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In the next three to five years almost 75% of Australian organisations expect to have mobile apps available, up from 40% today, in an attempt to better engage and interact with their consumers, according to new research. 

Optus' Future of Business report surveyed more than 2,000 consumers over the age of 18, as well as 550 marketing and IT executives from mid-large sized organisations, to look at which customer interaction channels are most important to businesses and their consumers. 

Similarly to other studies, the findings indicate that while consumers are currently happy to transact online, they are less keen to interact. 

The social disconnect

The Optus survey found that only 8% of consumers prefer to engage with businesses via social media, yet 20% expect to interact this way in the next three to five years.

Just over 40% of those surveyed had gone online to interact with a business in the past three months but 56% do believe their preference of interaction channel will shift to online within the next three to five years. 

Currently consumers rate organisations’ websites as their preferred channel of interaction, and the report suggests that this might be because consumers do not properly understand the value of the social media channel. 

John Paitaridis, Optus Business MD, points out that while consumers are embracing digital channels for their personal lives, they are still not using it to connect with businesses as much as organisations would like.

And because of this, he believes many organisations are investing ahead of the curve:

Businesses are banking on (using social media) but we have got to this disconnect. So there is this obligation on organisations and on government to ensure that you are spending more time driving the value of what these channels can provide customers. 

Banking, bricks-and-mortar and mobile

Despite the social disconnect, consumers and organisations alike agree that nearly all future transactions will be online, and both groups expect online to become the most important channel to buy and sell products in the future. 

Currently, only 12% of organisations offer mobile payments but this is set to grow to 45% in the next three to five years, and mobile will also play a big role in the future, with the number of Australian organisations planning to use mobile to engage customers set to rise from 46% to 82%. 

It seems bricks-and-mortar stores won’t be going anywhere either, despite those organisations surveyed predicting marketing contribution from these stores to drop nine points over the next three to five years, with sales dropping eight points. 

Consumers were much more optimistic with 66% saying that talking to a person is important to them and 44% saying that they get better customer service at bricks-and-mortar stores.

Over 40% even cited contact centres as a priority investment for organisations during the next few years.

Going forward

While organisations may be extremely excited about focusing on their digital channels going forward, Paitaridis stresses that there is still a long road ahead: 

While we have seen significant investment in digital channels, organisations still lag by their own admission in making those channels fully operational for that optimised consumers experience - less than 10% have fully operational mobile channels. 

Organisations have big ambitions in the digital space, but there is a long way to go. 

Showing customers the value of these new channels will also be critical says Paitaridis, as will be ensuring the channels are optimised so that all services created improve customer experience.

Australian businesses will also need to develop flexible long-term investment strategies that strike the right balance between digital and traditional customer interactions. Executing these strategies successfully will go a long way to meeting the rising expectations of Australian consumers. 

Scott Mason, VP marketing at Optus, agrees with this and suggests that the key to success in the next five years will be developing holistic strategies that blend all customer touch points, from traditional channels right through to mobile:

What our research shows is that businesses mapping their multi-channel strategies need to consider how each channel builds on and supports the whole customer experience, and not just consider them in isolation. 

Mason also suggests organisations expand the role of the contact centre, pointing out that as the number of channels grow, the contact centre begins to emerge as the lynchpin for coordinating customer interactions across multiple channels. 

[Image credit: JeepersMedia]

Claire Brinkley

Published 7 May, 2013 by Claire Brinkley

Claire Brinkley is Econsultancy Australia's news and insight reporter. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ or connect with her on LinkedIn

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