Richard Alden is President of TOA Technologies Europe. Mr Alden previously served as CEO of ONO, Spain’s largest cable broadband provider. Prior to ONO, Mr Alden held positions as CFO of Optel Inc in the USA and as CFO of Videotron Holdings in the UK, both part of the Canadian Videotron Group. Mr Alden is currently a non-executive director of several European media and telecoms businesses, including FON, the world’s largest free WiFi community. Richard Alden has a degree in Modern History and Politics from the University of Liverpool.
Mobile workforce management optimisation lets companies use mobile technology to improve their customer’s experience by better managing their field operations. The divide between companies using mobile computing, cloud services and even social networking to communicate with their customers - and those that don’t - grows in parallel with smartphone usage and on-demand feature availability. These devices and technologies help companies compete more effectively - they improve operational efficiencies and productivity while at the same time greatly improving the customer’s experience.
Globally, mobile data traffic is set to double every year until 2014. During 2011, analysts from Informa expect the mobile broadband market to overtake its fixed counterpart, growing to 670 million subscribers, and 51.8 per cent of the overall broadband market. A key driver of this growth is the plethora of mobile devices from smartphones to tablet PCs entering the consumer market, opening up a new world and bringing the Internet with all its possibilities for interaction to the user anywhere, anytime. But it’s not only consumers who are adopting mobile broadband. Enterprises have shown an increasing appetite for mobile bandwidth as well. IDC predicts that mobile computing, cloud services, and social networking technologies will mature and become mainstream this year. Companies adopting these technologies will be surfing the mobile wave as well as sustaining it. A new mobile workstyle will increase workforce productivity throughout the enterprise while cloud computing will give enterprises a flexibility previously unknown and the opportunity to build a future-proof infrastructure that will provide them with a competitive edge. Lastly, social networking will become an important tool for companies to engage with their customers in new ways. By refusing to accept old-fashioned, traditional, ways of interaction - often slow and inconvenient - that no longer fit their lifestyles, consumers are putting pressure on service-oriented enterprises, including carriers and mobile operators, who operate in mature and highly competitive markets. Customer service will become a key differentiator in the quest to increase customer satisfaction and retention rates. So telco providers do not only need to prime their networks to keep pace with the innovations that are driving the mobile wave; they need also to embrace these technologies just like any other enterprise trying to outperform its competitors. In terms of mobile workforce management, IDC identified three significant technology trends - mobile computing, cloud services, and social networking technologies. These trends are combining to transform mobile workforce management - a mission-critical but often neglected, inefficient and slow part of a business - into a highly productive, efficient and customer-oriented powerhouse that will contribute significantly to business success, so it is high time that companies reviewed their mobile workforce operations. A recently commissioned survey found that many businesses in the United Kingdom and Germany suffer, in terms of both lost revenue and reputation, as a result of their customers’ poor experience with field workforce operations. When it comes to wait times for in-home appointments in particular, telecom and cable service providers ranked amongst the poorest in the field. And long wait times often resulted in low customer satisfaction ratings and high churn rates. Customers have high requirements in today’s always-connected-get-it-now society and will turn to competitors quickly if their expectations are not met. The survey indicated that 55 per cent of Germans and almost a quarter of Britons, 23 per cent, had switched providers due to poor wait times in the last year. At the same time, research also demonstrated that companies that provide quick and efficient services, and put the consumer’s needs at the heart of what they do, not only retain their customers longer, but are more likely to receive recommendations. Cloud computing and mobile workforce management The capabilities of web-based solutions in combination with mobile technologies help companies to achieve two overarching business objectives when deploying a mobile workforce management solution. One is to increase efficiency and reduce cost by optimizing the workflow between the field and dispatchers. The second objective is to improve the customer experience by leveraging the appointment as a relationship-building opportunity. Cloud computing and on-demand applications and services are the perfect fit for a truly mobile and flexible enterprise’s mission-critical tasks of managing the field workforce and customer communications. Cloud-based, on-demand, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions are quick to deploy and highly reliable. They are powerful, affordable tools for enterprises of all sizes, from the largest telecoms operator to specialty retailers. They do not require major up-front investment, enabling companies to realise previously unobtainable savings and efficiencies in a few months versus years with traditionally installed applications. Cloud-based mobile workforce management solutions are also easily accessible - anywhere, any time - on any web-enabled device. This makes them the perfect fit for enterprises that seek to optimise their mobile workforce with a focus on the most critical touch point - the customer appointment event. Too many companies fail to capitalize on the opportunities provide by in-home appointments. Often it is the only time a company meets with their customers in person, and the impact this company representative has in terms of enhancing or damaging a brand is significant. Combining SaaS benefits - computing power, always accessible, device-independent - with the latest mobile technologies, predictive analytics, and automated interactive customer communications increases operational efficiencies and improves the customer experience at the same time. Customer communications The evolution of mobile devices, high availability of mobile broadband, development of resilient mobile and cloud computing services and the growing popularity of social media and other forms of instant communication means that customers no longer need to be prisoners in their own homes, when it comes to appointments. Mobile services allow enterprises to change the way that they interact with their customers. A recent blog post in The New York Times highlighted the fall in the amount of time that people are spending emailing from desktops and the rise in texting, instant messaging and social networks, or emailing from mobile devices. The increasing variety of communication channels available to consumers and businesses and the growing desire for instant responses is changing the way that we live and work and our expectations in the way we deal with businesses. Service providers who do not meet these expectations are quickly discarded if there is a better alternative. Cloud-based mobile workforce management and the capabilities of today’s mobile devices address this challenge twofold. First, the real-time data from the field lets enterprises shrink customer wait times to a minimum. Second, it helps to vastly improve proactive customer communication. Having the data does not suffice - you have to communicate with the customer, confirm appointments and update appointment times in case of delays. A growing number of companies are starting to use some of these systems with great effect, from VirginMedia and Ocado (the British online grocery delivery firm) in the UK, to ONO in Spain, and Arhaus Furniture in the US. Customers and the mobile workforce In highly competitive industries such as telecommunications and cable, customer experience may be a significant differentiator between service providers. But customer relationship management strategies frequently fail to incorporate the mobile workforce - despite the fact that these employees are often one of the few personal contact points between the enterprise and the customer. If an in-house appointment is completed smoothly, this will have a positive impact on the company’s image. In addition, the field worker can use the personal contact to support sales - selling additional products and services. New mobile devices like the iPad make it even easier to support the mobile workforce. Arhaus Furniture, for example, uses the iPad with a custom-tailored application to implement a paperless delivery process with quick turn-around times, and also to bring the electronic product catalogue to the customer’s house while the new sofa is assembled. Extending CRM, brand and marketing activities to include the mobile workforce in this way creates a truly positive customer experience. Mobile is leading the way Mobile workforce management optimisation is only one example of how enterprises can capitalize on the technology innovations that support the new mobile lifestyle of consumers as well as the mobile workstyle in enterprises. The divide between companies riding this mobile wave by embracing mobile computing, cloud services and social networking and those that remain offline grows wider with every new web-enabled smartphone or on-demand feature made available. These new technologies offer a wealth of opportunities to gain a competitive advantage by improving operational efficiencies and productivity, while at the same time greatly improving customer experience - companies just need to adopt them.