Zimbra Community platform offers mobile first customer service

Today's "second screen" phenomenon means the mobile device is growing into the customer service platform of choice.

Gone are the days when customers would go to their PC as the first line of communications to deal with a business. Increasingly, a growing number customers are initiating business contacts via their favorite mobile device. Last month, I spoke with Rob Howard, founder and CTO of Zimbra about how some companies are using the web and mobile to provide customer service

While our conversation revolved around using their Zimbra Community platform for customer support, Howard offered up some of the reasons why a business may want to go mobile first with their customer service.

"Strategically, we think of the market as mobile first," Howard said. "Mobile first design across all of our products. What you see in each of our products is everything is web friendly and responsive and adaptive for the different screen sizes our customers access our software on."

The second screen of customer service

Mobile first customer service is in response to the "second screen" phenomenon that's happening across the media industry and some others. It's when the user (customer) consults their smartphone or tablet while watching another screen. Howard used the example of Microsoft's Xbox Community. A user runs into a game or hardware problem and then searches the problem on their smartphone or tablet. The best search results often come from the online community.

"You don't want the full desktop experience, you want a mobile experience where you want to have a bumper that says download the app here," Howard said.

There are markets outside the United States that Howard's company serves that have a mobile focus to them. However, with the proliferation of mobile carrier family plans and smartphones, nearly the same came be said for the US consumer market.

Zimbra's mobile app starter kit strategy

"Our strategy is, as a vendor, to provide mobile app starter kits for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone that our customers in turn can take and integrate community into their existing mobile app strategy," Howard said. Zimbra customers can then distribute their community apps through the regular app store channels.

"You can take one of our mobile starter kits and basically build it with a set of tools for creating the app and in a matter of minutes have apps for our target devices: iOS, Android, and Windows Phone," Howard said.

The intent of the mobile app starter kit is to make it easy on their customers to integrate community with their existing mobile apps. With the starter kit, Zimbra customers can change the branding, color and some of the other design elements and quickly rebuild the app and deploy that to the app stores.

Zimbra's starter kit approach feels prudent for mobile app developers who want to add community features to their mobile apps in support of customer engagement and support. Each kit provides reference examples for building with more interactivity than just online community does. The licensing enables you to modify and use the reference examples in your own code giving developers an easier path for mobilizing their customer support efforts.

Mobile first customer service examples

Howard said that Zimbra customers typically augment existing apps with Zimbra's community features, but some do create a community app using the App Starter Kit.

Titleist, the golf manufacturer, is a Zimbra customer. It uses the Titleist app for iOS or Android. The app alerts customers with push notifications and a number of features and extends the web experience to customers on the golf course.

Mobile first customer service just isn't for consumers as Rackspace, a hybrid cloud provider, uses Zimbra community technology to provide its community members with a mobile experience that allows members to access content at any time.

The Rackspace mobile community provides the company another customer engagement tool that includes an intuitive interface, a consistent brand experience that enables mobile operating system independence and real-time replies and comments that improve engagement. Its mobile community experience also provides interactions including searchable user profiles, user discussion boards, and media galleries. This shows an example of the Rackspace mobile community:

The Rackspace mobile community

The United States Department of Defense (DOD) used a Zimbra Community for Customer Support based solution on their mobile devices after the Haiti crisis. Howard told they wanted the benefit of mobile apps that could provide a more lightweight experience as well as offline management where they can use those apps in the field.

He further explained, "While the web experience was great, they always didn't have great connectivity. They felt the app experience could provide them with many of the tools they needed without necessarily having a great connection back to their server when they were sharing photos or other pertinent information with the non government organizations they were working with."

Mobile first customer service is here

Mobility and online customer communities are coming together for the next generation of consumer and business customer service with Zimbra well placed to provide the tools for mobile first customer service. Beyond external customer engagement and support, these technologies could serve for internal collaboration and social network applications as well.

By Will Kelly

Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management ap...