Innovative Consumer Experiences: Launching The App Is The Easy Part

Throughout my career, here as Chief Product Officer, and in previous positions consulting and as head of innovation at companies like Caesars Entertainment and NantMobile, I have seen countless organizations embrace innovative technologies, yet underestimate the complex requirements of supporting the overall consumer experience.

For example, many brands are overhauling their mobile apps with “next gen” models that are poised to take advantage of concepts and technologies like location-awareness, personalization, real-time messaging, and sensors. But too often the excitement of the seemingly innovative concept overshadows some key operational implications that will ultimately lead to low engagement if not addressed. Perhaps the solution wasn’t needed in the first place, and there was a miss on up-front consumer research. Or, an oversight with regard to organizational readiness, which hindered the solution from reaching the intended audience for the intended purpose.

The Case Study:

Next-gen technology can deliver extraordinary experiences that benefit customers and brands. Consider this use case: A customer enters a big box store and receives a deal or a message delivered via mobile app. But this is not just any deal or message. It is tailored to her preferences and past behavior, and is based on her real-time location in-store. It knows she’s standing in a particular aisle, and it knows she was here last week, too, so it gives her a nudge to push her further down the path to purchase. The deal is differentiated based on her loyalty profile, and can be triggered off her response to another channel, such as an email campaign that ran earlier in the week. It’s fresh and new compared to yesterday’s offer and is associated with products she already buys, so the offer actually adds to the shopping cart and does not discount items already intended for purchase.

The Hard Reality:

Sounds familiar, right? But what often gets overlooked is the effort required to support this kind of personalized, real-time, location-based experience on a day-to-day basis. The example above is predicated on real-time communication that requires a lot of work, a lot of creativity, and a great deal of coordination. Different systems and people need to collaborate to ensure that offers and customer information are coordinated in a cohesive dialogue between the brand and customer. Personalizing offers and messages based on location and user segment creates a multiplication exercise of existing content by the number of user segments that are to be addressed. Now multiply user segments again by day-part and micro-location, and ask yourself: do you have the ecosystem in place to create those offers and coordinate them?

And that’s just one of the hard questions you need to ask yourself before embarking on a next gen project. Others include: Who really owns the mobile app? Who ultimately ensures success? Who will continue to market, support and optimize the mobile app over time? How will we keep up with this new pace of communication with the customers? How do we coordinate across all customer-facing channels so there are no conflicting or overlapping messages?

Prep for Success:

This is a crucial time for mobile, so make the investments in time and dollars (and patience) to get your solution just right but don’t disregard the operating details for the app post-launch. Sometimes these details are more complex than building the actual solution itself. As you go forward with your strategy, keep the following things in mind:

Define ownership, roles, and responsibilities. As mobile apps and the envisioned experiences come together, ensure clear ownership and specify responsibilities at the detail level. Create a clear plan and workflow for how to operate the mobile app on a daily basis. Align all participants and stakeholders to understand their role in supporting the customer experience. And, they need to understand the roles and tasks for others who also contact the customers via all marketing channels (digital or analog). Perhaps new roles & responsibilities need to be created for the line employee, different from a corporate employee.

Communicate clearly and consistently. Develop a cross-channel strategy & operating plan that ensures a cohesive message is delivered to the customer. Make a calendar that outlines the key campaigns across all touch points and consider the communication frequency from the customer’s standpoint.

Engineer workflow for success. Determine a workflow for these rules to be administered and managed. Designate the owners, approvers and publishers. If behavioral data is going to play a role, devise the plan for how offer acceptances and redemptions are going to factor into the logic of the next offer or message. Is this a manual maintenance issue for campaigns and rules or can this be automated?

Prepare employees. Once all of the process and personnel details are worked out, think through the training and adoption process. Create the curriculum, prepare the training materials, and practice the new procedures during the pilot. Expect to iterate on the processes and refine the rollout plan accordingly. Think through the redemption process and any exceptions that may be presented by the customer. This needs to make its way into the training materials.

Fully understand the user experience. Use in-context user research up front to gather needs and start thinking through operational dependencies. Use prototype testing throughout the product lifecycle and use the pilot period not only to optimize the mobile solution, but to identify operational dependencies.

Above all, before embarking on an innovation project, ask yourself:

Will the product make a meaningful difference in the user’s experience?
Do you understand and are you prepared to build the ecosystem that will be necessary to support this product?

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