How 4 companies use mobile apps to court customers

IT is on the hot seat to step up its mobile game as businesses strive to get closer to their customers. Here's how four tech departments are meeting that challenge.

dangling carrot

You don't have to look far to witness the total domination of the mobile device. Whether on the commuter rail or at the soccer field, cruising the mall or navigating a bustling city street, consumers are wedded to their smartphones and tablets to conduct the business of both their personal and professional lives.

As a result, the mobile channel is opening up new ways for companies to nurture customer relationships in ways not possible in the past. Via the deployment of strategic apps, mobile presents businesses with a unique opportunity to engage customers with a product or service any time, anywhere, in a manner that is specifically tuned to their individual needs.

The mobile experience also delivers a rich set of analytics that provides hard-to-come-by insights into everything from a customer's buying behavior to his or her actual physical location, allowing companies to custom tailor the conversation while also setting the stage for interaction that is all about intention, according to Chris Silva, an independent mobile analyst.

"If you've got customers, you've got mobile customers, and it's one of the few places where you can almost replicate the conversion potential that you have when someone walks into a store," he explains. "Anyone using a mobile app or accessing a mobile website is doing it as part of a task, so it's a model built around consumption."

Yet hand in hand with this powerful business opportunity come some unique development challenges for enterprise technologists. IT is being tasked with building out an app portfolio that supports a wide range of mobile platforms, including smartphones and tablets, amidst a continuously changing landscape of operating environments, from Apple iOS to Android and Windows 8.

Adding to this backdrop of complexity are the vastly accelerated delivery schedules for mobile apps -- weeks as opposed to the months or years of traditional IT projects -- and the fact that many IT staffs, already strapped for core talent, are lacking the requisite mobile development skills, forcing them to hire up or turn to outside partners.

"Most mobile strategist roles and groups are in their infancy today," notes Silva, who says internal IT departments need to prove their competency to be taken seriously as mobile players.

Despite the scope of the task, the opportunities to leverage mobile as a stepping stone to customer intimacy are too potent to ignore. Read on to discover how four IT organizations in different industries are rising to the challenge and making mobile a centerpiece of how their companies forge tighter customer relationships.

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Richard Maranville, CIO of Freeman Co., discusses the benefits and challenges related to its Concierge Elite mobile app.

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