Typically when a business considers going "mobile," it involves marketing moves: mobile ads, local offers, location-based activity. And all of that is important.

But to assume that marketing is the be all and end all is to make an enormous mistake, as a single remark in a recent report on mobile relationship marketing from the CMO Council shows:

"More than 60% of our guests check into our hotels using an iPad compared to zero three years ago," says Susan Helstab of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. "Providing consumers with relevant information at the right moment leads to higher levels of engagement, loyalty, and ultimately conversion. In order to do this, we have to maintain a clear, customer-centric view of everything we do, and that involves breaking down all of the silos."

Of course such terms as engagement, loyalty, and conversion are the language of marketing, but pay attention to that first part. More than 60% of the guests to the chain of exclusive hotels check in using an iPad rather than going to the front desk. Furthermore, at some locations like the Four Seasons Los Angeles, the chain is providing iPads in guest rooms. Patrons will be able to order room service, make restaurant reservations, and call for a car from valet parking without putting a hand on a phone.

If people essentially opting for self-service at such a high-touch facility seems odd, it only show how much business, consumers, and the world are changing. People are creating new habits and preferences and mobile is at the center.

This is similar to the change that began to happen with interactive voice response phone systems. The intent was to drive requests to automated responses, so people could make reservations, get bank balances, and the like without having to wait for and talk to a person. Companies wanted to save money on staffing. What they learned is that while many consumers still wanted attention from a human, a large portion became used to automation and often preferred the speed and convenience.

Mobile is starting to do the same today. Apps let people check flight statuses in transit, find the nearest location of a chain store, or compare prices of goods on a shelf with what is available online or at other retailers.

All of these capabilities exist at the intersection of customer service and operations. To be prepared for the future, it isn't enough to think about how to convince customers to buy. You have to know how you will sell and satisfy their needs in concrete ways. That includes questions like these:

  • What segments of your customer base want mobile services?
  • How do they want them delivered?
  • Do you have to support all mobile devices? Just some?
  • Is your technical infrastructure capable of delivering what they want?

There are no standard answers and no easy solutions. The only thing you can be sure of is that now is the time to start asking the questions and understanding how quickly you'll need to find answers.