In 2012, mobile phones are predicted by Gartner to overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide. WiFi access is so widely available in major metropolitan areas that most tablet users don’t even need a wireless data plan. Tablet sales grew 264% in 2011 over the previous year and this year, Yankee Group is predicting the sale of almost 25 million tablets in the US alone. The increase of mobile devices has more and more consumers equipped with fast wireless Internet connections, demanding connectivity and continuity at all times. This evolution is ushering in a new age of the always connected customer, which is transforming the way companies interact and service their customers. What will this mean for customers connecting with businesses in 2012? The death of the contact center.

Admittedly, it won’t happen all at once. It’s not yet instinctive for people to think about customer service in a mobile app. This concept is where the Web was 10 years ago. At first, it was all about commerce. Then customer care kicked in and offered a whole new value to the Web as a channel. Today, most of us don’t even think about it when we “Google” a customer service problem.  We’ll see the same thing happen with mobile apps, as both consumers and businesses realize the benefits and efficiency it brings. 

With smartphone traffic on wireless networks expected to increase 700% over the next five years (Morgan Stanley, Nov 2010), customers will look to this channel as the primary communication portal. In fact, 56 percent of smartphone users would prefer using a mobile app over calling a contact center, according to a recent survey from SpeechCycle and Echo Research.

Smart customer service via mobile devices offers greater transparency into the value customers are receiving and products/services that are offered. Apps on these devices have the capability to offer tailored plans, products and promotions, based on their data usage, plan features and what they may find valuable based on past behavior and preferences.

Smart devices not only enhance accessibility, but they also improve the method of interaction – particularly when a customer seeks to troubleshoot a problem or find answers to their questions. The benefit of touch, type and talk capabilities that smart devices provide is that customers can use the method that is most convenient for them at that time – and it may be a blended method. The rich screens on these devices can offer visual indicators while troubleshooting – a feature that simply isn’t possible through a call center.

Search functions will be transformed through mobile devices. Contact center agents can provide limited information, but integrating mobile apps into back end systems can enable deeper knowledge and provide more relevant information. A mobile search option that only translates a command into words doesn’t add enough value; it also needs to understand the intent and offer the right options based on that intent. That’s why Siri has been so successful, not because of the voice recognition technology, but because of the intelligent understanding of the commands. In 2012, we’ll start to see even more companies offer this capability – but not in their contact centers, in apps and other mobile integrations.

In today’s business environment, there’s a heightened need to remain competitive due to a level playing field when it comes to products, services and pricing plans. New and innovative smart devices are hitting the market rapidly and consumers are looking to them as the primary communication hub for all of their services. Blind loyalty cannot be expected as customers know they have choices, and will prefer to do business with those companies who can enhance the user experience and meet their needs when and where they are expecting it. As smart devices – tablets, smartphone and otherwise – gain widespread adoption and providers offer rich service features on the go, call centers will become a secondary mode of communication, no longer preferred by the masses.