Does your business need an app? The answer is usually yes, and the answer should often be no. Today I’ll be discussing how jumping on to the band wagon can actually be a huge waste of resources and time.
I was recently discussing with a gentleman about how to help improve his business workflows and customer interactions. It was business based around selling services directly to consumers. We went through how he can use emails and SMS and phone calls to communicate with his customers. He mentioned that he had problems getting through on the phone and he didn’t know if people were reading his emails. And of course with SMS, he had no way of knowing if they were being received as well.
My solution for him was to have a look at his wording in his email subject lines and use some A/B testing and open rate tracking software to track whether his emails were being delivered and read. And perhaps change his phone habits to call at different times of the day, or try each customer a different amount of times. Plus a few other suggestions.
His immediate suggestion was to ask if I thought his customers needed an app. And my immediate response was absolutely not. And here’s why.
An app can be many things. It can be a game, a catalogue, a social network. It can serve so many functions like ordering items online, booking a car or whatever. What it can not do is replace communication channels.
Firstly for an app to be a communication channel, the target audience has to download the app. If you can’t communicate with them through phone/email/SMS, how are you going to encourage them to download the app? And then, how are you going to encourage them to check the notifications?
See, an app can be deleted quite easily from a phone. Your built-in SMS app actually can’t. So, if you think that you should build an app just because it gives you another communication channel, you’re looking at it for the wrong reason.
One of the big things about apps is, they aren’t as easy to make as the media (or spam mail) will have you believe. As a business owner or manager, I am sure we all receive many spam emails from companies offering an amazing app for a cheap price. But, is this app they are providing going to have any affect on your bottom line? You have to look at the costs associated with building it, maintaining it and the part that people often forget, the scoping of the project.
I once worked on an app which had a 2 year development cycle. The owner of the company gave us a large, loose, very ambitious brief about what he wanted and then asked us for a quote. He also gave me the quotes he’d already received from other companies (he probably shouldn’t have, but he was showing me that he didn’t want a quote like the ones he’d received).
After reading all the documentation and requirements that had been scoped out internally, I went back and initially turned the job down. Because actually, the other quotes he’d given me were accurate. This thing was going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of work, and this wasn’t what the owner wanted to hear.
So what happened next?
The Truth about the App Business
Firstly, he appreciated my brutal honesty. I explained to him that this app, if he waited till it was perfect, was going to miss the market. He needed to determine the best bits and most useful bits that he wanted to launch with, and then we could work on other parts in later sprints.
Secondly, he accepted that perhaps his initial thought out time frames, budgets and plans might have been a tad unrealistic.
And thirdly, I was the only person who told him that some of the things he wanted were either a bad idea, or couldn’t be done, so I didn’t feel comfortable accepting the job.
He chased me for days and we went back to the drawing board and stripped back the app to something manageable. Then we scoped out the cost and time frames for it.
We had the first sprint prototype ready in 6 months and the company was incredibly happy. We started to market the app in various ways and when it was ready to enter the market, we did so with great success for the target.
But, the app wasn’t actually finished, so, for the next 6 months we had two teams working concurrently on the app. One was developing new functions and areas while the other was maintaining the current build. The daily active users (DAU) were being serviced with bug fixes and new functions, while new users were coming in now that the app had something they were looking for.
Over the next 18 months, we released 10 updates to the app with 10 new amazing functions and a host of bug fixes.
This app was an entirely new thing, based around the request of a company looking to market an app. They needed their app. It was their core business model.
Everyone Has An App
Back to the first customer I was discussing, he wanted an app development because he heard everyone had an app. I explained to him we’d have to scope out what it would do. We’d have to look at development cycles and so on and ensuring there was a need to spend the money on development. He’d have to look at ongoing maintenance and development and upgrade costs.
Alternatively, I offered a much cheaper and more effective solution to make sure that the customers were receiving their messages. Effective communication.
I can’t count the amount of times I have sat with a large group of managers and heard “We need an app”. But when I ask what it will do, the answers are all basically trying to fill a gap that has already been filled (things like task lists, order tracking, notifications) with native apps that come with phones, or are already available and mobile optimised in their website.
Apps are not the be all and end all to business needs. Actually, an app is a value add that can help your customers in ways that you, or their phones can’t. But you have to think very clearly before heading down that path. You need to ensure that what you want, and what your customers want are the same thing. You need to ensure you are filling a gap that doesn’t already exist in a good way.
Don’t jump on the app bandwagon just because the word app is supposed to be a magical thing that fills your business with millions of dollars. And definitely don’t jump on it because a young kid in the US or a housewife in the UK made billions of dollars by “making an app”. Think it through, work out what you really need, and start your planning. Scope out what you think you need and then contact us to work out the best way to make your application development. Check out our work to see what applications we have built in the past.