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Customer service is essential mobile app component

September 22, 2010

timBy Tim Houlne

So you have the perfect application: millions of users, positive reviews and more revenue than you could have imagined. 

So, what’s missing? Nothing, right?


Most applications today are in dire need of one component essential to any successful product: customer service.
Take, for example, my experience with an application I consider top-notch: GreenFinder.

The product‘s Web site boasts: “For only $35, you can track your distance to the green, mark hazards and measure your shot distance.”

And, it’s true; the application does all of those things, and it does them well.

But in the course of using GreenFinder, I ran into a few things, not problems exactly, but features I was not quite sure how to make the most of and other small, various questions.

If I were having this same type of problem with my cable TV service, my refrigerator, or my health insurance, I would have easily reached customer service, resolved the issues, and continued to use my product happily.

But with GreenFinder, I had no simple, user-friendly support system I could go to with my questions, and the same is likely the case with the majority of the applications out there.

I see the GreenFinder website now lists an email address for “support issues” not answered in their FAQ.

The link, however, is buried within the site and the option of email support alone leaves me worried that my questions wouldn’t be answered until well after the 18th hole.

My questions about GreenFinder kept bugging me, and eventually I just quit using the application.

Poor customer service makes for lost customers. It is as simple as that.

Good customer relationship management (CRM) in the digital age must provide a variety of outlets for reaching experts: SMS, email, Twitter and phone calls.

When drawing up the infrastructure for this type of support system, developers of applications will have a lot to think about.

I have narrowed down their points of focus to the four most important topics: cloud computing, bandwidth, browser and platform compatibility, and economics.

Cloud computing
The way of the future in applications is in cloud computing.

We see it now in LinkedIn’s popular application and in applications supported by Salesforce.

Whether applications use the cloud fully or operate as thin clients, the cloud allows users to reach into the internet for customer support from an application’s own expert team via chat, message boards and Twitter.

But that is not all.

These cloud-based capabilities also open the doors to Social CRM, which involves populating message boards and other online social spaces with peer users and/ or paid peer experts (a position initiated by AOL in its early days).

Social CRM is a win-win. It gives participants the sense of belonging to the community surrounding their favorite applications, and it gets questions answered, plain and simple.

A few years ago, a colleague of mine was hooked on a Scrabble-type application that allowed users to battle one another in a word war.

My colleague, however, ended up abandoning the game because he wasn’t willing to wait the 45 minutes it sometimes took for his play to appear on his partner’s screen.

The reason for the wait? Not enough bandwidth.

While developers should realize that it never hurts to make long-term plans for customer support requiring a lot of bandwidth, they need to realize the current limitations of many bandwidths.

When designing customer service infrastructures, particularly those involving cloud computing, they should realize that high-bandwidth features might be slow and tedious to deal with on most mobile devices.

No one wants to have to create customer service for the customer service.

Browser and platform compatibility
With cloud based applications best suited to support a robust customer service infrastructure, a seamless integration among browser types is a necessity.

While my bets are on browsers soon drifting towards one model, I can not yet venture to guess what that standard will be.

So keep an eye on developments in browsers, but in the meantime, it is imperative to think about cross-browser compatibility.

And, for those applications not yet on the cloud, platform compatibility is just as important.

Not only should the application’s customer support system be as easy-to-use on Safari as it is on Explorer, but it also should be designed to work as well on any one platform as it does on the other: iPhone, BlackBerry, Droid or any number of the hot new mobile devices on the market or soon to be.

When a customer pays for an application, particularly the more expensive and subscription based ones, they expect extensive CRM. Take my experience with GreenFinder, for instance.

The best way to generate money from applications is still being determined. I recommend you study the market to determine the best method of funding your customer service initiatives, whether it is ad-based support, subscription-based or an initial purchase fee.

The other day my son had a problem with his X-Box.  “Call the customer service number,” I told him. He protested.
“I don’t call people,” he said. “Can I text?”

The younger generation, a generation who uses applications widely, requires extensive options —SMS, email, Twitter—when it comes to getting the product support they need.

These options, while new to some generations, will prove nothing but helpful to application users of all ages.

It is high time to make it happen.

Tim Houlne is CEO of Working Solutions, Plano, TX. Reach him at

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