Firms looking to grow their business can no longer ignore the app economy
Evolving client communication
Firms looking to develop next-generation services for their clients can no longer ignore the app economy transforming every market sector, says Dan Richards
Earlier this year, Apple announced that one billion apps had been downloaded from the App Store – concrete evidence that the app economy continues to expand and evolve. What has also become clear is that the love affair with apps has moved out of the honeymoon stage and into the mainstream, with apps becoming an essential component of business life; having a presence on Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play is now a commercial imperative that cannot be overlooked.
As business owners gravitate towards using apps to help them run every aspect of their enterprises, any business service, such as legal advice and support, that cannot be accessed via
an app will be at a substantial commercial disadvantage.
An app can be an intimate conduit to maximising customer services, which is increasingly being used as a differentiator when deciding from whom to buy services. NewVoiceMedia’s CEO, Jonathan Gale, says customers have a stronger influence on a business’s success than ever before, and it’s surprising how many organisations still aren’t getting it right. ‘Customer experience is a key differentiator,’ he continues. ‘By doing it well, organisations can drive the customer acquisition, retention, and efficiency that make leading companies successful.’
Just as a website is an essential component of every law firm’s marketing activity, an app is now just as important. Businesses develop websites for mobile devices, yet research from Compuware suggests 85 per cent of consumers prefer an app over a mobile website. This considerable endorsement of the app economy should be the driver behind your firm’s app development strategy.
In a report into how technology will impact the legal profession, the International Legal Technology Association says that, in the main, legal has followed rather than led clients and other professional service sectors in driving IT-enabled innovation.
‘That situation,’ the association says, ‘is changing, not least because clients are demanding it – they are making their expectations clear to all of their professional services partners.’
Business in a ‘now’ culture
Time is a precious commodity that all businesses are trying to conserve, and app technology enables companies to do more – faster and with greater efficiency. Firms need to ensure they are not perceived as a bottleneck when businesses need their services. Management consultancy firm McKinsey describes how on-demand marketing is now the norm, with app technology delivering many of the key components needed to be successful:
- Now: Consumers will want to interact, anywhere at any time;
- Can I: Consumers will want to truly do new things as disparate kinds of information (from online banking to data on fitness activity) are deployed more effectively in ways that create value;
- For me: Consumers will expect all data stored about them to be targeted precisely to their needs, or used to personalise what they experience;
- Simply: Consumers will expect all interactions to be easy.
There is little doubt the impact mobile has on all aspects of business will continue. It’s only those business service providers that understand these changes and have their communication channels and service delivery mechanism ready that will win in their market sectors. As apps have transformed how businesses use and access financial services, the same impact will be felt with legal services, too.
The legitimacy and professionalism of any service provider has been, for several years, defined by their presence online. Businesses that didn’t have cutting-edge websites were perceived as unprofessional and lacking a forward-thinking and dynamic approach.
Today, the question is whether service providers have an app. The simple existence of an app illustrates the company has understood the seismic changes that have taken place and has allocated resources to support its clients with app-based assistance.
Differentiation in a crowded marketplace is a vital component of all successful businesses; law firms exist in a congested landscape. Those firms with a well-developed app will stand head and shoulders above the throng, which will be taken notice of by corporate clients looking to partner with progressive firms.
Keeping the lines of communication open between a firm and its clients is vital. Long-term personal relationships often develop with clients that can be further enhanced with technology. Your app can quickly become a preferred point of contact for your firm’s clients – social media has fast become the preferred method of customer contact for millions of consumers. This propensity to use smartphones and apps to communicate filters through to all business relationships.
Apps, though, have more power in this respect, as they offer an always-on communications channel your firm can use. Think about how your firm communicates with its clients. Traditional methods have been successful for decades, but with apps the communication channel can be more intimate and immediate thanks to push notifications, for instance.
The immediacy of using the app as a communications channel delivers an impression of vibrant services that deliver the latest news, advice, and analysis, and are always conveyed promptly. This creates an environment of trust with your clients that no amount of advertising can buy.
One of the most important aspects of developing an app for your firm is the level of enhanced customer service you can offer. According to market analysts Nielsen, one-third of consumers now prefer to contact brands using social media, often using an app to do so, meaning the quality of customer service available can be hugely improved with an app. Nevertheless, fast response times are also vital. Clients simply won’t wait for responses to queries – they are also running their own business on the move. Using your firm’s app to make legal queries is a powerful and efficient paradigm your clients will welcome and quickly come to take for granted.
Placing your app at the centre of your customer services activity is critical. In the past, customer services have been disjointed and an activity performed in silos.
Having your firm’s app on clients’ smartphones and tablets is a potent channel for marketing activity – as new services can be communicated instantly to clients. Your app can also be a source of news and analysis, which clients come to rely upon, further deepening the relationship your practice has with their business.
Overt marketing messages are of course not appropriate on this channel: care should be taken when using the app channel to ensure, first, that clients have opted in to receive messages, and second that every message sent is timely and, more importantly, relevant.
In their 2014 ‘Mobile Behaviour’ report, digital marketing platform ExactTarget said: ‘Whether it’s push notifications, text messaging, emails, or something else, brands must provide overt explanations of forthcoming value, respect time and frequency of consumers’ communication preferences, and ultimately be honest about what consumers will receive in return for messaging privileges.
‘Once the opt-in is garnered, consumers will warm up quickly if the benefits are tangible – just look at the 91 per cent of consumers who subscribe to brand text messages and agree that they’re useful.’
An app can act as a dashboard that delivers your firm’s content to the right clients at the right time. Write a new blog post or whitepaper, or create a new infographic. Then, place this content on your website, blog, Facebook, and/or Twitter pages, and then send a push notification to your app users. This is a highly effective way to leverage the content your business produces and that your clients want to consume – but via one simple, easy-to-use app.
ExactTarget also said the brand with the ‘easiest to access’ content wins. ‘Eighty-three per cent of consumers said that a seamless experience across all their devices is somewhat or very important; they want the content they want where and when they want it. Deliver it and you’ll be the clear leader.’
Vibes, the mobile marketing solutions provider, also advises that ‘to achieve next-level mobile marketing, you need to integrate your mobile strategy into your overall marketing mix.
‘Mobile should complement and work in concert with your other marketing channels such as email, direct mail, advertising, and social media. Additionally, it is important to define your objectives, establish key performance indicators, and build a long-term plan. Your mobile strategy should not be an afterthought; it needs to augment your other marketing activities.’
The time is now for all solicitors to reconnect with clients via an app, and the most efficient way of making powerful connections is to provide your services on every one of your clients’ smartphones. Smartphone ownership in the UK now stands at 40 million with a colossal upward trajectory: your business, then, has a platform it can exploit with meaningful services and timely communications.