TMC this year celebrates 30 years of covering customer interaction, which means it couldn’t be a better time to look at where we’ve been with customer service and where we’re going. We’re also rebranding and retooling our customer effort. In this installment of our CUSTOMER coverage, we talk with Alex Bratton, CEO and chief geek of Lextech Global Services. Established in 2001, Lextech helps organizations figure out how mobile is going to support their business strategy, identifying what suites of mobile apps are going to provide the highest return.
What’s your professional background? How does it relate to the customer contact/customer service/customer management space?
Bratton: I currently serve as CEO of two Chicago area technology companies, including Lextech Global Services, and founded a total of 10 companies. I wrote my first book about Apple II programming at the age of 14 and created my first company in high school.
From pioneering an online interactive environment for 80,000 role-playing gamers to designing, building and managing the rollout of a high availability website scaled for one million daily users in six days, I am motivated by my passion for solving problems with technology. I’ve guided the creation of many cutting-edge systems including a control system for a stabilized rocket launching platform, mapping interface for Navy research sensors, cell phone GPS tracking on web databases, and an online magazine publishing system.
I’ve provided business and technology strategy, systems architecture and technology execution expertise for more than 75 companies, including AT&T, Levi Strauss, Lucent Technologies, Zurich Kemper Life, Morningstar, Nalco Chemicals, R. R. Donnelly, Motorola, Follett, Internet start-ups, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, Army, Navy, and the Morton Arboretum.
We’re celebrating the 30-year anniversary of TMC’s Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. What have been the most important developments in the past 30 years related to customer interactions?
Bratton: The original PC put technology into the hands of regular people for the first time. Mobile technology and apps are making technology truly personal for the first time ever – it's now in our pocket and with us at all times.
Mobile apps are changing the way we live our lives at a rate much greater and faster than the Internet. We're only three to four years into the mobile wave, but seeing faster technology adoption than ever before, specifically because of ease of use and touch screens. Using a touch screen and interacting with apps by touching them is intuitive – even a 2-year-old understands how to touch elements on an iPad. Mobile devices have bridged the technology divide and put apps powered by the Internet into the hands of everyone.
How is marketing changing?
Bratton: A new level of engagement is needed to maintain the attention of our customers. Throwing ads or flaming logo apps (look-at-me-type marketing apps that don't provide any value) won't attract customers.
With consumers more connected than ever before, brands have a unique opportunity to build life-long relationships with customers. The key is a sharp focus on delivering value to them rather than merely pushing out a message. We must provide tools and apps that customers will use as a regular part of their lives and embed ourselves in their everyday routines.
How is the rise of cloud computing impacting how businesses target, engage with, and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Bratton: Cloud computing is making it significantly easier to create data-driven systems without the multi-year implementation cycles of legacy systems. The cloud enables linking data to mobile and web platforms in new ways, including pushing data to the point of use.
Use of the cloud still requires careful consideration, though, especially when working with mobile, as we don't yet live in a world of always available connectivity. Apps talking to the cloud need to be able to function even when they can't reach the cloud. An order entry app that only works with Internet connectivity is useless to someone who relies on it to do their job. The most effective apps will handle offline data entry and intelligently sync that information to the cloud once the user is back online.
How is the increased use and comfort level with video impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
Bratton: Video has become a staple for how we view the world. A new area just emerging is the operational use of video in the enterprise. We have all sorts of video cameras in place, but the only people with access are the control room security folks. When we give access to those same cameras to facilities, operations and executive teams, we provide real-time information on people, vehicle and asset flow for better decision making.
Next we'll be able to expose those same cameras to our customers. Imagine being able to look at the parking lot traffic after a baseball game to see if the rush has died down or which concessions stand has the shorter line.
What new tools and practices are businesses using to better leverage their own and/or outside data to target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
Bratton: While organizations have been gathering mountains of data, many haven't been able to easily analyze trends based on the data. The advent of big data tools will make it much easier for us to identify trends and truly understand our customers, both individually and in aggregate.
One example is building analytics into enterprise mobile apps to better understand the value-added for end users. This helps the organization focus efforts on the areas users most want or need and scale back on elements that are underutilized (or ask questions about why that's the case).
How is the mobile boom impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
Bratton: Mobile is the single biggest driver for future business success and window through which customers and employees interact with an organization, the Internet, cloud data storage and each other on social platforms.
Mobile is the new reality of customer engagement. We have hit the tipping point for mobile first design and now see organizations leading their strategy with mobile then identifying the gaps traditional web solutions can fill in.
Mobile forces focus and simplicity in our interactions with customers. That's one of the key reasons mobile is growing so quickly, people can actually understand how to use the technology without bulky manuals or significant time-spent.
What other key trends are you seeing as it relates to how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
Bratton: We will see many giants stumble and new giants emerge as companies either ignore or embrace mobile technology. Several industries have already been marginalized because mobile apps were able to replace specialized hardware solutions such as point-of-sale equipment. Mobile payment solutions for use in stores have rapidly started replacing fixed PoS stations, providing better capabilities for a lower cost and putting sales people out on the store floor, where they can better serve and interact with customers.
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