Printer Friendly

How Amazon and are shaping mobile customer support: video chat apps such as Amazon's mayday button and's service SOS lead a new breed of mobile customer service apps.

It's been two years since Amazon introduced the Mayday Button, allowing users of its Kindle Fire HDX tablets to connect via video chat to live customer service agents. The online retailer also preloaded the Mayday Button as a standard feature on its Fire smartphone, which it launched in mid-2014.

In introducing the Mayday Button, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said, the goal was to "revolutionize tech support." The company has done this with aplomb.

"When it came out, [the Mayday Button] was very innovative," says George Skaff, chief marketing officer at Touch Commerce, a provider of mobile chat solutions. "It created an opportunity for Amazon to differentiate and to get people to buy more [Kindle] devices."

Today, 75 percent of customer contacts related to the Fire HDX come into Amazon via the Mayday Button, the free service that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The Mayday Button's appeal isn't surprising, given its blissful simplicity. No numbers to dial. No IVR menus and phone trees to navigate. No waiting on hold to speak to an agent. Just push a button and get a human to help, usually in 10 seconds or less.

"It provides a single, clear mechanism for getting assistance. It's not much more complicated than that," says Keith Dawson, a principal analyst at Ovum. "Clearly, the itch that it scratches is simplicity, its presence is reassuring because it holds out the promise of a fast, effective resolution to common problems." The Mayday Button, Dawson says, changed customer service in one important way: "From this point forward, Mayday is a signal that businesses see service as a way to differentiate, not just as a cost to be controlled," he states.

So naturally, like a lot of what Amazon does, the Mayday Button prompted the CRM industry to take notice. In fact, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff became almost obsessed with creating an enterprise version of the Mayday Button. That obsession led to the mid-2014 beta launch of Salesforce Service SOS, a mobile support offering that enables businesses of any type to put Mayday Button-like functionality directly inside their Android or iOS mobile apps. With it, companies can give customers instant access to support agents, who can then offer live video support and onscreen guided assistance.

The SOS button, which is completely integrated with the Salesforce Service Cloud, can be branded, placed anywhere in the mobile app, and made available to whichever customers the company wants. "It's really the Mayday experience brought to market for any company," Larry Robinson, vice president of product management for Salesforce Service Cloud, said in a statement at the time of the launch. "We want any company to play like Amazon does."

Robinson says there is "an amazing number of use cases" for Service SOS. "It has applicability virtually anywhere that companies want to connect with their customers," he says.

"We're already seeing some amazing in-pilot programs by customers across industries, from financial services to travel to retail," adds Sarah Patterson, senior vice president of product marketing for the Salesforce Service Cloud. "We are excited by the possibilities that our mobile technologies present for the future of service. And we are excited to develop technologies for that new era of connected support across mobile, [the Internet of Things], and more, as we help companies stay ahead of the curve."

Soon after launching Service SOS, rolled it into the larger Service for Apps suite, along with four other services that can be embedded within mobile apps:

* Chat for Apps, an instant messaging feature;

* Tap-to-Call for Apps, which enables customers to access live telephone support from within the mobile app;

* Knowledge for Apps, which allows companies to offer knowledge articles and FAQs within an app and also convert crowd-sourced content into knowledge articles; and

* Cases for Apps, which enables customers to share photos and location information with agents and also allows agents to escalate cases to experts who can more quickly resolve them.

Many other similar mobile apps have followed SOS and the Mayday Button. SightCall, for example, last fall introduced SightCall Video Support Agent for Salesforce, a customer support video chat solution that supports both iOS and Android. Features in the app enable agents and customers to co-browse and interact using a pointer and annotation. Agents can also open Web pages on the customer's device. A video stream manipulation and capture feature enables agents to freeze or pause the live video stream. A new Snap-Shot feature lets companies capture the marked-up video stream.

In designing the app, SightCall CEO Thomas Cottereau says the company's goal was to "create a customer service experience that would surpass Amazon Mayday and Salesforce SOS for Apps."

The growing prominence of the mobile video chat channel was also a major driver behind Freshdesk's acquisition of in mid-August. offers a live video chat and co-browsing platform that will deepen Freshdesk's real-time chat support capabilities.

