GettyImages-547016873-SWhat a difference a year makes, especially when it involves small businesses and mobile apps. In its “Small Business Mobile Apps: 2017 Survey,” Clutch, a business-to-business ratings and reviews firm, indicates that 42% of small businesses currently have built their own mobile app and that the number is expected to increase to 67% by the end of the year. The figure represents a 50% margin of increase over the course of the year.  By comparison, Clutch’s “2016 Mobile Apps Survey” found that 54% of small businesses were either “unlikely to build” or “unsure about building” a mobile app.

Driving the need for mobile app development are “increasing sales (39%) and “improving customer service (30%). Another top reason is the ability to compete in a specific market (22%).  Topping the list of most valuable mobile app features are social integration (20%) and mobile payment (19%).

Boost customer engagement

Mobile customer service apps enhance customer engagement by making it possible for customers wherever they are to interact with small businesses. Custom apps also can take advantage of a device’s video, audio, camera, GPS and other capabilities to showcase offerings. Additionally, they can include self-service purchasing, including product configuration and checking on inventory as well as order-checking options once a purchase is made.

To be most effective, apps with self-service features should include an easy way for customers to connect with a live agent or request a call back if they need additional information or have a problem placing an order. For best customer service, employees taking calls will want to wear noise-canceling headsets to ensure they can hear and be heard above any background noise.

There are other ways an app can help improve the customer engagement:

Address questions or complaints: A mobile app can provide support that might otherwise not be possible or convenient. For example, a customer could snap a photo to indicate a problem they have with a product and send it in an Instant Message. In response, a small business employee could immediately reply with a text or call.

Secure feedback: A mobile app also is a good resource to find out how customers are using small business products and services and what they like or don’t like about them. An app can also gather demographic information about customers and prospects – location, age, jobs, etc.

Enable mobile geo-targeting: By integrating geo-location technology into a mobile app, a small business can send text messages to customers that are in the vicinity.  For example, a restaurant could send a message to someone who is in the vicinity around the noon hour offering a special lunch promotion. Or a store could send a text with a special coupon to someone nearby.

Get the most from apps

  • Keep it simple: Customers need to connect over apps in ways that are useful and as interactive as possible. Features and content that make the experience cumbersome will discourage use.
  • Add share-ability: Social media share features enable customers to post to Facebook or Twitter and other social media channels to help an app go viral.
  • Enable feedback: Mobile apps should provide a feedback mechanism so customers can submit a complaint, a question or a suggestion about future product features or capabilities.

The year-to-year survey figures from Clutch indicate small businesses realize that mobile apps can help them grow and so they are making the necessary investment.