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How is mobile technology redefining the customer relationship?

14th Jul 2011
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As part of his ongoing series of roundtable interviews, social CRM guru Brent Leary talks to leading experts from the world of CRM and social CRM about topical issues and the industry at large. This month Brent's panel discusses the impact of mobile technology on CRM and social CRM. 

From left to right, this roundtable session's panel consists of...

  • Brent Leary: Brent Leary is a crm industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award winning blogger. He is co-founder and Partner of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. In 2009 he co-authored Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Business. Recognised by InsideCRM as one of the 25 most influential industry leaders, Leary also is a past recipient of CRM Magazine's Most Influential Leader Award. He serves on the national board of the CRM Association, on the advisory board of the University of Toronto's CRM Center of Excellence, and on the editorial advisory board for The Atlanta Tribune. Leary writes a regular online column for Inc. magazine, and blogs at He can be found on Twitter at
  • Maribel Lopez: Maribel Lopez is a principal analyst and vice president at Constellation Research Group. She is also the CEO of Lopez Research, a market research and strategy consulting firm that specialises in communications technologies with a heavy emphasis on the disruptive nature of mobile technologies. Maribel’s mission is to understand the evolution of these industries, provide thought leadership, and assist both enterprise and technology vendor clients in building winning market strategies.
  • Steve Drake: Stephen Drake is the program vice president for mobility & telecom research at IDC. In this position, he has responsibility for the mobile enterprise, mobile SMB, mobile device coverage, IP communication services and also contributes to IDC's unified communication research. Drake has more than 10 years experience as an analyst prior to joining IDC in 1997, he was a research associate with Giga Information Group (subsequently acquired by Forrester Research) where he conducted primary and secondary research on a wide array of IT topics in the end-user community.
  • Josh Greenbaum: Joshua Greenbaum is the principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting, with over 25 years of experience in the industry as a computer programmer, systems analyst, author, consultant, and industry analyst. He spent three years in Europe as an industry analyst and as European correspondent for Information Week and other industry publications. In his role as an industry analyst, Josh regularly consults with leading public and private enterprise software, database, and infrastructure companies, and advises end-users on technology infrastructure and applications selection, development, and implementation issues. An award-winning columnist, Josh is widely quoted in the trade and business press.


