A Mobile Workforce: What Customers Want

A Mobile Workforce: What Customers Want

Preface with a confession

Full disclosure: I am not a developer nor a designer — I’ve been in business ops for most of my professional career. That said, I’ll give myself a dose of credit: I’ve been in tech for years, start-ups and well-established alike. During that time I’ve seen that when it comes to mobile, one thing is consistently fueling a successful app — whether aimed at mobilizing a workforce or driving loyal customers back, apps must always be ready to provide utility in a moment of need. No exceptions.

When I truly needed mobile

This morning I woke up at 5 to the sound of torrential rain. While usually, I would dig myself deeper into my blankets, today it forced me out of bed at a much earlier hour. As it turns out, the night before, my wife detected some water coming into the basement, and I had a feeling it was not going to be a pretty sight downstairs.

I grabbed my phone to kick the lights on around the house. That’s when I noticed my phone was at 75% charge. Strange. It was vexing enough at such an early hour, that after swiping around for a few tired seconds, I forgot to turn the lights on.

I stubbornly walked in the dark and guided myself through the house by carefully feeling out the usual milestones — edge of the bed, door frame, banister, and finally the kitchen light switch. “Damn!” The power was out, and now I had a soaked basement and no light to resolve it.

Be the tool customers want when things fall apart

When things start failing at home, people like myself try to find help in the quickest, cheapest, and most accessible solution possible. For the water, it took shovels, mops, and wheelbarrows. As for the power outage, I had to go through a web-portal, find a billing statement to get an account number, and finally after going through some more personal identification prompts, five minutes later, I was reassured to see a team had been dispatched to fix the problem.

Keeping demanding customers like myself pleased takes some finesse. While I have to give props to my utility company for giving me a five-minute solution, the rising water was not exactly being resolved as I was searching for web-access.

Going mobile is tricky but very doable

Deploying the kinds of mobile management tools that customers crave sometimes go hand-and-hand with the tools that can enable a workforce to act faster, give prompter updates, and resolve more issues in less time. Yet, if these tools don’t exist, it’s alright. Rome wasn’t built in a day after all.

At Shockoe, we’ve done everything from overhauling pen & paper methods and building mobile ecosystems from scratch, all the way to optimizing legacy systems and tapping into API’s to deploy better user experiences. That said, we believe there is a right way to move from antiquated systems, and a measured means of building out tools that can improve your overall service, empower your workforce, and ultimately give customers with flooded basements, the 30-second solution they truly needed.

Step one: Low Investment High Return

If you’re starting from scratch, start internally. Typically your team will be more forgiving than your customers. Figure out what information has been missing as technicians work in the field to complete tickets, receive orders, or communicate with HQ. Regardless of what it is, keep your vision clear, uncomplicated, and unobstructed. Most importantly, keep your metrics measurable and your data visible in a way to demonstrates efficacy to your deployment.

Here are a few things we’ve seen as a valuable step one for Mobile Workforce applications:

  1. Route Mapping: Optimize the travel path between stops by providing real-time directions and automatically tracking time at each stop.
  2. Messaging and Feedback systems: Enable technicians to send notes, photos, and videos back to supervisors or other technicians for feedback, advice, and training.
  3. Repair/Service Supplies: Enable technicians to keep track of inventory and supplies riding with them on the truck. When technicians use items, build an app that keeps track of how much. And when supplies, run low, have the system push a notification (I encourage reading our node.js blog post on how to best do this) to restock the next time they’re parked at HQ.

The key to step one is to make sure you get buy-in from your team by delivering a product that truly saves time and delivers the utility that encourages them to use it time and time again.

Step two: Build on success, Invite your Customers Along

Necessity drives innovation. A tool that is simple will eventually reach a threshold where it must either be built out further or run the risk of feeling limiting to your team. Build on what works, and start giving access to your customers to tap into the data that is relevant to them. I can’t stress this enough — keep utility front and center. Flash, gimmicks, shameless marketing will be evident in a heartbeat. If you want your customers to stay loyal, give them genuine utility and a true reason to pull their phone out when the house is slowly flooding.

A few stage two deployments we encourage:

For driving a mobile workforce

  1. Gamification: create dashboards and performance metrics that show customer satisfaction, ticket time to resolution, accuracy, and safety performance.
  2. AR & VR Training: In some industries, training can entail a safety risk. By incorporating emerging visual technology into your training program, a technician can learn a new skill in a safe, controlled environment.

For customers with midnight woes

  1. Deliver utility first: payments, statements, reporting outages, leaks, and other common service hiccups. The time for your company to shine is when things go awry for your customers
  2. Deliver details: The same system powering technicians can now give a more granular view of when things will be repaired. If you really want to go the extra mile, add an option for customers to opt-in to push notifications giving regular updates to when crews are dispatched, assessing damage, in repair mode, and of course, when repairs are completed.

I get it, it can be daunting to jump into mobile. People are often held back by clunky systems, outdated back-ends, lack of expertise, or general fears of delivering a poor application. But just like the flood, what started with a pushbroom and a lot of cursing, turned into a full scale operation with flashlights, shovels, ladders, and a lot of elbow grease that ultimately cleared out the basement, and fixed the issue at the root — I’ll listen next time my wife tells me to clean the gutters before the spring-time truly rolls in. I would encourage companies to listen to their customers in the same way.

It takes a clear vision and a well-constructed roadmap to take a company from antiquated systems to cutting edge — but don’t fear, it’s doable! If you ever need a hand, you know where to find us.

