The mobile, customer experience connection


BARCELONA--Over the last six months, we have been covering customer experience management from a lot of angles. We've seen advantages and disadvantages, and we've seen what happens when data collection turns ugly, but at Mobile World Congress last week, I saw a strong connection between mobile and managing the customer experience that I hadn't considered fully before.

In fact, it was a theme I kept hearing as I spoke to some major players like IBM, SAP and These companies see mobile as a big conduit for understanding the customer better in some interesting and innovative ways, and the companies that are most successful are in turn developing creative apps on top of these platforms to serve their customers better.

As customers move through the world using a variety of techniques including sensors, geo-fencing, location detection and purchasing history, retailers can begin to formulate tailored offers for customers on the go, creating a previously unknown marketing channel.

But it's more than simply a new channel. An IBM report on the advantages of mobile, released last year and called The upwardly mobile enterprise, had this to say, "Far more than simply an emerging consumer channel, mobile capabilities are disrupting traditional business models, providing businesses with new sources of data and insight, and driving top-and bottom-line results."

Bill Clark, global VP for mobile strategy at SAP, told me about a system his company set up with the Montreal transit system where they helped broker relationships between the transit authority and retailers with shops located near train stations. Clark said they were able to sign up between 300 and 400 retail partners. Users who opt into the system give permission to the retailers to collect certain data such as their location, and as they move along the tracks and stations, the retailers can send them offers based on where they are and what they've learned about their shopping habits.

As they get to know the customers, they can refine the offers for better results and Clark says that members of this program have reported that a remarkable 47 percent of people who received offers have acted on them (as opposed to ignoring them). He compared this with print, which might get you half a percent rate or 10-12 percent on ecommerce ads.

As an example, Clark used a florist. Suppose you are a transit customer and you use the same florist near your home or work stop all the time. You sign up for their loyalty card and you agree to receive offers on your smartphone. The florist can set up offers so that when his best customers appear in the proximity of the store, he sends them a special offer to lure them into the store.

He said you can even infer data if you set up a system of record around your customer's transactions, such as if a customer buys flowers every year on a certain date, then you can reasonably assume that this is a special day like an anniversary or spouse's birthday.

Salesforce sees similar opportunities on mobile devices for companies to find creative ways to interact with their customers to serve them better. Over the past several years, the company has made a number of strategic purchases around marketing automation and social listening to enhance the core CRM product and give SFDC customers a set of tools to interact with their customers across multiple channels.

Last year at Dreamforce 13, the company announced Salesforce1 to help build mobile apps on top of the Salesforce platform. As a Salesforce spokesperson put it, "Behind every device is a customer and a phenomenal opportunity."

A Salesforce spokesperson told me about how Virgin America uses a mobile intranet app built on top of the Salesforce platform. Employees can communicate easily with one another over a mobile social intranet that allows every employee, regardless of their location, to communicate with one another and understand and react to their customers' needs better. 

Phil Buckellew, who is vice president for mobile enterprise at IBM, also sees a connection between managing the customer experience and mobile. He said the capability is there to use analytics and mobile to manage the customer experience by understanding the customer's path to you. You can build an app and then use analytics to understand how the customer is interacting with the app, giving you more insight into that customer.

Whatever the company or the approach, the message was the same. As customers move through the world with these mobile devices, we can use the devices to serve the customers and help understand their needs better. Either way, both sides gain something from building the relationship through a mobile channel. Businesses can enhance the mobile experience and customers can get better, more targeted offers in real time. - Ron