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The good, the bad & the ugly: Where is mobile CRM going wrong?

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11th Aug 2011
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Gartner's Michael Maoz explains why businesses are failing their customers on mobile devices.

With Gartner estimating that global smart phone penetration will reach 65% by 2015, it is unsurprising that some refer to mobile CRM not only as a trend but also a “business requirement” to remain competitive.
But while there is agreement over the significance of mobile to businesses, there remains some debate about the extent to which brands are capitalising on the proliferation of tablets and smartphones.
And while 2011 was earmarked by some commentators as the year that mobile would become a business imperative, there are many that are distinctly underwhelmed by the progress being made thus far.
Posting on the CRM Outsiders blog recently, Chris Bucholtz bemoaned that mobile CRM is still an under-utilised technology this far into the mobile revolution. And, elsewhere, Gartner research vice president and distinguished analyst Michael Maoz posted his own damning indictment, concluding that mobile CRM is still more theory than a practice.
So what’s going on? Why the hold up?
“Mobile is going to evolve into something very powerful eventually,” confirms Maoz. “But it’s the pace that’s the question. It is a matter of ‘what is going to be the landing path for this’ and I think it is a much longer landing path than some people think before it becomes ubiquitous or pervasive. And there are a lot of reasons for that.”
The good
While there is discontent at the glacial pace of development, there are some notable exceptions. “Everyone uses mobile to look up timetables and flights and things, these are slam dunks,” acknowledges Maoz. “Also in certain industries like the pharmaceutical sector, companies are doing detailing right in the field, to document inventory, look up parts, find routes, plans and schematics. That’s already pretty pervasive. Salespeople all have their contact information. So there are some things that are firm.”
Maribel Lopez is a principal analyst and vice president at Constellation Research Group, and CEO of Lopez Research, recently lauded some of the applications of mobile technology in pharma and healthcare.
“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,” she said. “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.”
But Maoz believes that by and large a distinction needs to be made between the progress being made by businesses with consumer-facing mobile initiatives, and employee-facing initiatives.
“I think it is important to make that bifurcation because if you look at the use by the employee, we’ve got a good story already – you see people in insurance and pharmaceutical and field service work already stepping up to do that, and even call centre managers and sales managers and logistics managers keeping tabs on what is going on while they’re on the road. They create a small app and just throw it out to an iPad or any kind of device, and that is easy for us. It is meant for a very specific use and you will actually get huge uptake.
“However, the employee-side is not the ‘big CRM’,” he adds. “And if you look at the other side of the coin, focusing on the consumer, that is where it has been harder.”
The bad
So why has this side of things been so hard? Why has there been less success with the customer-facing mobile projects?
Certainly, employee-focused initiatives aren’t without their own set of challenges. In a recent roundtable session with Brent Leary, Steve Drake, program vice president for mobility & telecom research at IDC, listed a number of barriers to development that he had perceived in this area. In particular he highlighted the problems associated with the support of the increasing number of mobile devices, the additional data plan that is required and also the additional costs.
He also added: “There’s lots of challenges beyond the technology of support and managing [devices] when it comes down to things such as compliance policies and regulations – whether it is a government kind of regulation or an internal regulation that goes down to the HR level. Everything from compliance to privacy… becomes quite challenging when you add this sort of device into the mix.”
But despite this, progress has been made internally, while external-facing projects – particularly in the service field – have failed to keep pace with consumer needs. In the UK alone, one in three adults now uses a smartphone according to the latest Ofcom report. Yet mobile services haven’t really evolved past online timetables. Where is the ability to remotely troubleshoot mobile gadgets, why aren’t they pushing videos at customers to solve problems, where is the customer’s grocery list as an app on their mobile device?
Maoz lists some of the problems that businesses must address if they want to use mobile devices as customer engagement or service tools. “I’m not really sure how much trust there is in conducting commercial transactions on a mobile device at the moment,” he says. “They are generally used in public and I don’t necessarily want to type in all of my privacy information on a train or at the beach. Folks are still anxious about that.”
He adds: “And then there is the form factor. Searching the web for lots of information on a small device or mobile out in the sun – it is just not as convenient as a Macintosh or PC or desktop, where I have lots of information that I can easily consume on a larger form factor and have the bandwidth and security through my network. So to replicate that onto a mobile device is going to take some time.”
But there is a far bigger issue at the core of this, according to Maoz – businesses quite simply lack the commitment and vision to keep up with the customer.
The ugly
In a stinging blog post earlier this year, Maoz lambasted businesses for what he perceived as a “commitment to bottom line costs and top line short termism” when they could instead be capitalising on the mobile revolution with innovative tools. Quite simply, while adoption of smartphones and tablets has rocketed, corporate IT has lacked the vision, commitment and investment to keep up with the pace.
“There is no business case, no budget, a lack of urgency,” says Maoz. “The creation of a compelling business case today is getting in the way. There are very few compelling business cases – and where there are, they are in the dimension of field service, or sales, and certain industries that can get the budget to go forward, or already have budget, like sales and marketing have budget, so they can do things on their own. For service functions it is much harder because they are waiting in line for budget.”
As a result, the analyst is extremely pessimistic about a large proportion of future mobile projects. “Within the next three years, probably almost 95% of websites will have a tablet version. But a lot of those will fail. Perhaps 30%, 40%, 50% will fail because businesses don’t understand the use case. They don’t understand what is required – taking the process for a website that was meant for a full screen PC or Mac down to an iPad and understanding how they do support, who does support for it, in the customer service piece what form of service do they give…. There is a change needed. And this is going to be difficult.”
But Maoz has advice for those organisations that are keen to demonstrate a commitment to mobile, to ensure that their projects won’t be one of the many casualties. He suggests that firms that have vision should start taking “small and meaningful” moves into mobile, and recommends these should be based around small use cases that show promise – “a manager of sales will build an application where they can see real-time issues with any account that goes red – terrific, that is a great thing, anything that lets me take action is going to be a hit.”
He also advises that brands should gain a competency within the organisation about how to write apps for these small form factors. “Develop a small competency centre, perhaps just based on the CEO or the managers or people who will really benefit from spending their time out on the road. Maybe a collaboration app, or social networking app or something for presentations,” he continues. “That way you’re going to be ready for the opportunities, you are going to understand their maintenance and upkeep, what is possible, the integration issues, the security issues, and how it fits in with the other company infrastructure.”
But the most important message from Maoz is that organisations need to have vision and commitment to mobile in the first place, because the genie is already out of the bottle – there may be user configuration issues, security challenges, notification problems and so on. But this is ultimately just part of the adventure, so they shouldn’t be used as excuses for procrastination.
He concludes: “Mobile is mighty attractive and capable. We haven’t got the kinks worked out but there are dozens of powerful use cases. There are already areas where it is being used to great effect. The consumer side is going to be the harder one, but it is also where the enterprise has a big opportunity. It is moving slowly at the moment because it is facing a rash of problems. But you have to call your shots where you think the most value is, move incrementally, watch, be careful and evolve. And that is where we see a really good beginning. But it really is just a beginning.”

