Where wireless works

TORONTO — Wireless innovation should be focused on delivering better customer service and has to show a fast return on investment, a panel of industry leaders told the Canadian Marketing Association Wednesday.

At the 8th annual

Internet Marketing Conference vendors, developers and enterprise customers said they view wireless technology primarily as a tool to better reach their customers and assist customer relationship management (CRM) efforts.

Air Canada vice-president of Information Technology and CIO Alice Keung, for example, said the airline’s most immediate goal in expanding its use of wireless technology is acquainting the leisure traveller with self-serve check-ins.

Keung said that Air Canada’s airport check-in kiosks have met with overwhelming acceptance from frequent fliers, and added that at peak hours up to 50 per cent of Air Canada customers choose the self-serve kiosks over a customer service representative.

“”We’ve found out that our less-travelled customers don’t like the kiosk because they’re not familiar with it,”” Keung said. “”We decided to use wireless technology here and basically hand the kiosk to our agent (in the form of a handheld). The agent then walks around and offers this service to the customer and shows them how (they could) use the kiosk.””

Eventually customers started looking for the agent holding the device to expedite their check-in, Keung said.

“”We believe that once they’re introduced to the technology they will themselves use the kiosk which would allow our agents to concentrate on checking in travellers with more complex transactions,”” she said.

Air Canada has also been developing a mobile portal that uses wireless technology for notification. Travellers in the U.S. and Canada, for instance, can sign up for the service and if there is any change to the flight they’re booked, they will receive and electronic alert. Other features include checking Aeroplan miles balances, Keung said.

Wireless technology also has the automotive industry interest peaked, said IBM Automotive Network Solutions program director James Ruthven. So far, the field of telematics has been branded as a delivery vehicle for services nobody really needs, like personalized news and sports scores delivered to drivers for a monthly fee–a service already available for free from in-car radios, Ruthven said.

Industry brains are trying to map out a strategy to utilize wireless technology to improve the way owners interact with their cars and dealers, he said.

“”We’ve all had the experience of driving and we get that ‘check engine’ message indicator come on in our vehicle and not know exactly what it means. Being from Detroit I can tell you that the light definitively means anything from your gas cap is loose to your engine is melting,”” Ruthven said.

“”Wouldn’t it be great if when that engine light came on we were able to wirelessly download that data to the dealer so that you can get the right service technician at the shop when you arrive, with the right part, so that you can minimize the amount of time spent at the dealership?”” he said.

Telcos, meanwhile, find themselves simply becoming an ennabler for industry-driven initiatives like the Air Canada projects, said Telus Mobility director of browsing and messaging services Navaid Mufti. The industry is at a critical point, he said, experiencing much of the growth and pulling in different directions the Internet industry felt overall in the early 1990s.

“”Right now there is a collective growth of knowledge,”” he said. “”People are trying different things, different approaches to problems. The medium will find its own value in time.””

One of the more interesting trends in the wireless industry is a move towards increased interoperability, especially in the short message service market where Canadian carriers had worked out a deal this year to allow SMS subscribers to use the service to reach mobile customers on different networks, Mufti said.

“”The pleasant surprise is that this year we saw the market grow from nothing to tens of thousands of messages passed from one network to another,”” added Bell Mobility director of wireless Internet and data Larry Baziw.

The bottom line to a successful adaptation of any new technology in the present economic climate is a demonstrable ROI, added Keung, and wireless technology solutions are no different. No matter how innovative the idea, it will have to make a good business case for itself before enterprise customers will show interest in investing in it.

“”People need to protect their business plans, so you have to be able to show increased productivity and returns right away,”” she said.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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