Not so long ago, a great deal of customer care in the age of the Web revolved around channeling income phone calls to the right contact center representative and handling emails from the website. Now, mobile devices and social media have changed the customer support communications landscape. How have they affected customer care?

CMSWire recently spoke with an executive at Cisco -- a company heavily involved in the technologies that enable customer care -- to find out that company’s perspective.

Not Just IVR Anymore

John Hernandez, Vice President and General Manager of Collaborative Business Applications at Cisco Systems, said the proliferation of smartphones and social media represents a great opportunity for customer care to become more pro-active. “It’s not just about IVR any more,” he said, referring to interactive voice response, those seemingly endless trees of menu options for inquiries by phone.

At a high level, he said, companies are now having to move from a traditional contact center, to a more pro-active, internally collaborative approach to take care of on-the-go customers.

For instance, Hernandez noted, companies can now “extend call center functionality into the app,” such as a bank transaction app that allows contact with the bank through the app itself.

“The bank already has full authentication through the app,” he noted, “and it knows what the customer was doing” when the problem occurred, such as trying to transfer some funds from a checking account to a savings account. Regardless of the vertical industry involved, he said, adding contact center functionality into mobile apps can expand the scope of customer care.

‘Mobile Customer Assistance Portals’

Cisco has provided APIs to third parties like Bucher-Suter, which has a Mobile Connect smartphone app for the Cisco Contact Center. That API can provide account information so the call can be directed to the most appropriate agent. Bucher-Suter said their app transforms smartphones into “mobile customer assistance portals,” with click-to-call, the ability to schedule a callback to a mobile device from a website, SMS and chat.

Hernandez noted that the fluidity to find the most appropriate agent has been made possible, in part, by the wide adoption of IP-based telecommunications systems over the older PBX systems. “IP systems are on the fast track” to adapting to the fluid environment created by mobile devices and social media, he said, and are inherently “open and extensible.”

That fluidity includes not only flexible management of incoming communications, but the ability to go to where the experts are. “One of the inherent values of the IP switch,” he said, “is you can be anywhere you have an IP connection.” As an example, Hernandez noted that advice nurses, whenever they have a free shift and wherever they are, can now be included in customer care communications at a health care company. “The work at home agent is now a solid trend,” he pointed out.

‘Single Face to the Customer’

One of the key issues for companies in an era of such fluid customer care is not technological, but organizational. When an inquiry arrives via a social media app on a mobile device relating to, say, an advertised offer, which department is responsible?

“Call centers don’t generally own social media responsibility,” Hernandez said, noting that social media teams are still attempting to find their rightful place in a company, in many cases “transitioning to a shared responsibility.”