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Think customer satisfaction, not cost savings, when going wireless

Companies are turning to wireless CRM technology as a way to offer users better customer service.

Wireless CRM is poised for takeoff in the latter half of the decade. According to London-based market analysis firm Datamonitor PLC, the global market for mobile CRM, or mCRM, will be worth nearly $1.7 billion in 2005. The penetration of mobile phones and wireless-enabled personal digital assistants (PDAs) is fueling the growth.

Companies like Hayward, Calif.-based AvantGo Inc. provide the ability to re-use existing content from a company's Web site, without needing to build a wireless application from scratch.

When consumers click on the AvantGo channel on a PDA, the request goes through AvantGo servers to the company's servers to retrieve information. On the company's end, an AvantGo channel template is created to pull the data off Web servers, according to Patty Tulloch, vice president of marketing communications for AvantGo. AvantGo is device-neutral, meaning information can be pulled up on a Windows CE or a Palm device.

AvantGo charges companies using a channel based on the number of subscribers to the channel.

PDA reliability

Bellevue, Wash.-based Expedia chose AvantGo to create a wireless channel for consumers to book travel arrangements, check flight information and store things like itineraries and frequent flyer numbers on a PDA.

"The response that we've seen is really good," said Mitch Robinson, product manager for Expedia. Most of the customers using Expedia are business travelers that rely on their PDAs to store critical information and are very loyal to Expedia, he said.

Robinson did not have figures regarding adoption of Expedia. On the AvantGo Web site, Expedia is ranked in the top 10 most-used channels, and Robinson expects to see user numbers appear as the adoption of wireless devices slows down.

Travel information on a PDA is another reason for consumers to use online travel services like Expedia, he said. Robinson noted that, out of 8 million PDA owners, 7.25 don't own a PDA modem. Wireline modems need phone jacks to connect to the Internet. A wireless modem for a Handspring Visor costs $299, and service runs $29.99 per month.

Cost savings are hard to assess, as wireless devices are still gaining momentum, Robinson said.

Better customer service

The State of California uses wireless technology to extend its citizen information portal to wireless devices, as well as alert citizens to freeway traffic snags and impending power outages. According to Arun Baheti, director of e-government for the State of California, cost savings were not the primary focus for rolling out a wireless component.

"We're probably not going to see cost savings with the initial rollout because the information is already available," he said. "What we're trying to do primarily is offer better customer service" and give citizens access to the information they need.

The wireless component of the portal is based on software from Redwood City, Calif.-based BroadVision Inc. This allows the State to deliver Web content dynamically, eliminating the need to create different code for each device, Baheti said.

BroadVision supports extensible markup language (XML), which is the foundation for the wireless medium, according to Drew Bartkiewicz, vice president of industry solutions at BroadVision.

California uses BroadVision for the Web site and Kana for outbound e-mail text paging, which is used to send alerts to pagers and wireless phones. BroadVision software allows for the wireless application protocol (WAP) and PDA templates so that the portal can be browsed on a handheld device. The database is enabled for XML, and the data is presented via wireless markup language (WML) on wireless devices and HTML on standard Web browsers.

The state faced challenges when implementing the portal and its wireless counterpart. At the beginning of the project, California needed to build its infrastructure properly so that it could later roll out wireless. "It was difficult to explain ... why we were building something a certain way for the future," Baheti said.

The other challenge was to include relevant content. "The biggest mistake is to put a random Web site up and wireless-enable it. Even though I can, I'm not going to buy pots and pans on my cell phone," he said.

California spent $2 million and 110 days to get the portal running. The wireless component took another 30 to 40 days to launch, according to Baheti.

Consumer acceptance

Consumers have a low acceptance rate for wireless CRM, according to Robin Goad, technology analyst at Datamonitor. The penetration of WAP phones is high, but most people don't access WAP-based services because of the high cost. For example, wireless Web access from Verizon Wireless is an extra $7 a month. Sprint PCS uses the subscriber's existing airtime, but if the consumer uses the wireless Web often, a more comprehensive plan would be needed.

Once next-generation mobile phones take off, companies will be able to integrate location-based services to send messages to consumers, he said. Europe will most likely be first with the new technology.


Wireless CRM Glossary

  • Citizen relationship management -- A division of customer relationship management that focuses specifically on how governmental bodies relate to their constituents. Governmental agencies are finding that citizens expect the same level of service given at the civilian business level.
  • WAP -- Wireless application protocol is a specification for a set of communication protocols to standardize the way that wireless devices, such as cellular telephones and radio transceivers, can be used for Internet access, including e-mail, the World Wide Web, newsgroups, and Internet Relay Chat (IRC). (Source:
  • WML -- Wireless markup language, formerly called HDML (Handheld Devices Markup Languages), is a language that allows the text portions of Web pages to be presented on cellular telephones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) via wireless access. (Source:

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