There’s not much you can’t do wirelessly today. In early 2001, an official in the Malaysian government confirmed that divorces via SMS (short message service) mobile messaging were indeed legal. Thus, Malaysia joined several Muslim countries and the city of Dubai where the use of this simple 160 character communication tool is valid as a means of regaining single status. A husband can send a message containing the words “I divorce you.” His wife is then obligated to report to a court and have the divorce made effective. Later in the year, the religious councilor to the prime minister decided to override the ruling saying that Malaysian law does not permit SMS divorce even though Islamic law does. At the time of this writing, the SMS divorce process was still legal in Dubai.
It takes little more than the sight of American figure skater Sasha Cohen, at the opening ceremony of the 2002 summer Olympics in Salt Lake City, handing her cell phone to President Bush so he could say hello to her mother to realize the anytime, anywhere power of mobile communication. The convergence of the two fastest-growing communications technologies of all time—the mobile phone and the Internet—suggests dramatic opportunities for marketers. But these may not be the opportunities we anticipated.
In March 2000, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com predicted that by 2010 all of his customers would be using wireless devices to make purchases. He called m-commerce (mobile commerce) “the most fantastic thing that a time-starved world has ever seen,” and claimed that within five or ten years, “almost all e-commerce will be on wireless devices.” With the promise of 3G networks the talk was all about people watching video clips on the train or videoconferencing in a taxi; but now, consumers are concentrating on more realistic goals such as using phones to access e-mail, download news and weather reports, and call up location-specific information.
What it turns out people want from their wireless devices is person-to-person communication. Andrew Odlyzko, a former AT&T researcher who is now at the University of Minnesota, says, “Content is not king—connectivity is more important. The killer app for 3G phones might turn out to be increased voice traffic.” For CMR, connectivity will be the key to increased dialog with customers, and dialog—person-to-person communication—is the power that drives the customer management of relationships.
A survey report by The Economist makes the point that “it should come as no surprise if the killer app for the mobile Internet, at least for consumers, turns out to be person-to-person communication. That, after all, has been the golden prize of all previous technologies, from telegraph to telephone to mobile phone. Whether it’s transmitting speech, words, pictures, or graphics, all are social activities, and mobile phones are primarily social devices.”
All this suggests that this new technology presents the greatest opportunity for businesses to develop richer, more profitable relationships with individual customers by giving them what they actually want—person-to-person verbal communication. The latest research by NOP Research Group in the U.K. clearly indicates that “the one-size-fits all approach to mobile Internet use will miss the mark by a country mile.” Wireless communication, whether by voice or by instant messaging, offers businesses the ability not only to interact with customers, but also to create rich dialog for learning more about their individual needs and finding ways to give them more control over the business relationship.
Keebler Co., a subsidiary of The Kellogg Co., is the first consumer packaged goods company to use instant messaging to strengthen ties with consumers of company brands, including Keebler, Harvest Bakery, Club, Toasted, Vanilla Wafers, Sunshine, Murray Sugar Free, and Town House. The service, called RecipeBuddie, allows consumers to request recipes based on their mood or food preferences.
The service is open to consumers on the AOL Instant Messenger, AOL/CompuServe, and MSN platforms and does not proactively contact consumers or collect personal information; the consumer initiates the dialog. To participate, consumers send an instant message to the screen name RecipeBuddie. Responses are immediate, delivered in the voice of Becky, a thirty-five-year-old mother of two from suburban Chicago.
Anna Murray, principle of New York–based eMedia Inc. and creator of RecipeBuddie, says, “Through Becky, Keebler can establish a kind of trust relationship with consumers. RecipeBuddie isn’t meant to compete directly with the vast database sites such as AllRecipes_.com and others. This is instant messaging, after all. It’s meant to give good recipe ideas quickly in the most convenient, fun way possible.”
There will still be value in pushing individual messages such as sports scores, stock quotes, and weather to customers who have signed up for such alerts. But the real CMR opportunity is what some are calling “pull” marketing, with which customers can request specific information through their phones. The problem with “push” technology is that it’s all one-way traffic. “Pushing is no big deal; pulling is the future,” according to Stanislas Chesnais, chairman and CEO of Netsize, a French start-up that offers SMS technology.
He uses the example of a theater with two mobile phone numbers that mobile users can call to send text messages—one for show times and one for film reviews. Theater-goers send a message with the film name to the first number and receive the show times for the day, then another message to the second number, again with the film name, for a short review of the film—all via SMS.[8 ]
Catalog retailer Lands’ End moved to “pull” technology when online customers told them they would shop more frequently online if they could get real-time answers to their questions. Lands’ End launched a new service called “Lands’ End Live,” which enables customers to use instant messaging to talk with customer service representatives. The average customer who uses the service spends 8 percent more than one who doesn’t and is 67 percent more likely to buy than an online customer not using it. Lands’ End has since added another customer empowerment technology they call “Shop with a Friend,” which lets two customers exchange messages as they shop. Siblings can converge on the site and discuss which sweater would be best for Mom’s birthday present.
