In-app customer serviceAbinash Tripathy is cofounder and CEO of mobile customer service help desk Helpshift.

Mobile devices have created an entirely new way for people to interact with businesses. The good news for businesses is that millions of Americans can now download your app and make purchases on their smartphones and tablets every day.

The bad news is, if your customers service isn’t robust and flexible enough to deal with this fast-growing channel, your mobile customers will write negative app reviews, vent on social media, or abandon your app (and your business) altogether.

If your business doesn’t yet have a direct channel of communication within your mobile application itself — and instead you’re diverting questions and complaints to your email or web-based customer service — you’re leaving yourself vulnerable. In-app customer service lets you respond to tickets faster and more effectively, get customer feedback, and boost the lifetime value of every customer.

The big help desk companies are already adapting to the requirements of in-app customer service — Salesforce with its and Zendesk with its Zendesk for Mobile — and we’ll see native, mobile centric customer service technologies emerging to take these capabilities deeper. My company Helpshift’s native help desk, for example, can auto-generate diagnostic information to help with device-specific issues. And it can also auto-generate a lot of data about the customer in question — such as their purchase history and other account information — so the customer doesn’t need to provide it. That customer data doesn’t just help you answer tickets more effectively, you can also use it to create a more comprehensive profile over time so that each interaction gets easier and more meaningful.

And since native mobile customer service even lets you chat with mobile customers, in real-time, right in the app, cutting down on your response time and endless email chains and/or phone hold music.

VentureBeat will be exploring the theme “Commerce: Mobile Experience Determines whether you Live or Die” at our MobileBeat conference, July 9-10.

In fact, native integrations can prevent support tickets altogether. By empowering loyal mobile users who, for example, are struggling with a new version of an app to navigate to an in-app help section where the answer to their question is front and center, along with a searchable knowledgebase in their language, you can pre-empt support tickets.

It’s easy to understand why mobile users love instant, meaningful customer support: It helps them solve their problems as quickly, easily, and painlessly as possible. Rather than waiting for a rep to respond to an email with yet more questions, or worse, deleting the app altogether and leaving a negative review in the app store, we’re back to using the apps we love. Most importantly, we’re happier users — and when customers are happy, businesses are happier, too. But bridging the mobile customer service divide has clear business benefits as well.

One company, popular mobile productivity app maker Astrid, which was recently acquired by Yahoo, has been able to cut the time spent on managing support tickets by more than half. [Disclosure: Astrid is a customer of my company.]

Other mobile applications, like Talk to Myself and Spokn, have told us they’re able to answer mobile users’ questions before they become tickets, so they can service tens of thousands of mobile users much more efficiently.

Any business with a mobile application and a growing user base needs to consider how they are providing service and support to mobile customers—and how they intend to provide the same level of excellence as the user base grows. In-app customer support makes scaling radically easier and more cost-efficient by helping you:

  1. Reduce support costs and overhead – By eliminating redundant questioning and closing email exchange loops, app developers can dramatically reduce ticket volume as well as the time needed to respond to tickets. This enables companies to respond to more service tickets per rep and require fewer reps as the business grows.
  2. Reduce customer churn and increase customer lifetime value – Happy, engaged customers don’t leave. In fact, they often spend more. A better user experience results in increased customer engagement and customer retention.
  3. Increase brand advocacy and sales — The world’s most popular brands are successful because they have more than just customers; they have loyal fans and brand ambassadors. A delightful customer experience fosters brand advocacy and word-of-mouth marketing.

In the near future, we can expect larger companies to leverage this new in-app communication channel to provide service and support to even greater numbers of mobile customers. Imagine being able to communicate with a support representative from Comcast, Walmart, Target, Amazon, or Starbucks, in real time while you’re on the go? Imagine instantly sharing a screenshot of an error message — or a picture of a messy retail store — with a company representative and receiving an immediate reply. For forward-thinking businesses, this customer-centric future is not far off.

[Top image credit: Warren Goldswain/Shutterstock]

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