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October 03, 2012

Changing the Nature of Customer Engagement in a Mobile World

By Tony Rizzo, TMCnet Senior Editor

Mike Riegel, vice president of Mobile and Websphere Marketing at IBM, took the Keynote stage at ITEXPO (News - Alert) Austin 2012 this morning and spoke in detail about the key issue that now surrounds mobility in the enterprise market.

Riegel put it this way:  “Mobility is about changing the nature of customer engagement and honing in on using that mobile engagement to drive new business transactions, and to gain significant new levels of loyalty from customers.”

“In today’s business world there is still much too much attention paid to the actual physical devices and mobile apps,” he said. “The apps still tend to be simple in nature and enterprises are having trouble finding suitable talent to build them.”

Riegel notes that device fragmentation (multiple Android, iOS, Windows Phone (News - Alert) devices) remains a significant issue. Building apps to successfully work across all enterprise BYOD devices is still a hard thing to pull off well, and yet, applications in the mobile space must be built quickly – in weeks, rather than months and years.

Per Riegel, “Mobile app development takes the idea of agile programming and puts in on steroids.”

This is all true of course. Enterprises remain challenged in finding ways to ensure they can get their mobile applications properly built in as short a time frame as can be managed.

Having pointed this out, Riegel then correctly suggests that while the act of developing and coding mobile apps is an issue – but an issue that has solutions that can be readily employed, citing IBM’s acquisition of WorkLight (News - Alert), a mobile app development platform, as an example of such a solution – the real challenge for enterprises isn’t in developing the apps. It is really an issue of determining what the mobile apps themselves need to be and what they need to do.

Riegel notes that a recent survey of CEOs, who when asked what was important to them on the mobile front relative to the various groups of people enterprises need to deal with, the answer is fairly clear: CEOs care about customers first, operations second and sales last. CEOs are clearly on the right track, Riegel believes, and points out that the customer base – which can be assumed to be entirely mobile-enabled – is the most vital avenue to enterprises effectively using mobility to build out mobile-based business strategies.

Riegel further points out that in the retail space tablets already play a key role for developing customer strategies, and that they will continue to play a key role in strategic planning for the foreseeable future. Current research suggests, for example, that tablet users who shop through their devices tend spend 21 percent more than laptop/desktop users do, and that tablet users spend 20 percent more per purchase than their laptop/desktop counterparts. Those percentages will only increase over the next two years, and businesses need to get their acts together.

The notion of tablet users conducting more business isn’t new, but Riegel suggests the need for businesses to adapt to such a world is becoming an urgent issue.

To illustrate his points, Riegel points to several recent IBM (News - Alert) engagements, one of which was with TBC, a global retail tire conglomerate that was in major need of retooling its reputation, its brand values, and the ways that it interacted with its customers. Riegel says TBC did not simply start with the idea of putting a mobile app out onto the app stores. The company could have done so of course, and might have chosen to offer some basic means of comparing tire prices and perhaps selling tires online in some form or fashion.

Rather, TBC decided to brainstorm at a high level within the company on what the company needed to change about itself, concluding that it needed to focus on brand attributes and to significantly improving its customers’ experiences. TBC decided that it needed to move away from overtly selling tires (something that of course remains core to TBC) and to focus instead on becoming – through the use of a complex mobile app (that is, complex to build, but intuitive and easy for a customer to use) – a highly-trusted auto services advisor and provider.

The key issue to overcome is one of classic lack of trust with auto repair dealers of any sort, whether a mechanic, a car parts retailer, or any other of myriad car-related services. The resulting mobile app is shown below.

To make a longer story short, TBC focused on delivering a deep and, to some degree, personal engagement experience that leads the customer to feel well-taken care of through providing complete, insightful – and trusted – advice. It isn’t our goal here to evaluate the TBC application, but Riegel’s main point is that TBC changed the mobile development dynamics from building a generic mobile app to building one with a specific customer engagement goal in mind – one that would build on brand attributes built on trust and “doing the right thing” for the customer that would ultimately help develop brand loyalty and trust o the kind that will lead its customers to recommend TBC.

The image below summarizes what TBC opted to tackle.

Riegel also points out that another key to putting mobile to powerful use is to ensure that all or as many of the features that tend to be unique to mobile devices – such as GPS, accelerometers and NFC – to deliver as sophisticated and differentiable mobile apps as possible.

To do so goes well beyond thinking about the mobile app, and must include the key customer interactions relevant to a given business.

More than likely a business will also need to change internal business processes and even internal behaviors – as TBC needed to – in order to successfully deliver a highly positive mobile-driven experience. The image below summarizes what Riegel highlights in his keynote.

In closing, Riegel notes that mobility changes the nature of the customer engagement. Driving new transactions, trust and loyalty can only be delivered by changing the current hype and focus on the mobile devices themselves to one of truly understanding the customers and their specific needs.

Amen to that!

To find out more about IBM visit the company at ITEXPO Austin 2012. Happening now at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, TX, ITEXPO is the world’s premier IP communications event. Visit IBM in booth # 1324. For more information on ITEXPO Austin 2012 click here.

Edited by Braden Becker

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