Brent Leary: Hello, this is Brent Leary and we are about to do a great roundtable conversation from, part of the Social CRM Roundtable conversation services. Today, we are going to be talking about the impact of the latest and greatest mobile technology on the customer relationship. Yes, this has definite implications for social CRM, because everything that involves computers and technology and devices that people love to use, definitely impact the customer relationship. So today with me, this is a great roundtable. So, starting off and I am sorry, I am in the south so I am going to do that ladies first theme, although we are in the 21st century. I am still going to do it. I would like to welcome Maribel Lopez. Maribel is the principle and vice president for Constellation Research and also founder of Lopez Research. Maribel, thank you for joining me today.
Maribel Lopez: Thank you.
Brent Leary: Steve Drake is the program vice president for mobility and telecom at IDC. Steve, thanks for joining me. 
Steve Drake: Thanks Brent.
Brent Leary: Last, but certainly not least, is Josh Greenbaum, who is the principle for Enterprise Applications Consulting and he is also a man of intrigue. Josh, thanks for joining me today.
Josh Greenbaum: {chuckles} What an intriguing intro. Thank you so much, glad to be here.
Brent Leary: Well, this is a really timely to be talking about this and so I am going to just jump right in it and go to Maribel first and ask, your opinion on what have things like the iPad (and the multitudes of tablet devices, and the latest and greatest mobile technology) impacted, maybe at a general level, the relationship between customers and vendors today?
Maribel Lopez: I think one of the most compelling things about mobile is the way we have access to data. Having the new devices that have come out, they are connected, they have location and they have access to CRM systems. You combine those and you have the ability to know information about your customer. Get routing information and have real-time access to anything that is going on with them, not just the CRM database, but in any of the other social feeds. 
We really see mobile, social and local coming together to change the customer experience and to enhance how businesses deal with customers, and what kind of information they have. 
Brent Leary: Steve, what do you think?
Steve Drake: I think tablets in particular seem to be really transforming the way that organisations can begin to reach their customers. We have been hearing about, not only the portability of the device, but the large displays, quick 'on' device and the power of those types of UI's and robust views are allowing, for example, sales folks to really demonstrate their offerings, solutions and services. Like I said, in a much more robust way, they weren't able to do before. Oddly enough, we are hearing that in some cases there are companies out there that are looking to actually replace laptops because of the successes of some of those tablets. 
Now, it's not certainly widespread taking over all laptops, but definitely in certain pockets because of the kind of success that the tablets are having in the enterprise for those kinds of companies. It's really again, changing the way that companies are looking at how they can deploy these services.
"Tablets in particular seem to be really transforming the way that organisations can begin to reach their customers." - Steve Drake
Josh Greenbaum: I'll jump in before you ask me Brent. I think in particular for me, in addition to what Maribel and Steve said, I think the rich user experience of that graphical interface, really next generation graphical interface that Apple threw out in the market very quickly, adopted by everyone. We now have this extremely rich and exceptional user experience that not only is able to display on these, particularly the larger tablet devices, very, very complex and engaging interfaces to the customer, but also, the tablets themselves are becoming more and more a nexus for social activity in and of themselves. Essentially, I just saw Walt Mossberg take after the new HP tablet because its only has one camera, it doesn't have two. It doesn't have a back and a front one and that's the new standard. That is partly because those two cameras are a richer engagement with the users and it extends the user community around a single tablet. That kind of extendibility of the tablet, within its parameter, having its own community around it, means that these tablets can really start positioning social CRM for actual new forms of interaction as well.
Maribel Lopez: I would like to pick up on what Josh just said there, because there are two important things that he is picking up on. One, we talk about everyone has talked about having tablets. one of the things that we don't talk about is a lot of enterprises are extremely excited that sales people are going out and buying their own tablets now because of that user experience. They wanted to have that user experience and now we can enable a wide range of employees within the organisation because they are buying their own devices and in some cases are even willing to pay for their own plans. So all we have to do as corporations is give them access to the right tools in a secure way.
The second thing that Josh was bringing up around user experience and the front-rear facing cameras, there is a lot of interesting things happening in the consumer side. Augmented reality - I believe augmented reality is going to come to the enterprise and it's going to allow you to take what was pretty static content and make it very interactive. 
Also the cameras in these devices, allow you to, as I say, see other things and do overlays, but also do a great amount of data capture in a very rich way, in terms of video and images that we didn't have before that can go back into CRM systems and provide tremendous value to the business.
Steve Drake: Brent, if I could be a contrarian here. Certainly there are lots of good things going on with all of these, but it also raises a large number of challenges as well for organisations. First and foremost I think when you start talking about this, more devices and how you manage that in terms of managing and supporting and such, but managing the idea that this is an additional data plan that you need to deal with, the additional costs of the hardware in and of itself… 
Recently, we have talked a lot about the idea of individual-liable type devices coming into the enterprise. The idea that there's lots of challenges beyond the technology of support and managing those when it comes down to things such as compliance policies, regulations, whether it is a government kind of regulation or an internal kind of regulation -things that go down to the HR level. There are certainly certain countries, we have talked to a lot of CIOs, where they literally have to go from country to country within their large multinational organisation to understand if this is allowed in our country. Some countries in Europe, there are union regulations that say, as a corporate employee I must receive a corporate device. I think that with all of the positives, it opens up a lot of challenges for a number of these companies to support ad manage the influx and how do we plan for this going forward, whether it is multiple device data plan or overall kind of manage and support. Again the whole kind of everything from compliance to privacy, driving policies all become quite challenging when you add this sort of device in the mix.
"Augmented reality is going to come to the enterprise and it's going to allow you to take what was pretty static content and make it very interactive." - Maribel Lopez
