Magazine article CRM Magazine

Beyond the Contact Center Walls: Lucrative Return on Investment Is Driving Companies-And Vendors-To Look More Closely at Mobile Service Applications

Magazine article CRM Magazine

Beyond the Contact Center Walls: Lucrative Return on Investment Is Driving Companies-And Vendors-To Look More Closely at Mobile Service Applications

Article excerpt

PLENTY OF INK--in CRMand elsewhere--is spent on customer service within the walls of the contact center, whether those walls are made of bricks and mortar or they're virtually enclosing your work-at-home agents. Field service isn't talked about as often, but this may change, thanks to new mobile solutions.

"This is very much the second generation of mobile applications for field forces," says William Clark, a research vice president at Gartner. "From 2003 to 2008, a lot of organizations were in the first stage of successfully tooling their [employees] with mobile. Now, companies and vendors are ... a bit older and, hopefully, wiser."

Aberdeen Group estimates that 67 percent of field workers are now equipped with a role-specific mobile device, up from 59 percent a year ago. Sumair Dutta, an Aberdeen research analyst, says the best is yet to come, with penetration expected to reach 74 percent next year. "The world is doing virtually everything on mobile phones," he says. "That hasn't taken over in field service yet. We expect it to ... in the next couple of years."

It's unclear who leads the way in mobile field-service applications. "This space is extremely fragmented," Clark admits, citing a partial list of players that includes Oracle, SAP, ClickSoftware, IBM, TOA Technology, Sybase, and Syclo. (See "Vendor Shortlist," below, for Aberdeen's top four.)

Clark says Oracle aims to have several different projects in-house for the client-side development of mobile applications, but "SAP is going down more of a partnering path than in the past, relying heavily on best-of-breed mobile partners [such as Sybase and Syclo] to bring field-service pieces together." IBM's mobile field-service play, on the other hand, has slipped a bit, placing it a rung below Oracle's and SAP's. "[IBM's] stack is heavy, there's a lot of customization necessary, and there's a high total cost of ownership," he says.

The price of a mobile field-service software package--including scheduling, optimization, global-positioning and location-based services, business workflow, credit-card scanning, barcode reading, and intuitive user interfaces--can run anywhere from $400 to $1,300 per person for a high-end solution, but it's even higher when you consider the total cost of ownership. This includes rolling out the devices, integration, and overall support, which Gartner's Clark says can bring the price tag up to "anywhere from $3,000 ... to $8,000."

Yet the return on investment can be significant, Clark says--from 150 percent to as high as 500 percent. "Most organizations find this extremely lucrative, and that's been driving adoption in the last five years," he says.

Aberdeen says the benefits include an 11 percent increase in service efficiency measured through first-time fix; a 29 percent boost in compliance with service-level agreements (SLAs), upping customer retention and satisfaction while cutting SLA-related penalties; a 23 percent rise in worker productivity (number of jobs completed daily); and a 12 percent increase in service-based profitability. Aberdeen also says the top reason for adoption (cited by 60 percent of respondents) is the need to drive workforce productivity. The second-most-common driver is customer demand for faster service resolution (41 percent).

Dutta stresses that success requires more than just putting a mobile device in a technician's hands and telling her to go forth and service. "I always caution my clients that it's not just about the technology, but rather the mobile environment," he says. …

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