Mobile immersion Phase II: function over form

With mobile-mindedness spreading like wildfire, new ways of doing things are being revealed every day and others are still waiting to be discovered. There are countless mobile applications for just about everything you can think of, but now that the novelty is starting to wear off.The oohs and ahhs of the flashy fluff are becoming ho-hums as the next phase of mobile immersion should see deeper applications with specific functional purposes — ones that facilitate internal business operations or assist in one’s everyday routines. They will probably become second nature and in time we will wonder how we ever lived without them.As with every business development, a mobile app starts with an idea that could solve a problem or assist in reaching a goal. Because mobility gives a different dimension to possibility, it may be hard to nail down the best solution, especially if you don’t have a well-defined problem.What type of application does your business need? Who is going to use it? What do your customers want? All difficult and confusing questions if you’re new to the mobile arena, so let’s explore some different types of mobile applications that could benefit your business and/or your customers.Mobile business applications can be broken into three primary types of applications: management applications, which allow your employees or customers to manage shared information; monitoring applications, which allow your employees or customers to receive updates or alerts when certain actions take place; and service applications, which allow your customers to easily interact with your employees (and vice versa).Here are some examples of mobile business apps: • Customer and sales management – Give your sales team the ability to track all customer information and sales efforts from any location, any time with a mobile sales tracking application. Keep track of a client list with addresses, contacts with email addresses and phone numbers, sales with statuses and priorities, and tasks with scheduled dates and reminders. Compile reports about sales representatives and their activities to prevent sales from slipping through the cracks, and keep all sales efforts on your radar. • Inventory management – Ever wanted to make a sale on the spot or give a customer reassurance that you would be able to satisfy their order, but you were unable to do so because you didn’t have details about current inventory? With an online store or Web-accessible inventory system, you could quickly access current inventory information and use that for sales efforts and inventory management. By reserving or releasing inventory on demand, your current available inventory will be more accurate, allowing for more reliable sales efforts. • Order activity monitoring – Make sure orders are being processed in a timely way by receiving automated notifications of online purchases and corresponding shipping and payment processing. Timely and accurate order management makes for happier customers and less customer support time. • Data or event monitoring – Keep tabs on any data or action that takes place within a Web-accessible application without having to constantly check it on your own. • Project services – Allow your customers to access details about long-term projects, see progress updates, and interact with a project manager or team. Customers making large investments like to be involved and know that their projects are getting the attention they deserve. Share project documents and agreements, log project activity, and modify project definitions as necessary. • Scheduling services – Allow your employees and customers to set or change scheduled appointments on the go with a mobile appointment system that accepts appointment requests and confirms appointment dates and times automatically. Timely and accurate scheduling reduces missed appointments and maximizes appointment time availability, especially if coupled with a wait list for those who are seeking an appointment as soon as possible. • Customer response services – Make your business accessible even after its doors are closed and locked — provide a mobile application for customers with an FAQ, contact form, and possibly a customer forum depending on the type of business. Timely and relevant responses to customer inquiries go a long way in capturing new customers and retaining current customers. • Custom applications – Your business is unique, and the way it functions probably is too. Think about how mobility could increase productivity, efficiency, and accuracy for your business, or how you could better serve your customers with customized mobile tools. Sometimes pre-packaged solutions aren’t enough or would be much better if re-tooled to meet your unique business needs.Deb Brewer, president of YellowFrog Web & Mobile Productivity and CrystalVision Web & eMarketing Solutions, Waltham, Mass., and Portsmouth, can be reached at 603-433-9559 or Jeffrey Holmes, lead application developer at CrystalVision, co-authored the article.