Mobile Apps Shaping Customer Service
United Airlines and Home Depot are among companies using mobile apps to improve customer service.
A growing number of companies are offering customer service capabilities via mobile apps, with vendors like Salesforce providing products to facilitate it, including features such as virtual chat assistants, video chat support and instant messaging.
Making it easy to connect with remote representatives via mobile apps and giving people tools they like and find convenient, such as texting, is one way to bring customer service into the 21st century. Another way is by outfitting folks who provide in-person (gasp) customer service with mobile devices.
Back in 2011 I wrote about an initiative at Home Depot in which employees were given mobile devices they could use to check inventory, complete point-of-sale transactions and perform other customer service tasks. Fast forward to 2015, and the retail giant is now introducing a new generation of proprietary smartphones to its staffers.
As Supply Chain 24/7 reports, the devices now run Android instead of a proprietary OS and include longer battery life and sophisticated laser scanners that can be used even in dim back rooms. According to an employee quoted in the report, "an enormous laser crosshair" makes it possible to scan barcodes "in complete darkness, at an angle, and from considerably further away."
Features like the laser may be one reason Home Depot is sticking with a custom-built device instead of using an off-the-shelf one like an iPad or iPhone. But plenty of companies are using those too. You can't throw a pottery mug at an art fair without hitting a merchant using a mobile payment application like Square on an iPad.
Mobile Customer Service Takes off
In perhaps the most sweeping use yet of Apple technology for mobile customer service, United Airlines is giving its agents iPhones (the 6 Plus, with its oversized screen) to assist customers by printing boarding passes and boarding tags and accessing real-time flight updates, among other functions.
According to Macworld, United wants to turn its agents into "mobile airport kiosks." Airlines like United were early adopters of iPads, giving them to pilots so they could use them to access flight manuals and other content that was previously contained in unwieldy paper documents. It's a welcome trend that airlines are now also putting mobile devices into the hands of their customer-facing personnel.
As with any mobile initiative, mobile customer service is highly dependent on the right applications. IBM, which partnered with Apple last year in a move that surprised many, offers some three dozen apps for several different industry verticals, including airlines, insurance, health care and retail.
Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.