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By jamesandrewbrown
11th Aug 2011 12:14

Agreed mobile technology is more than capable of facilitating really useful applications which are linked to CRM systems for staff who are on the move. There does seem to be a lack of willingness by small businesses to fund the build of mobile applications even though the ROI case is pretty obvious - maybe this is more of a recession factor in the short term.

Mobile applications that allow interaction with a CRM software systems diary and selected contacts is pretty standard but the potential to achieve real business benefits via specific applications is huge and has massive potential for growth. 

If small business software providers can show a company that a mobile application can give their sales team more time in front of customers or that a warehouse can run more efficiently with 20% less staff then the popularity of these applications will grow exponentially.

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By khogenson
11th Aug 2011 14:14

 One phenomenon we see frequently in our practice are the marketers and financial analysts who are skeptical because they aren't using the newer smart phone or tablet themselves.  Their company supplies them with outdated std issue business tools -- in the few companies where extraordinary managers do make the case for investment, they are then in the position of being unable to test the user experience without borrowing from their consultants or agencies.  No joke.  Some corporate employees have bought newer technology for their personal use, but job uncertainty limits the number who do that. How can major corporations outside of technology firms innovate when their workers have limited access to what's out there? The technology skips ahead in isolated pockets while the consumer apps lag.

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By bearddd
30th Aug 2011 12:32

Michael Maoz's original post strikes a chord for me. 

His quoted example (table booking, plane tickets, etc.) speak to companies that take deliberate steps to address customer needs, WHERE the customer is.  Not just "doing CRM" just within the corporate firewall.

Our smarter customers recognise that fact, and extend their CRM deployment to wherever & however it makes sense - and making sense is usually along dimensions of saving time, increasing efficiency - for their users & customers alike.   

 

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