Josh Greenbaum: Is it safe to say I am a contrarian with you? I absolutely agree, 100%. This is huge. In effect, this speaks to the larger question for this convergence of consumer and the enterprise is one of the big struggles in corporate IT, and that's from the IT and from the enterprise standpoint. But there is a similar issue at the consumer side, at the customer side, the people that we are trying to reach with social CRM. They too have this problem. If you are sitting at work, you want to have some limits as to what are the inputs that can come into your mobile device, you don't want to suddenly have your work day interrupted with offers for the latest consumer items for some retailer you are connected to. So I think there is this issue in addition to the protecting the innate security of the enterprise with this proliferation of the loosely controlled devices. There is also a question of being about to separate consumer and enterprise in ways that are appropriate for both models.
Brent Leary: Let me pick up on something and toss it over to you Maribel, because you guys just really brought up a number of challenges to companies for being able to really fully utilise these new devices, but one question I had was around utilising the new devices to create opportunities to engage. We see a lot of companies that are beginning to look at how to create content that looks good on a mobile device, but it is mostly push content or push messages, not really getting into engagement or utilising the mobile device to fully be engaged or interact. Maribel, are you seeing companies fully embrace these social tools and use mobile devices to connect for a traditional purpose of push marketing or are you actually seeing them change in terms of their culture, towards interaction?
Maribel Lopez: A little bit of both. I think push is obviously easier, but if we look at some of the things that are going on in pharma and health care, they are creating rich documents. If you show somebody a price list or a drug list, you really have about fifteen seconds before they want to walk away, but if you start showing them interactive videos and create a dialogue around the possible with different products, it's actually very engaging for the customer base. 
If you look at what's happening in the medical environment in terms of patient care being able to take electronic health records and place them on tablets and smart devices and being able to do things like check in medicine to make sure that we are giving people the right drugs, scanning bar codes and the like. There are definitely lots of ways business is changing as a result of that. Then there is also the move to the next generation of collaboration, where we have tablets and we can do collaboration on the go. Things such as expert services in the field - if you are in the field, changing a piece of equipment and something's wrong and you need to talk to somebody back at the office, you can now do that with the next generation of mobile devices.
Josh Greenbaum: I think Maribel wasn't there, I don't know if you were there at Sapphire, SAP Sapphire show, but I know Brent and Steve and I were there, and there they showed during one of the keynotes, the Avon app on the iPad for the Avon sales people. To go out, instead of lugging samples and catalogues, they have got this beautiful iPad. That was a good example and the fact they didn't say when they demo'd it was it was not SAP employees, it was a real live Avon rep - and this was how she was changing her business. Now she is changing her interactions with her customers. I thought it was an interesting example of how that works.
Maribel Lopez: Yes, we are starting to see lots of kiosk apps go into stores to demonstrate products. Avon is a great example - lots of opportunities I think. 
I actually also agree with the challenges that were brought up earlier. I think that there is a level of management and security that needs to be installed to make these work for enterprises.
Brent Leary: Let's pick up on another subject that came up at the Sapphire event, which was the potential that a technology like near field communications (NFC) could have on mobile commerce, but also customer interaction with the companies. Steve, what does NFC have to offer and do you think we will actually see it getting into the mainstream anytime soon?
"One of my concerns is that there's a tendency to see this as purely goodness and I think there is some concerns in the consumer world that this NFC is really the beginning of a slightly too invasive relationship." - Josh Greenbaum
Steve Drake: Well, I think there's a real opportunity, when you talk about improvement of that customer experience, the opportunity to leverage that device - your device that you likely always have with you - for payment purposes. I think this is something that we see and in general lots of those mobile banking issues are much further along outside of the US part of the problem - and you can probably go back to previous challenges with some things like texting, as an example, probably five or six years ago - we had just gotten interoperable so a T-Mobile customer could send a Verizon customer a text. There are a lot of stakeholders that get involved in these issues. You have got retail stores that have got to have the equipment ready. You have to have the device OEMs to make sure that the devices are ready. Anytime banks get involved, carriers get involved. There are a lot of ownership issues of who owns the customer. There is no question that the opportunity is out there to really improve the idea of leveraging something that is already out there. Sort of that lowest common denominator, if you will, of something that really would improve the way you buy and leveraging that mobile wallet. 
On top of that there are new opportunities for new companies when you talk about marketing and different campaigns and promotions that companies can put out. I think that started out in this country a little bit, but it falls a little short but when you add an NFC - actually couponing or promoting particular products and then be able to act on that at a retail site - I think becomes very interesting. I think it is coming along. I think that it starts with the devices being able to support those increasingly coming aboard - certain retail shops today are beginning to deploy those, and banks coming on board. I think you will begin to see that in the midterm, in the next couple of years we will see much more widespread because I think it is something that will improve that day-to-day use case.
When you look at all of the interties, whether it is end-user improvement, all of the companies that are involved in deploying it potentially, all their vendors and retail folks that can really enhance the customer experience and improve their opportunity to sell more. I think those are all positives that make them want to expand this.
Brent Leary: Josh, I am going to ask you if Apple were to say they were going to include NFC chips in their next release of the iPhone5 , what impact do you think that would have on the adoption of NFC?
Josh Greenbaum: Before I answer that question I have to pose my own question, am I the only one that is concerned about this technology, in terms of the potential for invasiveness? This is one of my concerns, that there's a tendency to see this as purely goodness and I think there is some concerns in the consumer world that this NFC is really the beginning of a slightly too invasive relationship between our consumer selves, our technology and retailers who are trying to reach out to us.
Maybe that is my contrarian position. I'd love to hear if someone wants to challenge that or not.  I am not sure that's exactly the greatest thing to happen to mobility, personally.
