Getting the best from Customer Service Apps

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With so many people using smartphones and the apps that make them so appealing, is the creation of a customer service (CS) app the next big thing in customer experience?

Forrester analyst Kate Leggett thinks so,  believing that “companies will 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.”

Strip away the jargon, and (I think) this means that smartphones can offer something extra to contacting customer service, beyond what’s already on a website. For the most part, this is about convenience – i.e. finding the path of least resistance to enable a customer to contact you. That is – assuming you want to be contacted by customers. With so many firms still driven by metrics like average call handling time, they may not want to get into a meaningful conversation at all.

My own belief is that customer service apps will have a place in the future, but as a proactive tool for customers – something they might download in advance of a problem, rather than because of one.

The case for using them as a reactive tool is weak – the whole purpose of smart, accessible online feedback channels is to reduce the hurdles to being heard, not add to them. Existing channels such as Twitter and Facebook are a far more natural digital domain for customers to ask (and find) help.

But if customers download an app as part of everyday interface with that brand, and then use the same app to deal with CS issues, that’s a convenient way for them to interact. For example, if you’re a commuter, and use an app to check train running status, then linking thru’ that app to customer service would be seamless and familiar.

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I’d highlight the Amazon app (iPhone) as a good example of how this works. Their app is most commonly used to search for, order and track items, and all of this functionality works reliably. But there is also a link to customer service (see image), which either takes you directly thru’ to the contact page on the website (no need to leave the app to fire up the web browser) or call Customer Service (on an 0800 toll free number which dials automatically on your phone – the only downside to this is that mobile operators still charge you for 0800 calls, but this isn’t Amazon’s fault).

As ever, the secret to good app design is to understand the customers’ needs and emotions, and be clear about how fulfilling them matches the brand’s own values and differentiates them in the process.

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Further reading: for a good external article of the pro’s and con’s of CS apps, click here.

PS: see my blog article for futher details on app design at: http://customerfaithful.com/3-tips-for-an-winning-app/

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