Mobility Transforms the Customer Relationship

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

Businesses must develop a focused strategy, provide highly usable apps and build a robust IT infrastructure in order to take full advantage of mobile technology.

A few years ago, it would have been next to impossible to imagine a bank without branches or an insurance company without walls. However, these days it’s difficult to keep up with the velocity of change, particularly in the mobile arena.

“When you look at the number of connected devices—smartphones, tablets and even cars—it’s apparent that there are huge opportunities and challenges associated with today’s customers,” observes Neff Hudson, vice president of emerging channels for financial services giant USAA.

Few large companies have embraced mobile technology as passionately as USAA. The company has introduced robust apps for iPhone and Android smartphones, as well as for the iPad. Consumers can snap a photo of a check and deposit it immediately at the firm’s bank, file a claims report through its insurance service, and handle myriad other functions that were once relegated to paper and physical locations.

“Consumers are using mobile devices in new and unanticipated ways,” Hudson says. “Developing mobile apps is no longer just an option.”

USAA isn’t alone in its adoption of mobile technology to improve customer relationships. A growing number of companies now recognize that customers expect—perhaps demand is a better word—apps and tools that enable them to tap into information from anywhere at any time.

Consumers are also demanding more advanced transactional tools that tie into social media services, GPS and other features included with these mobile devices. It’s a moving target that requires an organization to possess a clear strategy, strong application development skills and an IT infrastructure to fully support customer mobility.

David Nichols, America’s leader for CIO Services Practices at consulting firm Ernst & Young, explains it this way: “Companies face substantial challenges in developing capabilities and apps for multiple platforms and providing the features that consumers desire. There are form factors to consider, operating systems to manage and interface issues to address. Today’s mobile apps must be intuitive, yet remarkably powerful.”

What does it take to build a mobile platform that meets the needs of today’s consumers? How can an organization determine the features and capabilities to include, and what tilts an app over the edge of usability? Also, how can a company balance IT resources in a world where mobility matters, but the Web and phone still count?

There’s no template for success, but a best-practices approach is paramount. “Mobility must be at the center of a company’s business strategy,” says Fernando Alvarez, president of mobile solutions for consulting firm CapGemini.

Banking on Mobility

One thing that makes today’s business environment so challenging is that customers increasingly expect to use a mobile device of choice to get desired information or initiate a transaction. If a company wishes to remain competitive, it must provide a robust, streamlined and user-friendly experience that spans multiple devices, including tablets, smartphones, laptops and other mobile technologies.

“It’s all about the user experience and optimizing content for specific devices,” says Andrew Borg, senior research analyst for wireless and mobility at the Aberdeen Group. “The user experience for mobile interaction is fundamentally different than it is for desktop and laptop PCs.”

Consequently, an entirely different business and technology focus is required. “It’s not acceptable to simply port a Website or desktop application to a smartphone,” Borg adds. “Apple has set the bar extremely high by creating intuitive and nontechnical interfaces.”

Technology adds to the challenge: Today’s devices rely on an array of sensors—such as GPS and accelerometers—to create possibilities that simply aren’t possible on a desktop computer. Location-based services, social networking and motion detection all add to the mix. When these features are incorporated into a touch-screen interface and combined with a phone, the potential to interact with customers in new and meaningful ways grows exponentially.

This article was originally published on 2012-02-09
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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