Healthcare Technology Featured Article

October 11, 2012

Will 'Consumerization of UC' Drive Contact Center Change?

Now that mobile health care applications are starting to come out of the smartphones woodwork, as reflected in the article “Calling Dr. Smartphone” in the Los Angeles Times, I think it is time to discuss the impact that universal mobile health care apps will have on two-way consumer interactions with their health care providers, and, ultimately, with other business services as well.

What I was originally going to write about is the fact that when it comes to certain types of consumer services, the providers of such services may proactively require customers, who have personal smartphones and tablets, to use specific types of mobile apps. While health care and financial services may initially dominate such consumer activity, government, education, etc., will also jump on the mobile consumer bandwagon to facilitate their service responsibilities. This trend will impact the role of traditional contact center responsibilities as I described in a recent white paper of a contact center “cloud” service provider Echopass

“Mobile Apps” Really Means UC-enabled Interfaces

I know I keep harping on this point, because, for too long, mobile communications meant primarily real-time voice (telephony) connections. Today, with smartphones and tablets, not only are the connections multi-modal and multi-media, but also require user interface flexibility for both initiating and responding to contacts between people and/or with online automated applications.

UC is not just for contacting and socializing with people, although one can obviously do that too, using email, IM chat and SMS messaging. Because people are more accessible, and can communicate more flexibly with mobile devices, there has been a tremendous increase in person-to-person text messaging rather than phone call attempts for voice conversations. However, what we are really talking about is for people to interact with ANY kind of important operational process that they are involved with, without necessarily going through other people to do so. It’s really about where mobility is taking consumers in the new world of cloud-based, self-service applications.

When we talk about self-service applications, we mean an informational function that an end user can perform selectively and directly by accessing online portals. Whether it is inputting transactional data with voice or text or retrieving information from a database, the automated application will be cost-efficient and easy-to-use and can satisfy the users need for on-demand access from anywhere, any time.

Mobile self–service apps for consumers will increasingly replace or supplement tasks that only customer-facing staff could perform in the past because there was little or no direct access to such functions without authorized and knowledgeable use of desktop or laptop computers. Now that smartphones and tablets make access to such applications more flexible, simpler and location independent, there should be no question in anyone’s mind that UC enablement can help maximize effective usage of inbound and outbound mobile self-service applications, along with the options for contextual live assistance in various forms.

With traditional person-to-person communications, there was always a need to first accommodate the contact initiator’s circumstances or preferences in communicating with another person. UC flexibility, however, allows recipients to also selectively receive and respond to contacts independently of the contact initiator’s choice. A good example is voice message-to-text services that allow a caller to conveniently leave a voice message that the recipient can efficiently retrieve in text form. The reverse is also true, where text messages can be listened to eyes and hands-free when driving a car. That flexibility makes for less failed contact attempts and more efficient and timely person-to-person communications, recognized as increased end-user productivity and responsiveness.

We always worried about a contact recipient’s accessibility and availability for a real-time voice, video, or chat connection, so the need for presence information about the recipient’s status became a part of the “UC-enabled” game. When an end user interacts with an automated application, the game is quite different, so let’s not confuse the two. Real benefits to business processes will come from maximizing automated self-service applications and minimizing costly, often inefficient person-to-person interactions wherever possible (but always an option), which leads us to the exploitation of mobile smartphones for both inbound and outbound, UC-enabled operational applications.

How Health Care Applications and BYOD Will Drive UC Enablement

I have long suggested that one of the biggest ROI targets for UC enablement is the contact center, where customer service is key to business performance. I have pointed out that all business users are, by definition consumers, and therefore customers of a variety of businesses and services. So, if you look at BYOD as a driver for employee Mobile UC, you must also see BYOD as a driver for all of a consumers needs for UC enablement of both job related and consumer-oriented mobile apps.

I originally was going to write an article that suggested that doctors might start prescribing the use of smartphones to their patients, along with appropriate “mobile apps” that either would efficiently report a patient’s medical status such as blood pressure, heart rate, glucose tests, etc. or proactively notify a patient of a critical health situation or about an upcoming appointment.

With these new smartphone attachments described in the L.A. Times article, the stakes have gotten greater. The benefits to both doctors and their patients, in terms of improving responsiveness to critical health situations, collaborating between different care providers on a patient’s latest health status, as well as minimizing costs for unnecessary doctor visits, will be huge.

I know about such issues from personal experience, since I now take my own INR blood tests every couple of weeks and report it through an IVR application, rather than go to my doctor’s office each time. With UC, I expect that IVR will become just one application option for end users.

All consumers will benefit from health care mobile apps, which means more fuel on the fire for a variety of UC-enabled mobile business service apps as well. So, while there is a lot of talk about the benefits of UC for internal business collaboration, the real action may start with mobile self-service apps, like health care and financial services that all consumers will want, for both inbound and outbound contacts.

Once mobile end users are exposed to the effectiveness of any UC-enabled application, with convenient options to “click-for assistance,” it shouldn’t take too long to migrate them to other and more specialized business applications that can exploit the multi-modal flexibility of their smartphones and tablets. The ability to contextually and efficiently initiate or respond to business and service contacts in a choice of contact modalities, rather than making “blind” phone call attempts and “voicemail jail” messages, will be the hallmark of the coming “Consumerization of UC,” where human contacts are involved.

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