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App as Customer Contact Point: Leveraging Reality

Smartphone apps and development

The market penetration of smartphones has been rapid, their apps now comprising the core infrastructure of the smartphone user environment. As a result, companies outside the smartphone app industry have begun to turn their attention to apps as important contact points with consumers. Companies are not only using apps in one-off campaigns and to encourage store visits through incentives such as coupons, but also are using their ingenuity to adapt app use to the needs of their particular business category and increase the ongoing experiential value provided to customers.

But how should companies be leveraging the use of apps, and how is app use likely to evolve in the future? For this article, we asked three experts to discuss related issues. Those who share their opinions below are Dentsu's Kunihiko Monbu, a specialist in app-driven marketing; Dentsu Digital's Manabu Takahashi, who provides consulting services in the area of app-download methods and related marketing issues; and Goodpatch's Sumire Hibiya, who has been involved in the design and development of user interfaces for a wide range of apps.

App as Customer Contact Point

From left: Takahashi, Hibiya, Monbu

Release apps in basic form, grow them with user support

Takahashi:

We have entered an era in which we cannot afford to overlook the importance of smartphone apps among the array of contact points between enterprises and customers. From your respective viewpoints, how do you see the importance of apps?

Hibiya:

I believe that questions we must address include how might apps respond to the needs of consumers thinking of trying something new, given the current environment in which many people use smartphones daily? And, by extension, how can we support consumers' experiences when they try doing something new?

Monbu:

I was involved in planning apps at a very early stage of their evolution. At the time, many apps had a wide variety of inbuilt functions and content. However, recently, I find apps are more focused on content and functions that are really necessary.

App as Customer Contact Point

The Y axis indicates the absolute number of app downloads; the X axis shows the rate of app launch (daily, monthly use). We picked major industry apps and mapped the average figures.

Source: Using Fuller's app analysis tool, App Ape, the map was produced using Android app data as of June 2016.

Hibiya:

In the chart above, industries in the lower left quadrant have produced relatively few apps. But, despite having few early app movers, many of the industries now should be motivated to pick up the challenge. Impetus will depend on how close a connection is forged between apps and lifestyles, and how apps are tied to bricks-and-mortar stores.

Takahashi:

We looked at the chart data in February and then, in June, found that there was a notable increase in the number of app downloads, even as a few apps had been discontinued during the intervening months. So, what are your thoughts on the pace of change?

Hibiya:

It is not simply a matter of releasing an app, and the job is done. Companies need to research and monitor trends in app use, while releasing regular updates. Otherwise, the money and time invested are wasted.
In relation to the initially set goals, how far out was the hypothesis? One should remember that, while quantitative data is a key aspect, it is also important that other measurements be used, such as focus group interviews and usability tests. We need to check on frontline use.

Takahashi:

Rather than working on the basis of an enterprise's assumptions, it is essential to look at things from the user's perspective.

Hibiya:

However, when addressing the question of where to set the initial goal, one of the most difficult and important aspects is achieving a close alignment between the design and development team—the people on our side of the business—and the client.
At the project launch stage, it is unrealistic if, right from the start, one makes an app rich by packing it with functions and requirements. The team first should define the value it wants to provide target users at the very start. The team also needs to know, first, whether the app will address issues facing users and, second, whether the value provided will resolve the issues. It is important that the team discuss such questions extensively, and agree on a minimum line.

Monbu:

A similarly difficult issue is the standard adopted for release. For example, in the case of hardware, manufacturers try to release products as close as possible to 100% complete. However, if that standard were to be used for the release of an app, it would create major problems.

Takahashi:

If a project aimed for a 100%-complete app, and spent many months in development, it could lead to the release of an outdated or obsolete app. Thus, it would be best initially to release a beta version of the app, and have customers try it. While listening to the opinions of customers who have tried the app, the client should then build a relationship with them that will enable incremental improvements to be made in collaboration with users.
The development team needs to adopt a mindset that allows even a scathing review to be seen as a valuable customer opinion. In the digital world, it is vital that such criticism be quickly taken on board and used to make improvements.

App as Customer Contact Point

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