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Signs of Mobile Maturation at CTIA, Finovate

2010 October 7

It’s been a busy week filled with conferences. Earlier this week I attended Finovate in New York City and CTIA is finishing up in San Francisco.

What I’m seeing and hearing is the maturation of mobile business particularly in banking, retail and travel. Numerous banks and retailers told me of intense mobile adoption of new mobile offerings even before marketing or announcement of availability.

I’m am also seeing a much needed progress toward mobile management tools and interest in using them.

From the start of this company, we’ve been preparing for mobile becoming mainstream in the first half of 2011. Right now “adoption” is about the only mobile metric widely used. Even the definition of adoption varies widely. Some banks measure as a percentage of all customers, but most compare to online banking users which typically is 40% or less of customers. Retailers may count mobile visits in comparison to online visits. Others may only count logged in sessions. Similarly some organizations count active users (used within the last 30 days or some similar measurement), others count every enrollment ever.

My point is that these metrics are crude, early efforts to manage a new channel. Very soon adoption by any definition will be too large to ignore and companies will have to turn their attention from bringing the mobile channel online to optimizing mobile commerce.

Right now mobile retail sales are typically 4% – 6% of online sales according to the off-the-record reports a variety of retailers have shared with us.

When mobile sales near 20% attention will turn to increasing conversion. Volume is low now and the profits from mobile are a rounding error. When the call center lights up with complaints, businesses will try to understand what went wrong, but will find themselves essentially blind just like they were in the early days of ecommerce. Mobile will be even harder to manage than ecommerce because the workflows are so multichannel and used by so many devices.

At CTIA I heard a number of entrenched enterprise executives say it’s foolish to support the myriad of devices people are using (see Thursday’s keynote panel discussion for an example). With all due respect, I think this is naive and shows they don’t understand the mobile revolution going on around them.

Companies will be forced to support device diversity or they will lose customers. The days are gone when IT managers can dictate support based on their convenience. Certainly there will be obscure devices that aren’t supported. However organizations must have a strategy to provide basic support to the mobile masses while providing advanced, innovative capabilities on key devices. Soon company earnings will revolve around their ability to compete on mobile and serve customers on their own terms.

Managing all this complexity will be hard and will require planning and innovation. We’ve been thinking about how to do this for over a year now and are working with industry leaders to get the necessary tools into the marketplace. Much more innovation is still required, but we’re combining our success in optimizing ecommerce with our unique mobile commerce experience to help companies succeed when customers arrive.

I’m sick of “It’s Hard” as an excuse for bad customer service.

AT&T and the other U.S. carriers are shining examples of this mediocrity. The parade of backward looking execs across the stage at CTIA essentially saying the same thing was disappointing. Perhaps that’s why so many seats were empty and the show continues to shrink.

Modern customers expect to interact on their terms. Organizations and leaders that ignore this risk becoming dinosaurs.

If it’s too hard for you to serve your customers, someone else will.

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