Thursday, November 02, 2006

Are Smart Phones a Channel?

Today’s “smart phones” can receive text messages and emails, view Web pages and vidoes, run software applications—and, oh yes, make phone calls. This raises two questions: (1) which phone is coolest and what excuse can I find to get it? and (2) how do incorporate smart phones into the Customer Experience Management? The first question may be more interesting but I’ll focus on the second anyway.

The natural tendency is to see smart phones as a channel. After all, a campaign management system sees text messages as another output format (SMS), the same as it sees email and direct mail. Since those other two are clearly channels, SMS must be one as well.

The analogy was already a bit weak because mobile phones always had the ability to receive messages in a second format: voice. It breaks down totally in the case of smart phones, where the device can receive many different kinds of messages. Considering the phone as a channel makes no more sense than considering your office desk as a channel, since you can receive messages there too.

In fact, as the desk analogy suggests, the real key to smart phones is location. What matters about a message is not the device that delivers it, but the context in which it is received. The right message for someone at home may be different for that same person at the office, and different again when they’re traveling or in a retail store. Whether the message is delivered in email or SMS or Web page or voice format, or whether it comes through a smart phone, PC or kiosk, makes less difference and is more than anything a matter of customer preference.

From a Customer Experience Management viewpoint, the real trick is to capture the context. It may be provided by the underlying technology (cell phone location), provided by the customer (if you ask them), inferred from their behavior, appended from outside sources (local weather reports) or inherent in the delivery mechanism (an ATM machine or shelf-talker). If context is known during the interaction, you can use it to adjust treatments as they occur. Even if you don’t find it out until later, context provides data for analysis and better predictions of future customer behavior.

Context and location have always been standard metadata within the Customer Experience Matrix, so the Matrix can accommodate smart phones without missing a beat. This illustrates one of the things I like about the Matrix: a Matrix-based system would have been capturing context all along, so the necessary history would be available immediately when you needed it to start analyzing context-related behavior to build context-based treatment rules. Otherwise, you would have had a considerable delay while you set up the data capture mechanisms and then waited to gather enough information to be useful.

The multi-format nature of the smart phone also illustrates why treatment rules should exist outside of channel systems. Since the smart phone can deliver text, email, Web and other messages, which likely originate in separate channel systems, it’s critical that the messages provided by those systems be consistent. Although a customer should never get a different price depending on which channel she is using, it’s even more embarrassing if the different prices are delivered on the same physical device. Only a centralized decision-making system can ensure that all the channel systems give the same result.

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