Everywhere you turned at Salesforce World Tour London 2016, there were stories of apps making life easier, faster and better connected for organisations and their customers too.

In all kinds of business, it’s clear that easy, personalised service is now a major differentiator when customers decide where they’ll spend their money. Companies that use apps well have a clear advantage – whether in engagement, data collection and analysis, or simply making themselves agile enough to deliver the products and services customers really want and need.

In his App Cloud keynote, Salesforce Senior VP and App Cloud Lead, Brian Goldfarb, pointed out that today’s CIOs are increasingly moving away from infrastructure-centric business models towards a new, flexible, customer-centric approach. 

But this new breed of business – the “digital enterprise” – relies on a single, interconnected view of the customer, bringing data from their digital usage alongside physical interactions and their sales, marketing and customer service history. 

That’s tricky when these pools of information are in separate silos, but apps can provide a great channel to pull it all together. Here’s how.

KLM: from commodity to carrier of choice

The world’s oldest airline, KLM, is on a mission to also be the most customer-centric network carrier. It’s a good strategy: in a market that’s becoming increasingly commoditised, stand out by promoting customer experience.

But it’s no small ask. With 77 million passengers a year, navigating a web of interconnecting flights across 243 destinations, it’s tough to keep track of everyone – where they are, where they should be, and what information they’ll find relevant and useful. 

Meanwhile, it’s critical to ensure an efficient turnaround between flights, if the passengers are going to leave on time and arrive in safety for those all-important connections. And with more than a dozen types of aircraft – and a multi-stage process involving flight crew, ground crew and customer service staff – keeping everything moving smoothly is a real challenge. 

To pull together these complex processes and information, KLM is using apps built on the Salesforce App Cloud which integrate seamlessly with their own in-house apps. Customers can make bookings, check in, see all their relevant flight details and leave feedback, while crew can work through their respective parts of the flight preparation process, and keep track of progress.

The really impressive part: everything’s joined up. If there’s a problem in the turnaround, it’s easy to update passengers of progress – and likewise the captain can see if that last passenger has checked in and is just approaching the gate, making informed decisions in real time. Everyone’s up to date.

Three kinds of app; three development approaches

When it comes to running a smart, connected, customer-focused business, the right app can change everything. But scoping, empowering and developing them can be complex. 

To help simplify matters, Brian Goldfarb outlined three broad types of app – each with its own particular challenges and needs.

1. Back-office process apps: make everyone a developer

“In the future,” predicted Brian, “the vast majority of apps are going to be built by people who aren’t developers.”

With the huge potential of apps to pull information from silos, automate key tasks and distribute the results to the right places, there’s simply no way IT professionals can keep pace with the demand for new, digitised back-office processes.

So instead of building the apps, the job now is to empower the “citizen developer” – non-technical specialists who want to improve their own way of working. Like the warehouse logistics manager who wants to be able to easily check deliveries in and out.

Often, that information is stored across a number of tricky legacy systems, each requiring specialist development knowledge. The solution here is to implement an “agility layer”, interfacing with the old systems to make rapid development easy. 

2. Customer engagement apps: don’t make them think

The key to a good customer engagement app is to be really, really simple to use, doing as much of the work – and the thinking – for the customer as you can.

For example, integrate their login details across all your environments so they have one identity for customer service, website and app. Make use of their device’s geographical location options to auto-configure for appropriate regions and show only relevant information, and connect customer interactions to the back office so your employees always know your customers purchase and service history – meaning your customer service team can communicate right through the app.

It sounds complicated, but we’ve aimed to make it as easy as possible with Heroku Enterprise, part of App Cloud, giving the customer a truly smooth, connected experience.

3. Connected, streaming apps: make decisions based on data

Increasingly, brands are using apps to stream information, media and experiences and interact in real time. This creates massive streams of data from devices, while customers still expect to feel engaged on a personal, one-to-one level. 

So capturing, analysing and filtering that information is key – enabling you to make smart decisions, act and intervene at the right time, and make the experience feel truly personal for the user.

It’s time to get building

Often, the best way to learn is by doing. If you’d like to see what you might be able to build in the App Cloud, our Trailhead site is 100% free and open to anyone. It’s a great place to road-test your ideas.

Or to find out what the big digitatl transformation trends are download your complimentary copy of the 2016 State of IT report.