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One App, Multiple Channels: The Holy Grail

This article was originally posted on No Jitter, here.

We explore best practices in the orchestration of disparate customer contact channels on mobile apps.


Customer service executives constantly hone contact center best practices to produce a superior customer service experience. Today, practitioners are faced with even more complexity by being able to call, email and chat on a single device. But smartphone apps that include all communication channel options, within the app itself, are rare. Here we explore best practices in the orchestration of these disparate channels.

Unfortunately, smartphone in-app communication channels rarely are actually communicative. In order to contact a company's customer service, users must hop out of the self-service app and go to stand-alone service channels. When does this madness begin? It begins when mobile app teams work in a separate silo from the Web team, as well as separate from the contact center team. Sound familiar? Sadly, you end up with mediocre results.

To solve this, start with putting the chief architects of these systems in the same room. Then, challenge them to design an app that actually communicates. Let's count the ways...

Beyond the Call Smartphone applications should be as smart as the phone they are on. But most smartphone app designers give short shrift to phone calls. For example, few smartphone applications will intelligently put callers into the proper automatic call distributor (ACD) queue. This should happen automatically based on the customer's profile and standing. Most smartphone apps unceremoniously dump users into the general ACD queue when they use the built-in speed dial. That's assuming there's even a speed dial capability built in to the app to begin with.

It is a best practice to leverage customer-specific data. Imagine the customer's frustration in having to go through generic IVR menus and other useless prompts. You know who the caller is. Re-use the data from the smartphone app and put them in the right queue. Or offer callback so you can connect them to agents at a time more convenient for the customer.

Email Phishing Shark Repellant Scam-based emails often masquerade as legitimate communications from vendors. Financial providers and insurance companies alike are plagued by these phishing scams. That's why there are so many proprietary, Web-based email systems. The standard is to send an SMS or email alert that your customer "has real mail" on your proprietary Web-based messaging system.

Fortunately, message alert tools let you "badge" a smartphone app or push an alert box to users. Take Apple Push Notification Service (APNS), for example. If you already invest in a Web-based email app, it makes sense to fold that into the mobile app. Now, you can simply pop the badge on the app instead. With a little forethought, you can deliver both the alert and the message in the app itself.

This beats leaving the smartphone app only to open an email and then following a hyperlink to read yet another message in a different app. Having to go through several apps does not provide a good customer experience. It is better to keep them inside the app and reduce the amount of clicks needed to deliver what customers want.

Chat Inside, Not Outside Some companies deliver real-time chat capability from within a smartphone app. This can be emulated inside of customer service-based applications as well. Imagine offering self-service inside your smartphone app but also offering a built-in chat help line. Self-service can only go so far; sometimes the customers want to interact with the vendor directly.

Companies can add real-time chat to their app in two ways. First, use the standard XMPP protocol implemented in a variety of open source libraries that are available for smartphones. Tie this to the chat server, and it saves the customer the headache of having to exit the vendor's app, including its credentials and helpful electronic data, and jumping to a completely separate application. Second, embed a Web-based chat implementation into a browser window tied to the smartphone app. Either way, it provides a more seamless experience for customers.

Conclusion Just having a smartphone app is not good enough. Besides self-service robustness, good customer service makes it easy for customers to traverse multiple channels on their smartphone and take their credentials with them as they do so. The result is a superior customer service experience. By taking advantage of these tips, you can ensure excellence for your customers.

Edwin Margulies is the Vice President of Social & Mobile Product Management at Five9. Ed is an industry veteran with significant expertise in customer service, voice and social technology. Ed has designed hundreds of automation systems and contact centers for both network and enterprise deployments. He's also an author, having written more than a dozen books on contact center and social technology.

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