Vytas Kisielius

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Your Customers Are Mobile-Empowered. Now What?

Your Customers Are Mobile-Empowered. Now What?

Your customer information database can be designed using a two-way alerting system so that customers can get just the information they want, just when they need it.

You've read the stats, heard the hype. More than a billion mobile phones are in use around the world, and the number is growing rapidly. To most people, this translates directly into a massive potential for mobile e-commerce in the coming years. Looking to Europe, pundits see Short Message Service (SMS) volumes skyrocketing to more than a billion sends per month. The Internet is coming to PDAs, WAP-enabled cell phones, and other devices, and new generations of service will put a desktop-style "always on" Web into everyone's pocket.

What underlies all this excitement? The idea that either now or very soon, you'll be able to interact - note the emphasis - with your customers anytime, anywhere. But is that really where the phenomena listed above are taking us?

Consider that the high volume of SMS usage in Europe largely reflects young users' messages to one another. It's less a business tool, more a footloose instant messaging service. And the economy of the next century won't be built on teenagers telling each other, "C U L8R."

Internet-enabled phones? Despite the hype, they represent only a fraction of the phones out there - 16% by 2007, according to one study - and many Internet-capable phone users aren't using the wireless data services their phones are designed to access. The number of online PDAs is correspondingly small, and application-specific PDAs like the RIM pager target single applications well, but aren't widely dispersed.

While many technologists talk about "wirelessly Web-enabling your systems," more customers are "mobile empowered" with mobile phones and pagers than are truly "wireless-Internet enabled."

So, game over? Hardly. For a business, the simple ability to achieve near real-time interaction with customers, suppliers, partners, and employees - that is, the ability that exists already - offers powerful possibilities to reap sales or avoid costs. The key is using the full potential of this technology through a process known as interactive alerting.

Through interactive alerting, credit card providers can increase customer loyalty and increase revenue with time-critical notices of specific transactions or credit-limit issues. Credit providers can reduce fraud-induced losses by checking the validity of suspicious transactions while they're happening. Banks can reduce call-center costs by automating notification of wire transfers and other crucial transactions. Airlines can avoid lost revenues with real-time cancelled flight notices and alternative routing choices. Hotels can capitalize on last-minute inventory changes to capture greater sales. And so on.

The technology to accomplish this - a system that records user preferences for delivery via e-mail, voice, fax, and so forth, then distributes message content accordingly - is already up and running. It isn't waiting in the wings for a new generation of mobile communications devices. Adopters of this technology have potential access to all 1-billion mobile users, not just the 16% who may get "wireless-Internet enabled" down the road. The threshold an e-business must cross to access this power isn't one of technology, but of customer relations.

That's because interactive messaging takes the individual customer's preferences seriously, not simply the end user's preferred message delivery method, but the priorities, tastes, and circumstances that determine when a message will be sent in the first place. Your customer information database can come to life as a tool that determines who wants to know what, when. That way the messages you send are "permission-based;" people are getting only what they've previously indicated they want, and they're never regarded as spam. The other side of the coin is that customers never miss data they've said they want, so your marketing promises never become disillusioning over-promises.

Which businesses are likely to ride this technology to the winner's circle? (1) Companies that embrace the needs (not just the ones, zeros, and dollars) of their mobile-empowered clients. (2) Companies that are able to find new ways to add value to the customer relationship. Most of all, (3) companies that look past the dazzle of possible future technology, and focus on applications that can drive profitability and competitive advantage today. The silver lining is that when tomorrow's "gee-whiz" apps really do arrive, the companies that get busy today will be better positioned to succeed than companies who've just been waiting for the high-tech bus.

The good news is, interacting with the mobile-empowered customer can be a very profitable exercise. The better news is that you don't have to wait for a new technology to implement, spread, and attract dedicated users. Thanks to emerging new service providers, the elusive "Internet everywhere" functionality you've been waiting for is available today, with devices people already have in their pockets and purses. So don't question your commitment to wireless business. Question whether you want to do it today with certainty - or tomorrow, maybe.

More Stories By Vytas Kisielius

Vytas Kisielius is President of Adeptra

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