By Tom Paquin
Take a look at your phone. Specifically, take a look at the apps on your phone. Go ahead and minimize this for a second. I’ll wait.
Are they a mess?
The average phone is inundated with a minimum of five apps that are so old and unused that they aren’t even compatible with the current device that they're on. What do you think is the longest you’ve gone without opening an app? I admit that I’m a bit of an app drawer neat freak, but my wife has pages upon pages of shovelware games, decade-old event utilities, (I think it’s okay to delete the Coachella 2011 event portal) and assorted novelties from the early iPhone era that trying to find something actually important for her is an emotional journey.
I feel like all of that app clutter contributes to a true fact about apps—People don’t take advantage of apps from brands that they interact with in the real world. They might download the app, sure, but it’s rare that they’ll interact with it in a practical way. Because of this, corporate entities have grown cynical of mobile apps, emphasizing them less than they did in their heyday and marginalizing their usefulness.
There are, however, a ton of opportunities to leverage apps for service, especially home service, in ways that provide value to your customer as well as your organization. The hard part is getting people to care. The next hardest part is figuring out what to do with the app.
Getting People to Care
What corporate apps do you actually use on a regular basis? For me, it’s the Dunkin’ Donuts app, credit card apps, and airline apps. These apps serve a fundamental purpose better supported not just by a mobile form factor but also explicitly by what the app infrastructure is capable of (because if you’re delivering functionality that isn’t app-optimized, people will just go to your mobile site).
Dunkin Donuts, and I assume Starbucks too, if you must (Sarah and I continue to bicker about the superior coffee) offer one-touch ordering of your favorites, allowing you to skip the line. Other restaurants are jumping on this successful trend, to varying degrees of success. For airlines, a mobile pass means one-touch access to your ticket, no paper to fiddle with, no kiosk to wait in line for. Credit card sites often have higher security, so touch or face ID access is a huge benefit, as is having your spending history and balance available if you ever have the misfortune of standing in a Louis Vuitton with a wide-eye person that you love very dearly.
And the benefits go both ways, too! These apps can tell organizations a lot more than a website about consumer behavior, peak order times, and, paired with geolocation data (creepy as it might be) can tell us a lot about how people move through a physical space. Done right, the benefit is there for both groups.
Deriving benefits for services might be a slightly more complex ask, depending on the types of business that you operate in, but there are a few things that organizations have proven work very well.
Building a Beneficial App
Right off the bat, people will be more reluctant to download an app from a straight service play. Nobody wants to think about when they’ll need service, so the key, in many instances, is to get them to do it when they need service.
Imagine this: An industrial manufacturer calls up a call center and says a piece of equipment isn’t working. The call center employee says they can ping them a link to their phone to download the app and they can register with their phone number. At this point they’ll be reconnected to the call center worker. The app’s first function is to provide that call center access to the phone camera to get a visual, and to walk the customer through diagnostics. Pop in some augmented reality with the shared view and you have an engine for remote repairs, ideally saving time for both the service team and the customer.
The other app functionality that is immensely valuable is push notifications. Push notifications are of course cheaper than SMS, and read with much higher frequency than email, so it allows the customer to have the information that you want them to have at a price more equitable tot he company. This can be things like promotional messages, though I’d advise that you have an extremely light hand with those. What’s more beneficial are appointment updates, exception alerts, and technician location information. Push can therefore save on the bottom line, provide a new channel to retain customers, and also give customers a view that helps set your firm apart.
The final important thing about your app is to ensure that it offers all the functionality of your desktop utilities and more. This includes account consistency across devices. Is there anything more infuriating than completing a task on a desktop and have it not reflected in mobile? You need to build in the same language, and consider that some customers might start a task in one location and complete them in another.
There are dozens of other topics we can cover around this, like build or buy, security, and APIs, so I’m certain that we will revisit this in the future. For now, though, I’ll leave you with this: If you’re considering creating an app, or revamping your current one, think very carefully about the value, the messaging, but above all, the function.