This month's column contributed by Chris Jackson, associate consultant.

There is a lot of hype these days regarding the future of wireless Internet access, and a proliferation of mobile targeting technology has emerged. However, many organizations are forgetting that, like any other customer relationship management (CRM) initiative, wireless should be about the consumer experience. In order to deliver real value with wireless devices, companies must better understand how customers want to interact with their wireless devices and what benefits they want to receive from them. It is a mistake to assume that the customer's experience with mobile devices will simply mimic a scaled-down version of the traditional Internet experience provided by desktop computers. Surfing for hours to find information, browsing through online catalogs of merchandise conducting research for a paper and reading the Wall Street Journal do not lend themselves to a fulfilling user experience on a one-and-a-half by one inch mobile phone screen or even a two- and-a-half by two inch personal digital assistant (PDA) screen. Wireless devices provide the value of mobility, convenience and instant access and let you stay in touch while you are doing something else. Indeed, mobile devices offer the opportunity to create new experiences, and mobile CRM (or mCRM) will play a key role in defining the consumer wireless services evolution. However, evolution occurs gradually, not overnight.

The good news is that once the technical and strategic issues are resolved, companies will be able to move forward very aggressively with mCRM. Hence, the net/net on the consumer wireless front is that the short-term market will be small. The opportunities for those who get it right are huge, but so are the risks.

The immediate opportunities for mCRM are to use wireless technology to improve business-to- enterprise customer-focused processes and customer service functions. A better- served customer ­ one who feels important, whose busy schedule is respected, whose questions can be immediately answered and whose problems can be quickly addressed ­ is apt to be a more loyal customer who is prone to spend more money, more frequently, on your products and recommend your company to friends and family.

Wireless technology allows mobile employees the ability to provide en-hanced on-site customer service that can manifest itself in a variety of forms across multiple industries. For example:

  • Real estate agents can pull up multiple listing service (MLS) listings and mortgage prequalification information while showing homes.
  • Service technicians can access parts information and place orders without returning to the office.
  • Customers have access to real-time vehicle and package tracking information.
  • Mobile salespeople can access and update enterprise customer databases.

Another example of leveraging this technology to better serve customers involves implementing wireless chips in electronic appliances to automatically detect and communicate malfunctions, replenishment and security issues.
Organizations can also leverage wireless technology to improve business processes. Consider the countless hours consumed by inefficiencies in the receiving, stocking and fulfillment processes. Among other things, improvements in these areas reduce the likelihood of out-of-stock goods reported on Web sites and free up time for sales representatives to spend more time with customers. For example:

  • Warehouse personnel can wirelessly record new shipments at the loading dock, making them immediately available in inventory listings.
  • Retail sales representatives can conduct inventory level checks remotely from the sales or warehouse floor.

Introduction of any new technology and process into a business typically requires significant capital expenditures, process modification and employee training. Implementing wireless for the sake of implementing wireless will likely only leave you questioning the return on investment months or years down the road. Therefore, first consider how mCRM fits within current corporate strategy. Enterprises that are able to leverage wireless technology to improve employee productivity and customer service in customer-focused functions will set the stage for major customer relationship enhancements.
Most companies today are taking a cautiously optimistic approach to their mobile-commerce efforts, making small investments and conducting test trials. For example, Expedia, the online travel booking site, is focusing on delivery of information prior to trip departure, providing information that can be downloaded onto a portable device (Palm, Visor, Windows CE) for use while in transit. Travelocity.com has implemented flight paging and messages delivered to wireless devices alerting travelers of delays or changes in flight schedules, providing them with the option to book an alternative flight with only a one-button interaction.

Very little commerce is being conducted today on wireless devices, but the opportunity for mCRM is just emerging. Stay tuned for a ring near you.

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