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(Don’t) Support Mobility Madness

by Rob Addy  |  April 13, 2012  |  1 Comment

Mobile support apps aren’t necessarily bad or pointless; it’s just that we haven’t seen any examples of good ones yet. Many support providers have put the need to “go mobile” at the top of their investment list for 2012. And this is why I have an issue with them (mobile support apps and the providers that develop them). They are diverting much needed R&D investment dollars from areas that really need it far more urgently. If on the other hand you ARE a provider that has highly automated prevention based proactive and predictive offerings as well as a full set of constituency specific dashboards and product advocacy programs then by all means knock yourself out creating a mobile app for your service consumers to use. Most providers aren’t and therefore shouldn’t. I would argue that you may be better served building multiple meaningful mobile dashboards (and we’ll delve into what those would / could look like another time) for the supervisory / middle management or executive tiers but that’s just my perspective.

Mobile is hip and trendy. It’s also often counter productive and self-defeating.

Providers that eagerly brief me on their latest whizz bang mobile app for support are often surprised and confused by my lack of enthusiasm (and in some cases criticism). It’s not that I am against mobile per se. It’s just that all too often it is a half baked attempt that fails to leverage the inherent benefits of the mobile platform and just badly replicates the customer web portal on a smaller screen. Sure, some providers throw in Twitter readers and embedded Facebook clients to prove the are “down with the kids” but that just makes them look rather silly (and a little ridiculous) in my eyes. Social media is undoubtedly a very useful and powerful tool. But most active community members will already have a preferred mobile solution for interacting with their communities of choice. Replicating this functionality is a needless waste.

Mobile support applications are being developed by provider engineering teams who want to play with smart phones irrespective of whether their customers really want or need mobile apps or not…

When I ask how many system administrators that they know who leave their desks (without taking their laptop with them) in the middle of an ongoing technical issue they go quiet. It just doesn’t happen. So why do they need a mobile app? I then usually ask what the use cases are for the mobile app. All too often they just tell me that the customer can submit a ticket, update a ticket and check ticket status. Wonderful… Not! I have yet to see a mobile support app where it was simpler to submit a case on the mobile device than it is on the web portal. Now, if the poor sys admin could use the camera on his iPhone to scan a barcode on a server in the machine room and then with a single thumb press (or swipe™) create a case then that might be ok. But as yet I haven’t seen it.

Mobility does have significant potential to add value in a product support context. But as yet that potential is untapped…

The use cases are everything. How can the mobile app actually help the customer? Will it provide an augmented reality view of the innards of a server so that the sys admin knows which boards to “jiggle” (a highly technical term related to the re-seating of a component to ensure all connections are good)? Will it guide them through the various stages of fitting a Customer Replaceable Unit (CRU)? Will it enable a support representative to sit on their shoulder as they troubleshoot an issue? Can the application “listen” to the various sounds coming from power supply units or cooling fans to see which is most likely to fail? Can the mobile device’s camera be used to “see” if a mechanical component is suffering from wear and tear (by means of checking for surface discolouration or components working themselves out of tolerance ranges or being worn down or becoming deformed) and determine its likely remaining life? Can the mobile device use the Infra Red sensors within its camera setup to map out hotspots on motherboards to help predict potential component failures (or recommend fan repositioning or cleaning etc)? Can the touch screen of the phone be placed against the side of the rack enclosure to monitor tiny variations in equipment vibration that could forewarn of impending disaster? Who knows? (Who cares?) But the fact of the matter is that there ARE many many possibilities.

In the software support arena there are different potential use cases. Back in the day (the late 1990s), when I was a software implementation consultant I used to be able to troubleshoot the client side workflow of a system by watching the screen paint sequencing of fields in an application as the focus bounced and data was populated and re-populated. Could a mobile app that “watches” screen displays do the same? Other examples include <fill in the blanks here people as I can’t currently think of anything specific to the software support space ;-)>…

I’d really love to hear your ideas on how a mobile device could / should be used in a product support context. I may even consider rewarding the best with a prize (admittedly this “prize” is likely to be a copy of my book (as I have a stack of a thousand of them in my garage 🙁 )).

Today’s mobile devices have a myriad of electronic sensors built in. Tomorrow’s will have even more. What could you do with them to help your customers to improve the reliability and efficiency of your stuff?

Ask not what your customers could do with a mobile support app; ask what your mobile app could do for them!

Remember that your service consumers (i.e. the technical rank and file) ARE likely to say that they want a mobile app. Not because they will use it or because it will add value, but because it will help them to try and convince their boss that they need a new snazzy smart phone on the company. Try to think about what you could provide to the support consumer so that they can become more effective. Because that is the sort of stuff that their boss really wants you to deliver…

Before embarking on a mobile support application development project I urge you to please please please consider the following three questions:

  • How can the inherent capabilities of the mobile device be leveraged to make the support experience BETTER?
  • What can a mobile support application do BETTER than a traditional web portal?
  • How and when could a mobile support application deliver ADDED value to your customers?

If you can’t improve on the current customer experience or deliver increased value; please save your money. Better yet, spend it on something that WILL improve the customer value proposition!


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Category: customer-experience  technologies-underpinning-support  

Tags: customer-experience  mobile-apps  mobility  product-support  support-apps  trkfam  value-proposition  

Rob Addy
Research Vice President
5 years at Gartner
More years than I care to remember in the IT industry

Welcome to my blog! I post about all things services related from the provider perspective. End-users are welcome to read but please be aware that you may sometimes find its content unsettling. I will endeavour to post frequently (as it's a lot cheaper than a therapist) but please forgive me if other more mundane activities occasionally get in the way...Read my official Gartner bio here

Thoughts on (Don’t) Support Mobility Madness

  1. Sonja Keerl says:

    I think support apps could have great potential, just – as you say – it is often in the hands of the wrong people. These initiatives need to be with a customer experience group that looks at content, customers and channels in a holistic manner and makes support part of the bigger picture, rather than an after thought.

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