Technology evolves at a rate much quicker than most of us can keep pace with. Right now we are in the era of mobile applications. Here are three ways to capture the interest of your app happy customers.

Can you remember when you got your first Bag Cellular Phone or first Pager? Technology at its best. Business was no longer confined to the physical office; we could take calls or get messages on the road. It was all about being informed and being accessible. No one really thought about it as a way to drive the marketing potential of their company. Over the next few years, technology took off like a rocket, heading for the stars and leaving a trail of ever-evolving devises in its wake. Flip phones, PDAs, two-way pagers and BlackBerry’s were everywhere, increasing our ability to communicate, to conduct business. But business-to-business or business-to-consumer interactions were still limited to voice, text and email.

Enter The Era of Apps

Innovation meets creativity, and the Era of Apps is born. Blackberry devices get smarter with online calendars, web browsing, and business related applications such as file viewers and the ability to play media files. The term “crack berry” was established; everywhere, business men and women were on their phones, writing emails, sending txt messages, surfing the web; they were addicted. Other “smart phones” were introduced, and competition was driven by the techno-addicted population to see and do more.

The iPhone, the wonder device that does it all, was introduced, and Apple led the charge on true customer interaction. Applications were created, games and media applications were abundant, and finally, companies have avenue to reach the masses with interactive programs. Other devices including Palm and Android hit the market with their own platforms and applications to entice the population.

Insurance companies now enable their clients to submit claims, check statuses, find repair shots and pay their premiums from their mobile devices. Banks allow their users to make deposits, check account activities, pay bills and view transactions from their mobile devices. Retail stores allow shoppers to find coupons, see deals local to the user via GPS and prepare shopping lists from their mobile devices. The Technology rocket has traveled a long way in a short time, but the final destination hasn’t been reached, let alone defined yet.

It seems everyone has a device that keeps them connected to the world around them. Schools (even elementary schools) have to establish rules of conduct for when and how children will use their phones and pads; movie theaters have to remind us to turn the devices off just to watch a movie. Everywhere you look, people have a device in hand and are more interested in the virtual world than what is happening in the real world around them. It seems that news isn’t valid unless it comes across a phone or pad.

Capturing the Interest of App Happy Customers

More and more companies are looking at a way to capture the interest of this application-enlightened world. Most organizations are taking at least one of the following approaches: formatted website, informational applications or interactive applications.

Formatted websites are nothing more than applying the appropriate formatting of an organization’s WWW website for mobile devices. Informational applications are designed to present users with important content in a streamlined application based on user credentials sent from the mobile device. Interactive applications are designed to allow users to not only received user-specific content, but also perform certain functions from mobile devices. The following chart outlines the good, bad and ugly of each mobile methodology:

  Formatted Website Informational Applications Interactive Applications
The Good
Quick to Deploy
Consistency with current WWW Website
Re-inventing the wheel not required
Deployment times relatively low
Good solution for keeping users updated
Can target specific content based on user credentials
Users expect fully functional applications which enable them to truly interact with the providing company
Users perceive a well-built application as a reflection of the organization which created it
Users are more demanding of expectations, and truly interactive applications meet public demand
The Bad
Development time extended due to number of devices, sizes and abilities
Some capabilities such as FLASH and other functions not supported on all platforms
Low user interaction
Requires authentication requirements through application
May require different application versions based upon device, platform and versions
Development requirements may be extensive based on the functional specs of the application
Developers need to keep in mind all the different platforms, devices and versions to provide consistent functionality to all users
The Ugly
Even with the best formatting, traditional WWW sites do not present well on mobile devices
Users find it difficult to navigate
User expectations include function specific tasks which are not often presented in traditional WWW formats
User expectations include interactive functions
Users and potential customers are accustomed to convenience; poor application design can lead to loss of business
Competition in applications is extremely high; innovation is the key to success, and near misses can lead to unhappy customers

Planning for Mobile Engagement

For companies looking to engage their customers through mobile devices, it is important that they create a focused plan, outline strategic functions of the application, and provide a technical solution which sets them apart from their competitors. This is often easier said than done as new applications are added daily, or existing ones are updated to include the “newest and greatest.” A lot of work has been done in the area of convenience. By using GPS information, tracking the user’s historical actions, and applying business intelligence, companies have streamlined the user interactions.

Retail stores, for example, have done a good job of promoting sale items through applications and even giving the users information about where the closest store is to the user at any specific moment. The next generation of apps in retail will probably take user purchasing information (collected through store memberships and reward cards) and display items which the users have shown an interest in. The downside to that is that we as users feel like our privacy is invaded when retailers collect and store information based on our buying habits. It’s a fine line between providing a friendly service and tracking what we do with our money.

Companies need to understand their market, the key points to success, what their competitors are doing, and what are acceptable limits to information gathering and sharing when it comes to user specific data. Creating a plan to maximize all of this can be a daunting task, but a well built and user-friendly mobile application can provide a huge payoff in customer loyalty and return transactions.

Final Thoughts

The rocket of technology is still in flight. Every day new advancements in technology open new opportunities to grab our customer’s attention. The problem is that there is always a shiny new toy to capture a user’s interest, but in the end, solid convenience and ease of use will win out.

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