This post is the second in my discussion of how to use mobile technology to dominate your market.  If you haven’t read my first post, you can find it here. In that post, I discuss the basics in taking your customer service mobile – you’ll want to meet this milestone before jumping into milestones two and three: Marathon Training and Race Day.

Milestone 2: Marathon Training (Research and Development)

Once you achieve basic fitness, you are already in the top 10-20% in your market regarding ability to compete. Now it’s time to begin the specific marathon training in earnest. Again, this is not a quick tune-up; it’s a commitment to building up the muscle and stamina to be competitive in a marathon race. Don’t expect it to happen overnight, but instead develop a training plan that will get you there over a period of one to two years.

Marathon Training in Practice

When ServiceTrade was just starting out, we spent about five months and about $80,000 on our first mobile app design iteration. It never went to a single customer or prospect, because we threw it away and started over. We had picked the wrong combination of technologies, and the result really sucked. It worked (sort of), but it was not up to our expectations for our brand, so we literally threw it in the trash heap. We did, however, learn a lot about what we really wanted, and that was a valuable experience. We began the effort anew with a different set of partners who were true experts in the mobile space.

Even large companies need a long training period to get ready for a mobile marathon. About 18 months prior to Chick-fil-A having a mobile app, I noticed that many of the locations began sending cashiers into the drive-through line with iPads to take orders. I’m willing to bet that this was a deliberate marathon training activity to understand exactly how to achieve effective mobile order-taking. Chick-fil-A got more than a year of feedback from “friendly” users to help them get it right for the major launch of the Chick-fil-A One app to the masses.

What Marathon Training Means for You

For the best results, undertake similar training. A small subset of your best customers, or perhaps your salespeople and customer service staff acting on behalf of customers (like the Chick-fil-A cashiers in the drive-through line), are great partners for getting a truly scalable customer mobile experience to the market.

Start with a few simple things like having a basic customer service portal on your website where an existing customer can request service and browse a limited set of service history. Make yourself into a customer contact and see what your customers see by spending some significant time browsing with your mobile device and using the interface just as a customer would. Be critical. Remember, this is marathon training and not the middle of a race that you are already losing. There is no point in desperation or exasperation. Take deep breaths and carry on with the training. Expand your muscle and fitness and move ahead to make the adjustments that move toward a competitive marathon outcome.

Milestone 3: Race Day (Your Branded Mobile App)

To win the mobile marathon, you need a branded mobile app for your customers just like Starbucks and Chick-fil-A. In addition to the obvious capabilities that are simply carryovers from your website service portal (service history, equipment assets, contract details, quotes, etc.), here are additional capabilities you’ll want to include:

  • Available in the app store or by scanning an equipment tag: Everyone looks for the apps they need at the app stores hosted by Apple and Google. Your app should be no different. This will mean some work to post it there, but if you have already done the training (that is, the testing discussed above), it should not be a problem. The app should also be available on demand by scanning a tag on a piece of equipment that is covered by your premium maintenance plan. This is the modern day version of leaving a “Call for Service” sticker on equipment. In this case, it is “Scan for Service.”
  • Asset and location awareness: The app should be context aware. Just like the Chick-fil-A app lets me choose the location nearest me for placing my order, your app should default to (be “aware” of) the nearby location or nearby equipment for reference as the most likely candidate for review or service. After quickly navigating to the record of the nearby equipment, the customer can then annotate the record to facilitate better service (such as access-code updates for your benefit, an update from a related vendor that changes your service scope, etc.) or submit a request for service or support with perfect contextual awareness for your staff to respond quickly and accurately.
  • Self-service: Any information or feature that might help the customer help themselves without contacting you is a good idea. The app should show official service manuals, recent equipment inspection or certification results, original commissioning documentation, likely faults and quick relief guidance (such as how to clear a false alarm), and “Things you should know about this equipment” videos. Self-service is not a loss of revenue for you. Instead it is a powerful customer loyalty magnet, and you should engage it whenever possible to stick the customer more tightly to your premium program.
  • Real-time collaboration with multimedia engagement: This feature works like placing a FaceTime call. If the customer can initiate a callback to your experts that includes both context (which piece of equipment they are standing near) and video capability, it should be easy to walk them through a relief mechanism for a malfunction. Self-service is better, but quick relief from a malfunction is very powerful as well. Quick relief is easier if you and your customer are collaborating with the same information – that is, the equipment records and your what-you-see-is-what-I-see capability.
  • Push notifications: Your app should ping your customer when you are delivering value for them. Push notifications are better than email because they simply give a quick heads-up to the user in real time without requiring a pause to check email. Your system will follow up with an email that provides more detail, but push notifications are standard operating procedure for mobile apps. The customer can always turn the notifications off if you are delivering so much value that it becomes a distraction.
  • Recommended for you: This is the list of repairs, retrofits, and upgrades you have scoped for this particular customer to review and accept. When a customer is in a mood to spend money on something, it needs to be easy for them to spend that money with you. Maybe it is the end of the year and the capital budget is still full of money. Maybe they are having a great quarter and want to plow some of the revenue back into improvements. Whatever the reason, always have a set of recommendations out there for consideration when your customer accesses the mobile app.

The most successful service brands have a mobile app as a defining feature of their premium program. If you want to win, a mobile app is your future. I was very deliberate with the marathon metaphor so that you would envision a long-term plan with multiple plateaus of achievement leading up to race day. If you don’t commit soon to the fitness plan, however, it is unlikely that you will be racing with the best competitors in your market a few years from now.

When race day comes in a few years, you do not want to be an out-of-shape, flatfooted bystander watching the racers while you hand out refreshments. Start getting in shape now. Work your way toward maximum fitness. Mobile marathon training will begin shortly, and race day is going to be a ton of fun.

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