About 10 to 15 years ago, it seemed that every company needed a website. A few years later, the growing popularity of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn companies needed to have a presence of those sites as well. Currently nearly every one of your clients has a smartphone using some sort mobile app. For many businesses, having a business app on a smartphone is more and more a necessity. Which begs the question; does your business need an app?
Undoubtedly branding is possibly the biggest reason for your business to have an app. Not simply a rehash of your web site but an app that reinforces your brand and your company’s promise. More and more loyal customers are accessing information via a mobile device. They look of your information on web searches, or on an app that aggregates and lists business services; apps such as, Yelp, Apple Maps and Google Maps. Whether you know it or not your customers may be creating reviews and providing information to future clients through these social network aware apps. Without your knowledge your brand could also be suffering from unfavorable reviews. Worse it could lose favor through bad online experience for a site that doesn’t fit well on to a smartphone.
By creating your own app you have the opportunity to control your own brand and make sure your marketing message is clear. An app gives you the opportunity to provide a more compelling experience to you clients. Your products and services wouldn’t escape your potential clients notice. It is your opportunity to curate your future clients impression of your brand.
Creating a pleasant client experience through an app is a way to provide customer information, and build client loyalty. Many industries have come to create apps to provide extended services to clients. Built in services like Apple’s Passbook allowed Airlines, Movie theatres, Concert promoters to provide ticketing services through easy access for smartphone. Passbook and similar services can also be used to integrate client loyalty rewards.
Starbucks introduced an app that allows users to load up cash online and pay for services by flashing their smart phone. Pizza and fast food companies enable users to build and place orders through an app. Apps and services like Über, have turned the taxi and private car industries on their ear. By allowing taxi cabs and black cars with spare time to respond to clients and get fares that would otherwise go unused. Cab drivers love it because they know they are going to paid and passengers feel secure as drivers are rated and known by name.
Positive customer engagement though these types of connections are create for retaining existing customer and building relationships with new clients.
Every business has some process or industry knowledge that can be transformed into a compelling app. These processes can be developed and even streamlined through the ubiquity of smart phones. Enabling clients to make informed decisions can actually help businesses. The previous example, Über, enables cabs to get fares without centralized dispatch services – cutting out the middle man, so to speak. Actually the Über becomes the middle man. A smart app can enable and empower field agents by giving them tools to use away from the office. Insurance agents and instantly provide client quotes. Service personnel can be dispatched based on knowledge provided through look ups on a smartphone app. There are many new tie-ins to hardware that can report to or be controlled by mobile apps, to expand your business offerings.
Mobile apps can enable staff to monitor services, manage business process and customer support. Tying in back end systems, gives your front line staff access to marketing information, customer support information and other resources. Field agents can download the latest updates on your products and services. They can also create work orders and provide timely service to your clients and prospects. It can be a simple as what’s currently in your restaurant’s wine cellar or as complex as creating an insurance quote.
Clearly another benefit is getting feedback from your customers. Knowing how your business is perceived in the market is invaluable to any business. Providing a form or simple buttons could ask the client to provide a review, a star rating or add a fee suggestions. Thanking a client for positive or negative feedback goes a long way. Rewarding a client for there efforts adds kudos to your business. Often new clients are gain through references from past clients.
An app that connects to a back-end service can also provide some metrics about your business. Recently this author was involved in apps that provided localized content. Surprisingly the apps were far better received in European and Asian markets. Rather than relying on online store downloads (the equivalent to measuring a web site’s page hits) the apps provide insights that redirect future marketing efforts. Stories abound on successful companies who were surprised to find that their clients weren’t who they expected. The successful brands adapted to new found knowledge and redirected their product offerings to their new fans.
If you think your ready to get started creating an app, there are a few approaches you can take. Technologies seem to run in 10 year cycles, so that puts us near the middle age of native app development. If you’re the do it yourself type, you can read some books, such as the Big Nerd Ranch Guide – 4th edition for iOS, or their new Android Programming guide. They also offer one week long courses in the US and Europe. This author also teaches iOS courses at Witz Education in Toronto. There are also some great conferences you can attend; Apple’s WWDC, iOS Tech Talks, 360iDev, CocoaConf among many others. They cover the how to’s and the business of apps and app publishing.
There are also plenty of independent development companies who can consult on the viability of your app and even lend their skills to your pursuit of an app. Look for a local chapter of Cocoaheads, or on Meetup. The bottom line is that the resources are there for you to get started.