The Smart Phone: Raising Expectations for Customer Service

The Smart Phone:  Raising Expectations for Customer Service

The smart phone, along with tablet computing is transforming the way we search and digest information and shop.    But the smart phone, in particular, as a piece of personal technology, will have a more significant and lasting impact on customer service, consumer engagement and the relationship we have with brands and businesses.

The Smart Phone:  The Growing Population

Although 20% of Americans move every year, very few of us change our cell phone numbers.  More to the point, the cell phone is now an indispensible personal item, along with our wallet and keys,  that are with us whenever we leave home.  In some instances, the phone is the first thing we grab in the morning and in most cases we sleep with it next to our bed at night. Cell phone usage is pervasive and the devices are a constant companion regardless of location or environment.   People use their cell phones to text, chat, browse or take pictures during sporting events and concerts, watching television, at restaurants, school and work.   70 million Americans love their cell phone so much they have given up having a land line phone.   235 million Americans over the age of 13 have a cell phone and 35% of those, or 82 million of us own a smart phone like an IPhone, Android of Blackberry.  That population is exploding.  Over the last three months, it grew by 10% and by 2015 it is expected that half of the US population will own a smart phone.

The Smart Phone:  Personalized functionality

Smart phones contain high powered browsers and intelligence that enable us to handle our emails, social networking, photos, information search, banking, shopping and video entertainment all through one handy, relatively small device.   And via the GPS function, the smart phone is able to create and maintain a detailed digital index of data which may contain your current location, where you’ve been in the last few days, your carrier, your age and gender and even what you might have recently purchased or consumed, which is a marketers dream.   This type of personal connection and always-on status is profoundly altering the concept of consumer engagement because it is redefining how, when and where we interact with businesses, brands and products. Just think about that statement for one moment.  The web gave us 24 hour access to information, entertainment and shopping without leaving the comfort of our homes.  But the GPS functionality of a smart phone enables advertisers, marketers and brands to target us precisely at the moment when we are ready to shop, walk into a movie theatre or look for information about a restaurant.  We can be found and marketed to as we cruise the local mall, airport or city street.   Think about shopping in Costco and receiving an SMS message from Wal-Mart offering a 5% discount for all your purchases.  Or walking past a Starbuck’s and receiving a coupon for a tall latte through your phone. The GPS functionality of a smart phone has taken control of the real estate away from businesses that believe they control the real estate.  And that disintermediation is a game changer.

The Smart Phone:  Game changer for many brands and services

Location based targeting and all of the associated data gathering capabilities through smart phone technology may be very troubling to privacy advocates.   And to be sure, safeguards need to be established to avoid the threat of abusive practices.  But the functionality is already affecting commerce and engagement in ways that force brands to adapt and raise the quality of their customer service.  Businesses now must pay attention to the role that mobile phones, especially smart phones, play in their customer’s lives.  For example, Meredith Publishing, owner of Better Homes and Gardens, Fitness and Family Circle, bases a good deal of its digital marketing strategy around the belief that the women who are its customers, run the world from their smart phones every day.   Women use their personal device to connect with friends, search for information (restaurants, movie times, products, services), data handling (uploading photos, applications) and transactions.   Pandora, a leading social media company offering personalized radio stations, cannot disregard the power of mobile phones and what it means to its business because two thirds of its unique visitors each month (28 million) access the offerings through their mobile phones.  Engagement is paramount and providing a robust custom tailored experience through smart phones is essential to establishing and maintaining relevancy with Pandora’s technically sophisticated customer.   Michael’s Stores, the largest retailer of custom arts and crafts, is transforming its conventional brick and mortar business by utilizing mobile devices as a way to a) reach a younger customer base, b) drive in-store sales, c) decrease dependency on print media advertising and d) track media spend to in-store purchases.  Michael’s allows its customers to find and redeem coupons, learn about weekly deals, product availability, scan barcodes in-store to receive information and special savings and sign up for loyalty programs, all through smart phones.   And companies as diverse as Home Depot, Best Buy, Taco Bell and Macy’s use mobile couponing , QR codes (those black white two dimensional maze like squares), snap tags (turns brand logos into interactive marketing tools) and mobile check-ins to drive store traffic, offer product information, provide personalized service, grant-a-wish and deliver preferential pricing to loyal customers.


The Smart Phone:  The NewMarketing Paradigm


Thanks to the smart phone, consumer’s perception regarding the time to acquire information, make reservations or purchase products has irrevocably changed and  there is little tolerance for delays or technological barriers.  Smart phones are fostering a very dramatic shift in traditional notions about brand loyalty and relevancy. In the world of personalized smart phone technology, relevancy not only depends on the quality of one’s product or service but now consumers flock to brands depending  largely on the ability to receive superior customer service through ease of use of applications,  seamless fulfillment or information and experiencing convenience across the entire shopping and purchasing funnel.  Relevancy leads to engagement which in turn leads to increased brand loyalty.  Smart phones are becoming a powerful tool to better understand consumer needs at a specific time and place and having the ability to anticipate and satisfy those needs instantaneously, on a one-to-one basis.    Companies that fail to embrace smart phones technological capabilities, longer range cultural influences and consumer’s expectations about personalized attention, risk losing their customers over time to more adaptive and savvy competitors.


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