The Future of Customer Support is Social, Mobile, Video and Insourced

FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2011 file photo, a magnifying glass is posed over a monitor displaying a Facebook page in Munich. Fac
FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2011 file photo, a magnifying glass is posed over a monitor displaying a Facebook page in Munich. Facebook is proposing to end its practice of letting users vote on changes to its privacy policies, though it will continue to let users comment on proposed updates. The world's biggest social media company said in a blog post Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, that its voting mechanism, which is triggered only if enough people comment on proposed changes, has become a system that emphasizes quantity of responses over quality of discussion. Users tend to leave one or two-word comments objecting to changes instead of more in-depth responses. (AP Photo/dapd, Joerg Koch, File)

It's hard to read Mary Meeker's latest 2012 Internet trends report and not be stunned by her social, mobile and web statistics. Today, there are 2.4 billion Internet users worldwide with 1.1 billion smartphone subscribers. The amazing fact is that the 1 billion-plus smartphone users only represent 17 percent of the global mobile phone market. In addition, nearly 1 out of 3 adults in the U.S. have tablets. The report also showed that 13 percent of the worldwide internet traffic is mobile, versus 4 percent in 2010. This month, the analyst firm IDC increased its tablet forecast for 2012 to 122.3 million units, with forward projections of nearly 300 million units by 2016.

A very important trend is also the explosive nature of social networking via mobile devices. I would argue that social is the main driver behind mobile. As the CMO and Chief Customer Officer of Enterasys, I also remind my CIO/CTO customers that social and mobile are not about technology, but rather a lifestyle. In the book, The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence, which I co-authored with my colleague Brad Martin, we talk about the impact of the social revolution in customer service and support.

A 2012 Nielson and McKinsey research study noted that consumers spend 30 percent of total time online via mobile and mostly on social networks. Neilson also reported a 37 percent year-over-year increase of time spent on social media via mobile devices; Americans spent 121 billion minutes in July 2012 versus 88 billion in July 2011. The top social networks were Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+. Another interesting fact is that year-over-year comparisons of time spent on social networks, via mobile devices, increased by 24 percent, yet time spent on social networks via PCs declined by 5 percent.

Summary of fact: people are more mobile and social and spending more of their time connected that ever before. And yet so many businesses, notably in the B2B space, have customer service and support organizations that are not ready for the mobile, social, and hyper-connected era. To add to the dilemma, larger B2B organizations have decided to outsource their customer support offshore in order to reduce expenses. Guess what? The mobile and social revolution will be a big wakeup call for these businesses.

Today, most B2B call centers employ a multi-channel contact strategy, mostly dominated by a combination of phone, email and web options with minimal to no social contact channel or community-driven service delivery models. But the future contact for customer service representatives will be a mobile, socially savvy customer who is likely to connect using a video social application, like Google+ hangouts, on a consumer tablet/smartphone. Studies show that tablet users are three times more likely to use mobile video as compared to other mobile devices.

Concurrent video streams can facilitate real-time collaboration with multiple end users, working together to accelerate the path to resolution. This multi-media capability will also be integrated in a customer relationship management (CRM) solution, providing the ability to catalogue transactions for quality improvement and better customer experience references.

Now imagine a scenario whereby the mobile customer is expecting to connect to your company's frontline support personnel via mobile video. Companies that have outsourced their customer service call centers will now be uniquely challenged to ensure the frontline service employees are informed and able to engage customers in a meaningful way. It will be harder to read a script and transact in rudimentary ways when the service professional is virtually face-to-face with the customer. Social savvy service professionals who are well trained and able to engage with other subject matter experts -- R&D, field, and professional service engineering -- will be ready for this mobile and social revolution.

The quality of customer service may be the most important function in a social era. I would argue that customer service is the new marketing. Social businesses understand that differentiation in the social era requires not only a collaborative mindset but also the highest level of competency. Success in a social, hyper-connected era requires an understanding of core competencies and proper alignment of investments to ensure sustained differentiation. Successful social businesses cannot outsource their core competencies, including the competency of relationship building and trust that comes from delivering excellent customer service and support.

Are you confident that you customer support team is ready to service your customers via mobile video? Are the company executives speaking about future investments in mobile and social technologies to help improve business agility and customer delight? Clay Christensen famously said: "You may hate gravity, but gravity does not care." Substitute the words mobile and social with gravity and the statement above is still valid. It's not about technology anymore, it's a lifestyle.

Bottom line: keep your core competencies in-house, be aware of market trends and technology disruptions, and stop fighting gravity.

This post is part of a series co-produced by The Huffington Post and Blogworld, in conjunction with the latter's NMX BusinessNext Social 2013. That event will feature some of the world's leading social-business luminaries and influencers, each of whom will be speaking at the event to provide an up-close look at how the world's most successful businesses harness the power of social.