Maribel Lopez: I guess I will take the flip side of that for a second, because I don't think it is just NFC. We have got NFC, location based services, scanning of bar codes, there are a lot of things that are going on there and I think that absolutely we are going to fall over our skies. Someone is going to go too far, but we have seen this happen again and again with Facebook and people, by and large have not fallen out in droves on Facebook. All of the privacy issues, maybe they're not...
Josh Greenbaum: Brent, can we tell them what we talked about before. What we were just talking about before we started?
Brent Leary:  I know that Josh was going to go in this direction because just recently he posted about how he is going to disable his Facebook account due to some privacy issues. So this is actually right along with the theme.
Josh Greenbaum: Today is day one of Facebook free life for me. 
Maribel Lopez: There you go and I think that some people will opt out and I think what is going to happen is somebody will go too far and everybody will flip out but then we will know where the boundary is. We have to get to the point where we know where the boundary is because I think that technologies are very powerful and someone will have to make that leap of faith and mistake and then we will all know where it is and then we will be able to use them. 
I also think that we need to have some control over them. Just because you have NFC, there should be a way for you to turn it off if you don't want to have it on all the time, right?  
"If you can provide me relevant information, then these services are valuable, if not, they are just an intrusion on my privacy. I think we move to context aware services." Maribel Lopez
Josh Greenbaum: Not just turn it on and off. I want some real fine grade of controls. That is my problem with Facebook. Every time I think that I have their privacy adjusted, there is something I cannot adjust. I like having my GPS on my phone. I don't want that to be a totally binary action. I want to be able to control that. I don't necessarily want every aspect of that on all the time. I think that is the problem, we need to have some more complex dials to this technology in order to give consumers the comfort they will begin to demand.
Steve Drake: There is no question the privacy issue is huge, whether it is Facebook, NFC or again, even that user that is leveraging their own device for the company. There is lot of implications there and Maribel has a good point about where those boundaries are. Unfortunately in some of these cases, it could be a catastrophic boundary. We have already seen examples of mobile malware that have come in and really changed the way - because we are doing so much on our phones. We are quick to say accept and yes, yes, yes and move forward on our devices. There will be increasing payment exchanges from not only person-to-person, but person to other equipment and other companies that will have lots of opportunities for malicious activity there. Again, there has been a lot that has gone on already. But nothing huge and until that sort of catastrophic front page, New York Times comes about, people don't get to excited or worried about it. Unfortunately, it may take something large and I think there has been lots going on in the none-mobile world, whether its laptops or hacking of various websites and getting contact information that is pretty private.
Unfortunately, the boundary may actually be a pretty catastrophic one if we hit on some of these.
Brent Leary: It sounds to me like people just love the technology. People love social. They love mobile and even though there are these missteps, how can you forget too fat to fly or United breaks guitars or even the Anthony Weiner situation, we see these really big missteps, but it doesn't seem to slow the adoption of technology and social into mainstream and even the business world. Maybe this is the time to ask, because we need to wrap up this great conversation. Let me ask each of you, if you were to peer out into the future, maybe a year or two years from now, where is mobility going to impact the customer-vendor relationship the most? Is it something new that we haven't seen? 
Maribel Lopez: I think we move to context to where engagement and experience. So, my phone knows where I am, my calendar, knows if I am late for an appointment or if I have time. It can check my LinkedIn and see if anybody's nearby and also knows that I happen to like Tapas, and a friend of mine near by likes Tapas and really starts to create services and intelligence that are meaningful for me. The issue is not so much about privacy, I think it's about relevancy. If you can provide me relevant information, then these services are valuable, if not, they are just an intrusion on my privacy. I think we move to context aware services.
Steve Drake: I would agree. I think there is going to be some new and amazing experiences for end user customers. Again, thinking of a retail scenario, there are companies today like Coca-Cola already looking at as you walk into a particular store, how they can create an experience for you as a customer. This, from a technical perspective from Coke, from the retailer, they can leverage lots of different backend information and a lot of what Maribel had mentioned, context aware, knowing who you are, how old you are and what your interests are and then be able to push out a particular marketing campaigns and allow for you to have a new experience. They know you have kids there while you are doing this, can you offer up a game or offer up a particular marketing promotion. Can you provide this new experience where you know what you need to get shopping and it tells you where to go where things are and sponsored by a particular company or whatever. Really changing that customer, perhaps, shopping experience and much improved for that customer but also for the product folks getting into a much bigger touch. Retail guys as well, being able to really provide a new differentiated play, so that maybe I will come back to this store because it is a really cool setup. 
I feel like we have just scratched the surface on these devices. No one thinks twice about using their device for the mobile web today, whereas, just a few years ago, it was a pretty horrible experience. I think these kinds of things will continue to improve in pretty large leaps when we start to think about what we can do with these devices. 
Really, scratching the surface from sort of singular types of uses, to really integrated offerings that truly embrace your whole society with it. At what point, you are walking through your daily life that you'll be able to leverage this for various types of use cases. I think this will come certainly sooner then it may sound, certainly coming up in the next couple of years.
Josh Greenbaum: Gaming and virtual reality I think these are two very exciting engagement tools that we are going to see more of in the consumer and the end-user experience in general. Not just attached to mobile devices, but I think mobility has a tremendous value for gamification. I saw a Swedish ERP company that showed me a prototype of a field service virtual reality app that was fascinating. A warehouse management company that has a pick and pack game for warehouse pick and pack. You are out there trying to beat the best time in the warehouse and you are getting points for it. It's on your little mobile device. It's kind of fun. It has a cute interface. 
I think we are going to have those type of engagement models, particularly the gamification. Not sure games per say, but adding game elements and the incentives ad rewards and peer recognition that comes out of the online multi-user gaming world and putting that into the mobile device in the enterprise, both for the consumers interactions with the company as well as the internal interactions of the company. Gaming is already one of the hottest things happening in mobile today and its going to enter the enterprise in a big way, very, very soon.