— Jaime De La Ree is the Business Development Lead at Shockoe with five years of experience in mobile technology sales

Mobile Utility: Powering the Next Generation of Brand and Employee Engagement Apps

Mobile Utility: Powering the Next Generation of Brand and Employee Engagement Apps

It’s been well over a decade since the release of the first true smartphone. Apple promised to revolutionize the computing world with the iPhone, and true to their word, they did. Since then, companies like Shockoe have worked diligently to harness the full potential of such hardware. From Fortune 500 to start-ups, mobile shops have helped companies create workforce and customer-loyalty apps that measurably improve the daily lives of users. What is a Utility App? Let’s jump in.

Understanding Utility Apps

App downloads have been on a steep decline. This is unsurprising — bloatware, marketing gimmicks, usability issues, and ad-riddled pages make it unappealing to download an app and keep it on your phone. Even the greatest of intentions can backfire when apps lack focus or miss the mark on execution. Enter “Utility Apps.”

Utility is the concept of providing functionality and measurably demonstrating value – this idea is the fundamental key to any successful app. Was it built specifically for doing focused work, for producing clear results, or supplying a common need? The way we currently see it, there are three types of Utility Apps:

  • Customer and Brand Loyalty
  • Workforce Mobility
  • Resource & Inventory Management

Whether improving a brand or buying experience or alternatively, providing mobility to employees, the ingredients behind a successful app deployment are always the same. Does the application provide the best means to resolve a need?

Why Mobile Utility?

understanding-utility-appsWe’re often approached by customers who think of mobile as an alternative or add-on channel. This notion still surprises us. With 77% of US adults carrying around a smartphone, and furthermore, many checking it over a 100 times per day, mobile is a must for 2018.

With this in mind, it’s quite simple. Users will engage more with companies that remove barriers to products and resources and grant access through phones. As far as we see it, the writing is on the wall. Growing enterprises should feel obligated to improve mobile transactions and embrace innovative technology. Voice recognition, biometric access, Augment and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) are the new status quo behind today’s competitive apps.

Brand & Customer Loyalty Apps

Today’s most successful companies are investing heavily in their digital strategy to provide utility beyond shameless advertising. Home Depot, Nike, Delta, Amazon, Starbucks, all share a common thread — their apps aim to serve their customers. Furthermore, they provide functionality to the point that users rely on the application to improve their daily lives. A tall order, but a necessary one for companies aiming to lead the pack.

If you’re part of a B2C company that is still thinking of mobile as a secondary digital strategy, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Mobility provides customers access to your brand and products on their schedule — not the other way around. E-commerce has been quickest to adopt, but other retailers, whether brick and mortar, restaurants, coffee shops, airlines, clothing lines should feel equally pressured to make the investment.

How Caribou Coffee Brewed Up App-Driven Business

Caribou Coffee, like many B2C companies, exists in a competitive business environment. In 2016, their low-rated app and poor user feedback proved users wanted to engage on mobile but were failing to do so. Sometimes it takes rethinking a good idea and executing in a different manner to get the desired business result.

caribou-coffee-brand

By keeping utility front and center, Caribou with Shockoe’s help overhauled everything from the back-end architecture to the user-interface. Despite major strategy and technology changes, Shockoe never steered away from the fundamental mobile goal: providing measurable utility. Loyalty systems were built to keep users coming back, login bugs were teased out to reduce access frustration, and in the end, all user testing kicked back positive. The result was a 4.9-star rating app backed by a loyal and satisfied customer pool.

The Modern Mobile Workforce

Loyalty is not a trait reserved for customers. Employers are now on the hook for providing work tools that facilitate work-life, and equally, boost management oversight.

Certain job-types nestle right into mobile as a solution. Utility technicians, outside sales representatives, high volume retailers simply operate better when they toss out antiquated hardware/software. Being able to review next appointments, manage tasks, report progress, generate reports, all while on the move, is the new business norm. Companies electing to keep their processes tethered to clunky portals and pen & paper will not only lose time but in time will also see employees grow frustrated.

Management Apps: Right Tool, Wrong Execution

Oracle, Microsoft Insight, Salesforce, or other CRM/ERP software are sometimes built with the right intention, but with misaligned execution that forgoes utility.

Even the most brilliant backend architecture can flop if the tool itself feels unusable. For the people managing resources, submitting expense reports, or counting inventory, designers must consider everything from strategy, information architecture, UX/UI, design, and innovation (biometric log-in, document scanning, etc.). It’s only once all these ingredients align that a mobile app can begin to make headway. Think of how the app is used and what limitations exist (and resolve them), and then and only then will you produce a tool as powerful as the system behind it.

Build App That Fit and Scale

Because companies come in different shapes and sizes, every process and deployment should be equally unique. Whether it’s an IT service team’s ability to service employees through mobile or tracking travel expenses through custom payroll app, it’s key to deliver tools that help employees feel heard and managed as a company grows.

Shockoe did just this when internal stakeholders at American Express were requesting greater numbers of custom productivity apps. With a growing backlog, a mobile roadmap became a necessity, as did a way of prioritizing and deploying the right mobile applications. Together, our teams conceived an application for employees to suggest, track, and manage the mobile tools rolled out by the company. The result has been better managed digital growth with greater employee access to digital tools. Everybody wins.

The Single Thread

Regardless if an app aims to bring more customers through the door or is attempting to streamline a supply chain, if it does not provide utility, you can count on a short shelf-life. All apps should be built upon solid strategy, sound data architecture, and clear UX/UI. This is the secret formula to any app that will ultimately end up as a front-page tool that your users count upon on a daily basis.