Much has been written in this space about the ways that employee smartphone use can enhance business and streamline processes, but there's much more to the mobility market than employee productivity. There is a whole world beyond the confines of the corporate wall in which smartphone and mobile device use is transforming the way that people — customers, partners, investors — interact with the business.
In this article, I'll explain five ways by which smartphones are, can, or will shape your business communications strategy and interaction opportunities.
Mobile web site
Although mobile sites have been around for a while, they've gained new life with the rising adoption of the smartphone. Mobile web sites are generally light pages that are designed to mesh well with a user's mobile experience; simply shoehorning an existing web site into a mobile world is generally not sufficient.
In many cases, organizations' mobile web sites actually look like apps, but you don't need to go to great lengths to maintain actual apps for a variety of different platforms. Further, because the design code is easy to customize, you can tailor the code to ensure that the mobile site works across devices, even older ones.
Most importantly, a mobile web site extends your company's reach to a whole new audience. You're no longer limited to visitors that are sitting in front of a computer. Visitors to your mobile site aren't greeted with a design that was designed for a 1024x768 screen; they are provided with content that fits their device and that matches the overall mobile experience expectation.
Some companies do a great job in their social-based outreach and some do a terrible one. Regardless, the smartphone explosion has provided companies with incredible opportunities to interact more directly with customers and engage them in ways that didn't used to be possible. Of course, this direct engagement can be a double-edged sword since it means that customers can quickly, easily, and very effectively tear your company down just as quickly as you've built it up.
Today, with smartphones on every hip, your customers can read your message anywhere they go, and they can comment on your products and services while they're in your stores. Understanding this trend, companies can leverage this fact by creating new engagement incentives.
The best part: Getting into social media is cheap. With a very low barrier to entry, just about any company can get started, and the sky is the limit.
Apps (i.e. AroundMe)
The web is a great resource, but even with mobile sites and social media, there are more opportunities to be had with smartphones of all types. Let's take TechRepublic as an example. Although TechRepublic has realized fantastic success in becoming a top web resource for IT pros, the group last year launched the TechRepublic app for Android and iOS-based devices. This has added additional opportunity for TechRepublic to reach new audiences or further engage with existing ones.
There are also a ton of apps out there that help your business, even if you didn't write the app. For example, when I travel, I use AroundMe to find restaurants, hotels, and other destinations. Once I've identified where I want to go in AroundMe, the app connects to the GPS software on my iPhone to give me directions to that location.
Sure, we've always had the Yellow Pages, but people didn't generally carry a copy for every location they were visiting, and the Yellow Pages didn't magically remain up to date with new information. With these kinds of apps, it's easier than ever to find the people and places you're looking for.
Quick Response codes have become all the rage, and you see them everywhere. QR codes make it easier for customers to find a company's web site, contact support, or get a map to the store, but their use is certainly not limited to these tasks. Figure A below is of a QR code I created that will send you to my Twitter feed.Figure A
Scan this QR code to go to my Twitter feed
You might ask where smartphones come into the mix. Well, with the right app, any smartphone becomes an instant QR code reader. For example, I've seen QR codes on flyers that advertise events. Upon scanning, I'm shown a Google Map or directed to the event's web site. In many cases, QR codes take the place of having to type in a web site address. After all, when you're on the go, who wants to stand on the street and type a URL into a smartphone? Now, just point and click, and that manual task is eliminated from the equation.
Consider how QR codes could be used in certain industries. In real estate, an agent can simply add a QR code on top of the For Sale sign and make it really easy for people driving by a house to be directly sent to a page with all of the details about the property.
With a good imagination, there's a whole lot that QR codes can be used to accomplish to good business effect, and it's all enabled because of the growing use of smartphones.
Customer support on the go
I'm not really a "car guy," but I absolutely love the car I drive: a 2011 Hyundai Sonata. Clocking in at just over one year old, I've had no problems with it... until today. I jumped into the vehicle after helping a friend load his moving truck, and it wouldn't start. It has a push button start, and everything came on — the radio, lights, and more — except the engine. So, I called Hyundai's Roadside Assistance service from my iPhone.
A helpful representative came on the line and asked if I was home. I told her that I was not. She then said, "Is it ok if I determine your current location?" I agreed, and she was immediately able to determine the exact address from which I was calling. Now, I know that this is accomplished using either cell phone tower triangulation or the phone's GPS, but it seriously made a difference, and I can imagine just how useful it would be if I were lost in the middle of nowhere and needing assistance. From a business perspective, Hyundai doesn't have to waste time or money trying to figure out where someone is calling from or sending a vehicle to what could be a wrong location.
Within an hour, a tow truck had my car; 30 minutes later, it was at a Hyundai dealership about 25 miles from my house; less than two hours after that, my car was fixed and ready for me to pick up. The dealership called my cell and told me to come get it. With a new ignition switch, it now starts — and with the software update they applied that tweaks the way that the transmission operates, it runs even smoother than it did before.
This is just another example of how mobile device usage is changing the way that business is done.
The mobile revolution will be built on portable devices such as smartphones and tablets. Every day, more businesses are figuring out ways by which they can leverage rising consumer usage of smartphones and harness their power to engage, support, and translate contacts into dollars and customer satisfaction.
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.