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By Bob Zabiyaka
16th Jul 2011 16:30

 Thank you for this roundtable. IMHO, spreading of mobile apps has changed the consumer behavior deeper that it may seem, because it changed the way we make decisions. There always was a time lag between a desire to buy something and a buying itself. Let me illustrate this with the following example, before the Internet Age if you want to buy a book you have to plan your visit to a bookstore, find the book and buy it. So the distance between “I want” and “I get” stretched for hours, days or weeks. Then, with ubiquitous Internet coverage you have the opportunity to buy via – you can make the order right from your house. Nevertheless you still were limited - you were tied to a PC that has an Internet connection. 

 With mobile you are free of any limitations - you may search, compare and buy right at the moment you want something. And let me finish with my book example. I don’t like to read paper books, but I love visiting bookstores. So when I visit the store and find a book that I’d like to read, I download this book from Barnes & Noble’s online store right from my googlephone. The point is - with mobile apps the time that separates your wish from decision takes less than a second. With this there is no turning back, because people get hooked this way of buying :) 

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By its_me
25th Apr 2012 11:38

Mobile technology is making great impacts everywhere. Not just mobile technology but technology in general is doing great. But we also have to deal with issues that are cropping up. Data security for instance is a huge problem; thankfully we have access to cutting edge solutions such as cloud security.

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