One of the basic tenets for large, consumer-centric companies in the information age is that they require investment in a call center. These call centers may be outsourced and cost-efficient, but they invariably involve large investments in infrastructure, people, and desktop-based applications. But what if these investments in call centers were no longer required? In many cases, the mobile Internet can serve as a low-cost conduit to deliver remote enterprise applications that meet customer needs.
Today, mobile technologies make it possible for enterprises to provide low-cost “virtual” call center services through networks of service agents and specialists in multiple locations. Full mobile browsers, content translation middleware, and new mobile operating systems are all aspects of this enabling set of technologies.
So what are some of the implications for companies? I have a couple of scenarios I would like to explore.
Scenario 1: Selling a new handset and mobile service in a bar
Many of you may be familiar with the concept of viral marketing for consumption products, which involves the cute young woman at the bar who convinces you to try the latest mixed drink offering, and offers to buy you one.
Now imagine seeing the same young woman at a bar with a great looking cellphone and you comment on it. She starts telling you how good the phone is, shows you how to watch TV on it, and provides details about the fantastic services it covers. She says there is a deal now and you can sign up online, in fact you can use her phone to do it. By the time five minutes have passed, you are going through the last steps to confirm your purchase of the phone.
What enabled this scenario?
- The attractive young woman is registered as virtual marketer for a phone company. She receives training online at home and gets a commission on every sale. There are no direct costs to the phone operator.
- The phone company’s CRM system combines a mobile user experience with the basic process for customer sign-up and ability to suggest up-sell offers.
- The customer order is fulfilled and billing is triggered the same way the product is processed through the call center.
Scenario 2: Crowd-sourcing field force for support
The crowd-sourcing concept has been around for a while, particularly in the area of IT and home entertainment support. Here, crowd-sourcing is primarily handing off technical support to an undefined, large group of available helpers, in the form of an open call.
In this scenario, a customer having support problems with his Internet connection can use his mobile phone to ask for assistance. Depending on the customer’s location information, a list of registered, available local helpers is provided. The customer can initiate an SMS, voice, or IM conversation with one of these crowd-sourced helpers to set up an appointment to come on the premises and check out the equipment.
Helpers will have mobile access to a restricted set of enterprise application functions, based upon their registration details, level of completed training, and their reputation with the provider. They assist the customer with problem resolution, making incident notes on their mobile device into the provider systems. Once the customer problem is resolved, the registered helper charges an agreed fee for the service.
How was this scenario achieved?
- Helpers are registered on a crowd-sourcing site from the provider and are able to proceed through appropriate training for levels of certification.
- Availability information and preferences of the helper were registered with the provider.
- Diagnostic and support ticketing systems were exposed as a mobile feature based on the helper’s role and privileges.
These are just some basic ideas for how the traditional notion of fixed, large call centers can be broken down through mobile enterprise applications. Large investment and operating costs can be moved to more flexible, demand-based costs. These scenarios can be carried further with some minor extensions including;
- Reverse auction sites to bid for available crowd-sourced opportunities;
- Leveraging advertising models to offset the cost to enterprises and crowd-sourced helpers; and
- Combination of wireless access and near-field communications devices to enhance the customer experience in stores or entertainment venues.
Hopefully, companies can take advantage of these “virtual” call center service possibilities to deliver benefits to shareholders, as well as customers -- who may not want to be pitched every time they chat with a stranger in a bar.
— Ilya Joel-Pitcher, principal consultant at Infosys Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: INFY)