"We developed Freshdesk to make it easy for brands to interact seamlessly with their customers across any channel," said Girish Mathrubootham, Freshdesk CEO, in a statement. "Social, mobile, and chat have become important channels. The acquisition of 1Click strengthens our video, chat, and co-browsing capabilities and shows our commitment to evolving our products to meet the needs of our customers."

Verint Systems and Vidyo, a provider of cloud-based visual communication technology, in late August also announced a partnership to bring live video to contact centers. The combined offerings allow businesses to integrate video calls using the VidyoWorks platform with Verint's engagement management and voice recording solutions. Together with the VidyoWorks platform, Verint Engagement Management will enable video interactions between customers and service employees.

"The emergence of video capabilities in the contact center translates into new and exciting ways to engage customers," said Nancy Treaster, senior vice president and general manager of strategic operations at Verint Enterprise Intelligence Solutions, in a statement. She added that the collaboration with Vidyo brings customers "secure, reliable solutions designed to enhance service delivery, create new up- and cross-sell opportunities, and increase agent and operational productivity."

NICE Systems in May announced a similar Vidyo integration, bringing together its NICE Engage Platform, a recording and analytics solution, with the VidyoWorks platform.


Forrester Research analysts Art Schoeller and Philipp Karcher, in a report from April 2014, noted that some companies had toyed with video chat as early as the mid-1990s, often with mixed results. They further noted that the technology made a bit of a resurgence a few years ago, thanks to wider Internet availability, cheap and ubiquitous cameras, adaptive codecs, and standards such as WebRTC. Many of the early vendors came from the unified communications and collaboration, Web chat, and platform-as-a-service arenas.

Where Mayday and Salesforce SOS and similar apps set themselves apart, though, is in providing companies a way to annotate customers' screens, says Ian Jacobs, a senior analyst at Forrester.

"In a normal co-browse scenario, the agent needs to ask the customer if he would like to co-browse, then send some link or invitation, and then wait for the customer to click on the link and accept the co-browse. This process can sometimes take a couple of minutes, which, for a customer service interaction, can seem like a very long time," he explains. "What SOS and its ilk do is create that annotation session concurrently with the video session, with no lag time at all. This approach provides a great experience for customers because it is fast, and agents can actually show customers what they need to do to resolve their problems."


Also lending to their appeal, these sorts of apps keep the support capability within the app while treating customers to an exclusivity and intimacy that isn't available on other channels.

"To get customer service, customers don't want to break the frame of their experience, whatever that experience is. Gamers don't want to leave their games to find an FAQ. Banking customers don't want to leave the bank just to call into a contact center. And customers don't want to leave the mobile app they are using to get customer service," Jacobs says.

Patterson agrees, noting that winning companies are putting service at the heart of their apps. "When service is embedded into apps, they're stickier. Customers never have to leave that in-app experience to find an answer or get help," she says.

Unfortunately, though, that's what happens with most other mobile apps today, according to Jacobs. "If you click a Contact Us button in the app, odds are that the app will open the dialer app and call the company's contact center. That is doubly frustrating for customers. They are no longer in the app, and none of the context from the app, including authentication, what they were doing in the app, etc., gets passed to the agent. It's just a clunky experience all around," he says.

Part of the reason for this, he says, is that at many companies, mobile apps "come out of marketing or e-business teams." Additionally, "very few companies build native apps for customers just to provide customer service," Jacobs adds.

Live video chat is different, though. It is uniquely personal, and uniquely service-oriented, with capabilities that cannot be had on any other channel.

"It's becoming a must-have rather than a nice-to-have," Skaff says.

"Chat with an agent is much faster and much more productive than a phone call," he adds. "The agent can push content directly to you, which cannot be done over the phone."


Video chat, for all its appeal, does come with a few downsides, though. For one, unlike text-based chat apps that allow agents to handle multiple conversations at once, the video chat experience is uniquely personal, with agents handling only one customer at a time.

The costs for deploying video chat are not trivial, either. In addition to development, equipment, and implementation costs, contact centers will probably need to reallocate and retrain staff.

"The people you put on video chat are going to be more expensive than the ones you put on [phone] calls," Dawson points out.

Video chat agents will also need to be in relatively quiet spaces that are free from the usual noise and clutter of traditional call centers. And then it's probably a good idea to have standards for how they dress--ideally, they should all wear uniform shirts with the same colors and corporate logo.

