By Sunil Sharma

Wireless companies have long been at fault for launching so many products and initiatives that it creates too many confusing trends within the industry. Now the business climate is even more confusing because of recent world events, including the terrorist attacks in the United States. On the one hand, more and more companies are announcing shipments of newer wireless products. On the other hand, more layoffs and bankruptcies are hitting the sector.

Despite this upsurge in one direction and gloom at the other end, wireless technologies still have enough appeal to attract many industry segments into its fold. Wireless applications are being developed and implemented by many companies for a variety of business activities such as customer relationship management (CRM).

CRM has become a powerful business strategy that companies are using to achieve higher profitability and build competitive advantages. Companies are integrating and coordinating activities among sales, marketing, customer service, field support, and other customer touch points to develop and implement enterprise-wide CRM and eCRM strategies. By integrating processes, technology, and people, eCRM is optimizing and enhancing relationship management across the customer spectrum.

In this article, I’ll explain why CRM is making use of the expanding role of wireless technologies to reach customers more effectively.

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The telephone is just one tool
As the mobility of customers is increasing, so is the customer’s need to get services anywhere and anytime. A 1999 Purdue University study found that more than 50 percent of customer contact utilizes telephones, faxes, snail mail, e-mail, Web, and e-commerce inquiries. The trend toward unified interaction with the customer is becoming quite clear; no longer is it one-dimensional.

Even though phones remain the dominant point of interaction (POI) with customers, various other technologies are also used to provide higher-value communications. Wireless technologies present so many opportunities to improve customer interface and build competitive advantages that companies could ignore them only at their own peril.

The Web brought anytime, anything features to CRM, enabling companies to offer creative and improved customer service. Wireless technologies are adding the anywhere dimension to this scenario. No longer does a customer need to be at a location with fixed equipment to request service. In addition, wireless technologies also combine voice and data, presenting new opportunities and challenges to customer service professionals. Now it is up to companies to develop and implement productive CRM applications to realize the potential of wireless and build competitive advantages.

The challenges of wireless CRM interactions
There are many opportunities for wireless applications, but the challenge is to effectively utilize the small screens of mobile devices and offer services that work on multiple mobile platforms.

Within customer interaction management areas, companies need to extend their Web-based applications to support mobile devices. Many CRM software developers are collaborating with mobile application developers to offer such features. By extending support to mobile devices, companies can realize benefits on three dimensions: customer satisfaction, customer reach, and productivity. A customer could access the services in real time and need not wait for a live agent or wait to reach a desktop. Mobile access also allows more customers to use self-service tools. This reduces overhead, labor costs, and increases the productivity of firms that install CRM solutions with mobile device support.

About half of the respondents to a February 2001 poll on TechRepublic said they were either using or considering the implementation of CRM software.

Improving service with new technology
Wireless technologies also improve the productivity of CRM professionals. The wireless local area networks (WLANs) make supervisors more effective. With WLANs, supervisors could roam around the premises and still be able to access the phone system and database applications. This means that to resolve issues, they need not be at their desks. This would save time, and they could address the issues and concerns of more customers and customer service representatives (CSRs).

Wireless devices also improve the working environment. Stand-up terminals have made the workday of CSRs less monotonous, reducing the employee turnover. Just imagine what would be the impact on turnover if CSRs could move about the facility but still be able to do their job. Wireless headsets and wireless handheld devices could enable CSRs to roam around the facility but still access the database and phone system. Wireless technologies would also reduce costs related to the computer nodes and networks.

Like any other technology, the real potential of wireless will be realized only if the organizations develop and implement creative applications that bring substantial benefits to customers.

gantthead originally published this report on Oct. 17, 2001

Sunil Sharma has more than 14 years of experience in management and IT consulting. An entrepreneurial consultant, he founded a business-to-business e-commerce company. His area of expertise includes strategic management, strategic marketing, and business planning for high-tech firms. He holds an MBA degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and a BS in Electronics and an MS in Mathematics from the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences in Pilani, India.

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