Mobile devices (both tablets and smartphones)have rapidly become the center of what we call the omnichannel customer experience. These devices run millions of apps for us, but how should companies handle apps in order to deliver what today’s customers’ expect them to do?

We first spoke about the term omnichannel when David Sealey explained that digital transformation will require the customer experience to be unified across social, local and mobile channels. And of course, it is not only about apps, m-payment with near-field communication are on the tipping point of becoming mainstream. In my opinion it is clear therefore that mobile apps are the media that make the omnichannel customer experience possible.

I consider the conundrum of apps as a two-sided coin: both consumers and companies take part in this game,  but I believe that it is companies, at the forefront of digital transformation, that should take the lead.

Consumers find themselves in the garden of Eden, or don’t they?

We all know that consumers have a clear set of expectations, driven by digital innovation. Forrester published in December that new use of technology in new user-friendly packaging (both soft and hardware)  thathas resulted in consumers losing their fear of technology, and beginning toexpect more and more from it. The introduction of mobile devices mean that we are no longer bound to our desktop computer anymore to consume content. I believe that many consumers could have access to at least 5 screens (smartphone, tablet, laptops, desktops and their TV) with content spread over these screens. Mobile and mobile apps are the latest and most important media in this spectrum.

So for consumers, how should mobile apps form part of the online and offline customer experience?

My opinion is that we need to split the customer journey (the chain of touchpoints between a company and consumer) into three main areas

  • Marketing: to brand your offering, and inform what you offer
  • Sales: how to realize conversion, eg a sale: a dealer locator, combined with in-app purchase possibilities
  • Service: to assist consumers after their purchase

Specifically for sales, apps are increasing in number, functionalities and popularity. According to Forrester 35% of questioned enterprises have a dedicated iPhone-sales app, with another 15% for Android or iPad.

The main issue here is what consumers expect: they want to use the right screen in the right context on the right touchpoint in order to provide a meaningful experience.

Companies need to get their act together: what functions can apps deliver, and how to decide in the wide array of options and possibilities?

The number of available apps is ever growing but currently stands at 500,000 for Apple devices and 400,000 for Android. The most important applications are games, next to productivity apps (to do lists are popular), health related apps and news. Now there are apps available for both consumers and business-to-business applications all with a wide range of variety, and many of them free. With such a vast range of mobile software available, companies may lose an overview  of what their customer segments wish to use, and which of the desired apps should be delivered by the company itself.

So, how should organizations define clear choices in their app strategy?

The main challenge to address is to choosing which content is relevant  for which segments via what screen (tablet, smartphone or else) and channel (mobile website or application).  All this is needed to determing ther the right focus for the segment and to create brand differentiation. That seems simple but is not easy.

Companies should then define their app-roadmap, in order to manage what apps become available when.  They need to consider which apps will be made by the brand itself, and what can be outsourced through an over-the-top construction.

In conclusion:  Organizations need to decide on distribution. They should do this through having their own app store, or through existing parties (Apple and Android) that have enormous reach.

In terms of technology, how to deliver consistency in a ever-expanding world of external parties?

Typically, apps are designed by specialists, able to implement the latest trends and developments. But the issue is how to deliver and assure consistency in the look-and-feel over all apps, both owned and third party applications. Particularly when over-the-top services are also offered, it is very important that the organization itself takes the lead in managing that look-and-feel, content and corporate identity.

To manage technology issues, companies should work from first idea to implementation with a strong apps- core team and a flexible second layer of specialists 

To me I feel apps are not yet fully embedded in most companies as one of the channels that need to be managed. But that needs to change quickly if companies are going to succeed. It is important that every customer segment has a dedicated FTE to spot what apps are needed for that specific segment. That should be brought together within the strategic marketing department. That team should be linked to a central app-team that will manage roadmap, development, business cases and the use of the app-builders. Consumers and companies need to take part in the app-universe that is a fact of life today.

I consider apps as a two-sided coin: both consumers and companies take part in this universe, and I believe companies at the forefront of digital transformation should take the lead. How do you feel companies should handle apps in order to deliver what today’s customers’ expect them to do?