Apps is an abbreviation for application. An app is a software program that can run on the Internet (web app), your computer (desktop app), your phone or any mobile device (mobile app). Mobile apps are more than Angry Birds and Candy Crush, for businesses, they allow you to perform specific tasks such as checking to see if an item is in stock, see what the product looks like in a different pattern or color, reserve a table at a restaurant, chat with customer service, check shipping costs, clip a coupon, use customer reward points and even play a game.
Apps are found in your mobile device's app store and there are thousands to choose from. If applicable, your company's app should be in the Apple's and Google's app store, and if it makes sense, business app marketplaces like AppExchange.
Apps are an important strategy to keep up with a customer base that's increasingly mobile. But don't just get an app because everyone is going to. Just as some websites do their company more harm than good with poor design, a confusing layout and misinformation, a poorly designed app can hurt your company's credibility. But, by coming early to the app party with an app designed with your customer in mind, your business can lead the pack in providing tailored customer experiences to its tech-savvy clientele.
It's important to realize your app should be useful and fit into your company's holistic, long-term strategy. Developing your app should be part of continuous custom Customer Relationship Management (CRM) that includes customer service, sales, marketing and image management. Your strategy should be focused on building a solid relationship between the customer and your brand.
The type of app your company creates is limited only by your imagination and your customers' needs. The following are types of apps or features on apps you may wish to create:
Apps to provide a customer service platform. By integrating customer service chat into your mobile app, customers can connect with real people on their terms. Having customer service available at a screen's touch can mean the difference between a customer hitting 'order now' or abandoning their virtual shopping cart.
Apps to enhance in-store experiences. Apps provide omni-channel marketing, marketing that integrates a physical store location with digital interactions. Ideally, you want a customer browsing your aisles while searching coupons or product ratings on their phones. Today's customers are tech-savvy and not afraid to shop around. They appreciate businesses that help them make informed decisions.
Apps to manage customer reward and loyalty programs. Say goodbye to reward cards that get lost or forged. Mobile apps keep track of customer loyalty points, while also providing telling data about customer preferences and buying habits. Additionally, digital reward programs are usually referenced with a telephone number or email address, data difficult to collect with paper loyalty cards. Customer loyalty apps allow you to craft offers for customers who appreciate relevant offers.
Apps to help you keep customers in contact. Whether it's confirming an order, tracking a package or seeing the latest product offering, apps can keep customers in the loop. Mobile apps provide one more channel of brand interaction, and every positive connection with customers builds a relationship. Red Robin, for example, uses the Heroku platform for its mobile apps. Members can view their Red Robin Royalty plus any news, events or special deals specific to their profile. They can also choose to receive updates via email or text to make timely choices around mealtimes.
Apps to increase engagement with your customers. Looking at products online is one thing, but interacting with them is exhilarating. Show customers their options rather than relying on drop-down lists. Whether it's pizza, clothing or cars, apps that allow customers to SEE their own preferences increase the likelihood of purchase. For example, Toyota Motor Europe used Heroku as a mobile application platform that allows customers to view virtual customizations. Each application is customized to the needs for each of their 40+ showrooms, yet all updates can be automatically pushed out to the showrooms simultaneously.
Apps to show product offerings and place orders. Creating an app to let customers choose and order their favorite products takes the idea of a paper catalogue to the personal, digital level. Based on customer preferences, apps can make suggestions, show sales and showcase new products.
Apps to increase positive interactions with your brand. Any of the above apps done right will increase positive interactions. But try to think of additional, creative ways to interact with your customers. Some companies create games, surveys or quizzes to increase customer interactions. For example, Officemax/Office Depot sponsors the 'Elf Yourself' app, where customers upload a photo of themselves and insert that into a dancing elf's body. To date, nearly 1.2 billion elves have been created.
Maybe the most important apps you create will be custom CRM apps. These mobile application development platforms can be designed for customized use within your own company. The data your team enters into its Salesforce CRM program can be used as the variables to create custom CRM apps, and help inform sales and operations. Custom CRM apps might include:
- progress toward company goals,
- inventory available,
- purchasing requirements,
- lead times,
- production scheduling, and
- shipping costs.
While your customer will never see these apps, internal custom CRM apps can be created to make operations more efficient. Using app creation software such as to create custom CRM applications allows companies to view data, make supply chain decisions and keep products available for their customers.
Apps are built on a mobile application development platform. Also called 'cloud computing,' these 'platforms' are basically a large computer program that lets smaller programs (the apps) run. Salesforce App Cloud provides the platform to create and run apps for your business. Developers can create custom apps for your business or you can choose from hundreds of apps already created and integrate them into your CRM.
Developers can be hired on contract or kept on staff. An advantage to keeping a developer on staff is that software developers will be a dedicated resource for your app. Software developers are fluent in the programming languages and platforms needed to create the app. Developers can provide in-person tech support for your apps,developing and maintaining apps as needed.
The downside of having a developer on salary is the expense. Most small businesses just can't afford a developer right away. Also, licensing costs for software development programs are steep. Plus, just because you have a developer on staff doesn't mean your apps will always be glitch-free or deployed in a timely manner.
That's where cloud computing mobile application development programs such as App Cloud from Salesforce come in. These cloud computing platforms make it possible for small businesses to have the virtual tech support of larger companies. For a modest monthly fee, mobile application development platforms give companies the resources of app development. With a cloud-based app development platform, you can create and customize an app with no programming knowledge. Cloud-based software development platforms from Salesforce also give technical support for your app without expensive licensed software and upkeep costs.
Having a mobile app development platform gives you the same advantages of larger companies with the resources for a mobile development department. With cost constraints out of the way, you're free to design a mobile app to fit the customer relationship model for your business.