devices to register products, locate stores, create support tickets, and receive value-added services and incentive offers from customer service organisations; while customers will also demand multiple service capabilities from their devices, such as reading a FAQ sent by a customer service agent whilst speaking to them.
She explains: “Companies will also move away from merely duplicating their web presence in their mobile offering and focus instead on deploying the right mobile usage scenarios that add value to customers and which leverage the native capabilities of these devices, such as camera, video and GPS functions that are optimised for the device type, operating system and form factor.”
So what brands, if any, are rolling out customer service apps? Air Asia seems to be the pin-up for service app implementation, giving customers the ability to ask questions through their smartphone. The iPhone app has reportedly generated two million downloads, making it the number one selling app in the iPhone App store for Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia and the introduction of the app is said to have resulted in a 40% reduction in contact centre costs.
Dee Roche, European marketing director at Eptica, which is working with Air Asia, believes that the project has been a “fantastic success” and demonstrates that apps “provide a quick, convenient way for people to find information and answers and engage with customer service.”
Roche continues: “For customer service departments who know that their customers are heavy users of smartphones, an app has got to be one of their agenda items this year. Not only can they enhance customer service, they can help reduce contact centre workload and costs.”
Roche also has advice for those considering rolling out their own apps: “One of the key learnings from Air Asia’s experience is that the app is part of an integrated, ‘joined up’ customer service experience. It shares the same knowledgebase as the rest of the airline’s customer service channels, so whether you ask a question through the web, Facebook or mobile, you receive the same answer, through the channel of your choice.”
KLM is another brand, and another airline, using a customer service app to alleviate issues, this time for the short-term. In April 2010, within 24 hours of the Icelandic ash cloud halting flights, the Dutch airline created an app that provided service updates.
But case studies of successful service apps aren’t abundant. Indeed, some are sceptical that the reported demand for apps is accurate.
For instance, Steve Richards, MD at Yomego, says: “There isn’t much appetite from either brands or customers as far as we can tell – which may explain the lack of successful big brand case studies in this space.”
He adds: “The need to download an app is an extra barrier for an irritated customer. If your TV or mobile phone is broken then the first thing you’re likely to do is either call the helpline or search online for a solution. Downloading an app isn’t part of the customer service process, and it can’t be built into it easily. It’s simply not a natural action in the process and it creates another silo for content and information, that in an ideal world, would all be easily searchable so that solutions can be found with the minimum of stress.”
He continues: “Unlike customer service communities on Facebook etc (ASOS is known to do them well), there isn’t an immediate benefit to the brand here either. Social customer service communities mean that discussion and complaints can be removed from a brand’s main Facebook page and resolved with minimum brand impact. Whereas asking an already annoyed or upset customer to download an app is going to annoy them further.”
Clearly as with any project of this ilk, some good thought needs to be behind it before it is undertaken. Unfortunately, service apps will lure those susceptible to Shiny New Technology syndrome, and so while some businesses will bury their heads in the ground, others will throw money at apps without thinking of the customer’s needs.
Scott Storey, MD of CTS Retail, provides the following advice for businesses that want to take action right away.
“If brands are keen to offer a CS app quickly, they should opt for a simple solution that is focused on delivering what the customer needs – perhaps including similar information to an FAQ section on the website. Rather than try to create something flashy and hi-tech, keep it simple but informative.
“Ultimately, customers want to find an answer to their problem and if you can provide them with an easy to follow route map to that solution (and that doesn’t mean solving the problem via the app itself!), they’ll remain a satisfied customer.”
What do you think? Will customer service apps take off or is there simply a lack of appetite from brands and/or customers?