In addition to empowering customers, these services give Lands’ End new options for customer feedback. Shoppers were already providing some comments on the phone, by mail, and by e-mail, but Sam Taylor, Lands’ End vice president of international and e-commerce, says, “Instant messaging makes it even easier for online customers to convey their thoughts about Lands’ End products and services.” The folks at Lands’ End understand the CMR process of developing richer, more profitable relationships with individual customers by giving customers more of the power.
Safeway, in the U.K., is empowering customers by giving them Palm-powered handheld devices with small magnets on the back of them so customers can put them on their refrigerators. As customers empty the orange juice carton or the milk carton they just tick off the product and brand and the request gets transmitted wirelessly to their nearest Safeway store. Customers are more apt to stop off at their Safeway store when they know their order is ready than they are to stop elsewhere to buy food on the way home. This sounds even better than ordering groceries while driving home from work.
In 2002 Computerworld named its choices for wireless innovators who found ways to empower their customers. Customer-led, Fidelity Investments was one of the first to launch its wireless service. At that time, a survey of Fidelity customers revealed that 40 percent believed they had missed out on investment opportunities because they were away from a wired channel and didn’t have access to market information. Knowing that the right information at the right time can be worth millions to its customers, Fidelity launched Instant Broker. The wireless service empowers active traders by allowing them to monitor activities affecting their accounts through pagers, and enables traders to initiate transactions.
Based on the success of Instant Broker, Fidelity added to its customer empowerment with Fidelity Anywhere which allows customers to manage their 401(k) accounts, charitable donations, insurance, and more. Fidelity plans to expand Fidelity Anywhere to include a limousine and hotel service, enabling users to book and confirm reservations. Fidelity Anywhere supports devices from Palm Inc. as well as General Motors’ OnStar system. Joseph Ferra, Fidelity’s chief wireless officer, says, “We want to be on as many devices as possible. Fidelity Anywhere’s primary value is to draw customers into deeper relationships and increase customer loyalty.”
It hardly needs to be said, when you empower your customers and get them to use your proprietary technology for services beyond those of your firm, you are building the kind of relationships that will keep customers loyal to your brand.
In 1999, United Airlines started to empower customers when it became the first airline to offer real-time flight information on the Palm VII. The company now offers Proactive Paging that notifies passengers of changes in their flight status and a Wireless Application Protocol-based (WAP) phone application that gives up-to-date flight and frequent-flyer information and offers domestic booking. United tracks flights through its systems and notifies passengers based on specified preferences. Passengers may be alerted to delays or changes in departure gates—whatever they specify. According to Niru Shah, United Network’s director of application development, “The wireless users are frequent flyers. They want control and appreciate timely information. The customers have really embraced this, showing a 2,800 percent increase in usage in 2001.”
Hotels such as Six Continents, Holiday Inn, InterContinental, and Crowne Plaza offers wireless reservations systems and allows guests to request driving directions and local weather forecasts with SMS messaging. Next, some wireless vendors are talking about what they believe will be the application for hotels that will make guests go “Wow!”—wireless check-in. Instead of forcing incoming guests to wait at a check-in desk, hotels will deploy employees with handhelds into the lobby, on the hotel entrance driveway, or into parking areas, or even the bar. With a few taps on the screen they will be able to check in the guest and issue a key from a portable printing device.
CMR is taking hold in the business-to-business arena as well. Hewlett- Packard’s drive towards creating the “ultimate total customer experience” is capitalizing on mobile opportunities to give more power to HP customers. Ian Brooks, HP’s head of Internet Strategy, says,
Mobile is giving us the chance to satisfy our customers more than ever before. With mobile technology, customers really want to do business with you. You can transmit sales data, live, from the field; customers can ask you about anything: what happened with the support call we logged last week, has my payment gone through yet; have the parts I ordered arrived; and all you do is whip out your PDA to give them the answer, right there and then. The last thing we want is an unanswered question, because instant, accurate information is a major factor in satisfying customers.
 ystein Meland, “A Ban on SMS Divorce,” wap.com, July 13, 2001, p. 1.
 “Survey: The Mobile Internet—The Internet Untethered,” The Economist, October 11, 2001, p. 11.
Ibid., p. 4.
Ibid., p. 13.
Ibid., p. 14.
Colin Strong, “How Mobile Internet Segmentation Can Deliver Customer End Value,” Customer Management, March/April 2001, p. 67.
Mickey Alam Khan, “Keebler Aims to Be Buddies with Customers,” dmnews.com, October 16, 2002, pp. 1–6.
[8 ]Kristi Essick, “Sending Out an SMS,” The Industry Standard, August 6–13, 2001, p. 48.
 “Not Just Kid Stuff,” informationweek.com, September 3, 2001, p. 38.
 “Market Successes,” computerworld.com, May 17, 2001, p. 3.
Alan Radding, “Leading the Way on Wireless,” computerworld.com, September 24, 2002, p. 5.
Ibid., p. 6.
 “Hospitality Checks Out Wireless,” mbusiness daily.com, March 2002, pp. 21, 22.
 “CRM in a Wireless World,” HP CRM, autumn 2001, p. 14.