Companies might also need to hire a different set of agents who are "camera-ready," meaning they project the right tone through their facial expressions and body language, to staff the video chat channel exclusively. Agents who are great on the phone might not present as well on video.

"Agent skills are primary," Dawson says. "Not everyone can function well in [a video] environment."

Companies will need to ensure that their communications networks and infrastructures can handle video traffic. They will also want to integrate the video channel with their CRM systems and other customer communications channels, with unified reporting to understand inquiry patterns and optimize queuing, routing, and agent resources.

Furthermore, because video chat is a relatively expensive support channel, companies might want to limit the service to only their most valuable customers.

"Live video chat shouldn't be made available to everyone, but as a premium service to a select group of customers," Skaff says. "It behooves a brand to only offer it to its top-tier customers."

In fact, the service could almost be positioned as a unique reward. "For the highest level of loyalty programs, for example, a service-focused application that gives the customer faster, direct access to special customer service teams provides a really differentiated experience," Jacobs says. "The service app with dedicated service becomes a perk of being a good customer."

Skaff agrees that this is a good idea and recommends that brands limit in-app mobile live chat to loyal customers who have downloaded their mobile apps and use them regularly.

Experts also advise against jumping right into video chat. "Text chat should be your first step; then you can add video chat [later]," Skaff suggests. "Start small. You can always roll out more as you go further along."

Dawson also warns that a live video chat feature built into mobile apps isn't for everyone. "This is a fancy wrapper on a very basic service process. If your underlying service structures aren't very good, then the wrapper is not going to be much more effective than any other shiny object--just a distraction from flawed processes," he says. "If you're going to call attention to your service capabilities through a central button, then your underlying process has to be bulletproof."

Skaff agrees. "Don't start something you can't sustain," he states emphatically. "Offering it and then not following through is really damaging to your brand."


Still, doing nothing in the mobile space can be even more problematic. To illustrate just how important it is for companies to provide customer service through their mobile apps, Pew Research Center reported earlier this year that 64 percent of American adults now own smartphones. Worldwide, smartphone users numbered 2 billion at the end of 2014, and that number is projected to reach more than 5 billion by 2019, according to Forrester data.

Of those who own mobile phones, 63 percent claim to use them several times a month to seek customer support, according to a report by Software Advice, which was acquired by Gartner in March 2014.

As one might expect, mobile customer service was particularly important for younger consumers, with 77 percent of 18- to 24-year-old respondents using their mobile devices at least once a month to contact customer support. Three-quarters (75 percent) of 35- to 44-year-old respondents engage in the same behavior. Older adults (over the age of 65) were less likely to use mobile support, but even among that age group, 26 percent use mobile devices more than once a month to contact support.

"Across every part of business, the shift from desktop to mobile is opening tremendous opportunities for companies, and that's especially true when it comes to service,"'s Patterson says. "Customers are more mobile than ever before, and they expect to engage with companies and products through these mobile devices, and that means through mobile apps."

And has research to back this up. In its "State of Service" report, the result of a survey of 1,900 customer service leaders from around the world, it found that consumer behaviors and expectations continue to be reshaped by experiences on smartphones and connected devices. According to the report, service embedded into mobile apps is expected to at least double in the next 12 to 18 months. Additionally, mobile customer service apps are continuing to grow, with 56 percent of service leaders saying they will provide service and support via mobile apps for customers within the next two years.

And, when they do, video chat with screen sharing, annotation, and remote control of devices to perform tasks on behalf of the customer will be a primary focus, predicts Kate Leggett, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.

Dawson sees WebRTC as part of the bigger contact center technology shift as well. WebRTC, he says, "is the underlying mechanism powering Mayday, but it's more important as a way to add click-to-call functionality to smartphone applications and Web sites.

"WebRTC ... is bigger than any one particular application for it, like Mayday or SOS," he adds.

Senior News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at
COPYRIGHT 2015 Information Today, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2015 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:THE MOBILE ISSUE
Author:Klie, Leonard
Publication:CRM Magazine
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Nov 1, 2015
Previous Article:How social media is changing the contact center world.
Next Article:Make digital service your customers' preferred experience.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters