Five ways to use mobile to boost customer experience

By Charles Austin

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The "customer experience” involves many channels, from the franchisor’s and franchisee’s web presence and social media, to the way incoming calls are routed and handled, and even customer service procedures after purchase. Customer experience starts when customers first hear about a product or service and continues throughout purchase and use – and all of these stages can be enhanced with the use of mobile technology.

Since smartphones and tablets are quickly gaining ground as primary ways that consumers discover and interact with your business, it only makes sense that the growth of mobile will begin to affect how franchisors manage their customer experience. In fact, according to Forrester Research, brands that do not use mobile to enhance the customer experience risk becoming obsolete.

A recent study from Deloitte Consulting confirms this. According to the study, interactions via smartphones, tablets, and computers across websites, email, and social media channels now influence 36 cents of every dollar spent in brick and mortar retail stores. By the end of 2014, this number is expected to grow 50%.

Generally, people think of smartphones as bringing the Internet to your phone, but it may be useful to think of it as bring your phone to the Internet. At the recent Local Search Association annual meeting, it was revealed that the best leads are still generated by phone calls rather than clicks.

Here are a few examples of the many ways to incorporate mobile into your complete customer experience.

1. Local search and targeted offers

Eighty percent of smartphone users perform local searches on their devices, according to a poll conducted earlier this year. Here are some interesting findings from the study:

  • Most users searched for business hours, local store addresses, directions to stores, and product availability.
  • Users conducted local searches at home just as much, if not more, than when they were away from home.   
  • When users conducted local searches on their smartphones, half visited a store within one day. Eighteen percent of local queries on smartphones led to purchases. 

Make it as easy as possible for customers to find you by including your business in local directories and search rankings. Pay-per-click search ads are worth considering, but their value varies considerably across different products, services and demographics.

Ads that perform exceptionally well are optimized for a user’s location using Big Data capabilities, essentially geofencing target consumers when they enter the vicinity around a store and then helping them easily find what they need (such as through a handy mobile website, click-to-call or click-to-map).  You can either build these services into your own mobile app or utilize one of the growing number of commercial aggregators. The best solution for you depends on the size and scope of your market; the bigger and broader your market, the more sense commercial aggregators make.

Another tactic for attracting customers is to take local search one step further and offer targeted mobile coupons and offers based on a user’s location and, where relevant, purchase history.  You may already have the data today to support these options, or you can start to collect it for this purpose through various means. Providing these types of targeted offers is an effective way to use technology to give customers personalized attention from your brand.

2. Immediate gratification on the first call

Another way mobile can affect customer experience is how incoming calls are handled. Both prospective and existing customers may need to call a nearby store at some point. Routing calls, or sending incoming calls immediately to the right location and the right staff member, has greatly improved the workflow and customer experience for many organizations.  Delays or lost calls caused by sending the customer through a call center or an extensive Interactive Voice Response system can lead to customers abandoning calls and looking for the next best option (which is probably a competitor).

Before this year, routing cell phone callers in this manner has required an IVR to prompt the customer for location information, usually by zip code. Practical experience has shown us that the less time spent in any IVR the better; the potential for losing callers increases rapidly after 20 seconds.

Now there’s a new technology to address this problem. It’s called mobile location routing, and it can physically locate cell phones and route calls precisely just like a landline. Mobile location routing uses triangulation off the cell phone towers to determine a caller’s exact physical location and make a call-routing decision in real-time. It does not require an app to be on the phone.

Since mobile location routing does not depend on GPS technology or a mobile app, it will work on any cell phone -- not just smartphones. So you don’t need to incur the expense of developing a mobile app to use it. If a significant portion of your customers use feature cell phones rather than smartphones, mobile location routing is a great way to get these callers where they need to go in the most efficient manner possible.

3. Loyalty programs

Once customers learn about your brand, call or visit your store, and purchase for the first time, retaining them through a positive customer experience is crucial. One way to do this is through a mobile loyalty program, which is often more convenient for customers than traditional loyalty programs.

A 2011 study found that nearly one-third of loyalty points go unredeemed each year. That’s likely because few consumers carry all of their loyalty cards with them or want to go through the process of providing their identifying information at checkout to take advantage of loyalty program benefits. 

Storing loyalty cards in a digital mobile format and automatically accessing them during checkout via a smartphone readily solves both of these problems. And, the easier it is to accumulate and redeem loyalty points, the more consumers will participate.

4. Shopping experience

There’s a mobile phenomenon challenging brick and mortar retailers everywhere called “showrooming,” when shoppers enter a store, use their mobile devices to price compare, and then purchase the same goods for lower prices elsewhere.

But despite the showrooming trend, mobile has actually been boosting, not hurting, in-store shopping for retailers. That’s the finding of a recent Gallup poll, particularly for retailers that embrace mobile during the shopping experience. Here are some strategies that have worked well for a variety of retailers:

  • Develop mobile-friendly websites that offer valuable information for consumers such as product availability and pricing information.
  • Offer price-matching services, in-store specials, and mobile coupons to customers who use their mobile phones while shopping. This can boost sales and customer loyalty at the same time.

Regardless of which strategies you employ, one thing is critical … keep all channels unified. Shoppers should find a consistent experience whether they visit your store online, via mobile device, via phone, or in person. 

5. Customer service

After customers purchase, they may have questions, need assistance, or require returns. If a portion of your customers prefers to interact with your brand via mobile device, then assistance for these items should be available through this channel.

This can be offered through mobile apps or mobile-friendly websites, and the exact formula will depend on your products and business model. The key is to make the required communication easy and convenient for customers via smartphone, so they can initiate returns, ask questions, and generally get things accomplished via their mobile devices.

All industry data supports the fact that use of mobile devices will continue to grow, so spending the time and effort to leverage mobile to improve your customer experience will certainly pay big dividends.

Charles Austin is president of AdGeo, Inc., which provides marketing measurement, call routing, mobile location routing, and other communications services to franchises large and small. He can be reached at