EYE Views: Are we moving to a post-app era?

‘There’s an app for that’ was once the rallying cry for appifying every kind of customer-facing service – less so these days.

With new messaging services like RCS and WhatsApp for business, many of the app-like functions that gave them so much appeal can be achieved at a fraction of a cost. Other channels like personalised video messaging are also competing as viable customer engagement technologies, while messaging is slowly becoming a proxy for things like mobile payments and the internet itself.

Should brands and enterprises be gearing up for a post-app future? We asked a range of tech companies to respond.  Here’s what they said…

Jonathan Morgan, CEO at OpenMarket

 There are three specific reasons why consumers will find it [RCS] a significant improvement on regular text messages. Firstly, it makes interactions, like providing feedback, as easy as tapping a button. Secondly, it uses the native SMS inbox so removes the need for people to download third-party apps. And, thirdly message branding and verified sender information provide consumers with increased peace of mind.

Will this kill off apps? Yes – most of them. As consumers, we’ll keep those six or seven apps that we use daily. But the days of brands pumping money into developing apps is set to be a thing of the past. Brands are finally understanding that they can’t just engage with customers to sell them stuff and that devices are not just a sales channel: they have to help consumers get things done, when and where it counts.

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Matt Hooper, SVP Global Marketing, IMImobile

The rise of social messaging channels and the entry of Google (for RCS) and Apple (for Apple Business Chat) is a tipping point in the evolution of messaging channels to support customer engagement. That said, there’s still huge demand for apps, whether for hailing an Uber, transferring money from your bank, or messaging via a messaging app like WhatsApp or Messenger.

The best way forward is a blended approach to enterprise consumer communications, based on context; after all, what you’re doing, and where you are, dictates which service you need and how you want to communicate. Clearly companies that deliver services through apps need to pay particular attention to in-app messaging, but messaging apps and smartphone inboxes should be used more readily, as they make it possible to automate the switch. Whatever channel is used, two-way communication is key: an SMS saying ‘DO NOT REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE’ shows a brand hasn’t worked out how to make service conversational.

To put this into practice, businesses must look at which channels and services their customers use the most, and blend the right combination as part of a ‘communications hub’ strategy. There’s a clear need to orchestrate and integrate omnichannel communications, which means the use of CPaaS architectures will become increasingly critical to the future of successful messaging-based interaction in the mobile world.

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David Bowen, Head of Product at Episerver

Our research shows that smartphones have reached near-complete adoption in the UK, with ownership of tablet devices also now pushing 70%. Yet while mobile promotions and commerce are going to be hugely important for today’s marketers, mobile apps are going out of style.

This switch from mobile apps to in-browser experiences is largely being driven by the surge of mobile search and the introduction of Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project.  Retailers can also create ‘lightweight’ webpages with all the functionality of a traditional mobile app.

At the same time, consumers have grown accustomed to managing their lives through a web browser. As such, the idea of manually installing and launching a different app for each brand experience seems like an unnecessary hassle.

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Cathal McGloin, CEO of ServisBOT

Mobile apps won’t disappear altogether. Rather, Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) will become more prevalent. Imagine a consumer engaging with a brand via text messaging for a service interaction, such as tracking an order. The brand’s chatbot or live agent can respond with details and also send a link to a PWA that will automatically install on the consumer’s device when they click and accept it.

A PWA has all the features of a traditional mobile app but is far easier to download, can work offline, use push notifications, and is not restricted by the likes of Apple. PWAs provide a powerful opportunity to move customers from a simple service-based interaction to a complete brand experience, whereby the company can engage in many different ways, both inbound and outbound.

We see great potential for brands to use a blended approach of chatbots with PWAs. Brands can build awareness and stickiness with this approach and at a lower cost than building native mobile apps.

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Magnus Jern, Chief Innovation Officer, DMI

Although consumers spend more time than ever using apps the growth in app downloads per user has slowed down. Every brand needs to ensure their apps, whether for consumers or businesses, provide great value or solve a problem for the end user in a way not possible through mobile web, messaging or email.

Many of our customers piloted messaging and chatbots but they just didn’t get the desired result. WhatsApp for business and RCS should be seen as complementary to app spend. The choice of ‘app vs web vs messaging’ should be based on what’s the best solution to solve the problem for users. Apps/web is typically best where users can self-manage and messaging is best when they need support or collaboration.

Consumers generally don’t care which solution brands use as long as they make it effortless to communicate and engage with them. No one wants to download an app to chat with customer support, for example. But app experiences are usually the preferred choice for frequent tasks such as playing music on your Sonos speakers, ordering food online or checking the bus schedule.

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Mark Jackson, Director & Industry Principal, Telecoms & Media, Pegasystems

Hundreds of apps clog up the average smartphone and 2019 is going see a big app shake-up that could be terminal. Yes, smartphone memory is increasing, but the constant pinging of notifications, using up data and, battery consumption, has led to “App Fatigue”. Customers are simply ignoring or deleting all but their essential apps from their phones.

CSPs will realise that investing thousands of pounds in an app that nobody will use is not the wisest initiative, particularly with today’s customers having more and more channels and devices available instantly to them to use – Alexa, WhatsApp, Skype and more.

In order to support their customers’ digital demands whilst simultaneously increasing engagement, CSPs need to deliver a personalised experience via combined omni-channel AI and end-to-end Robotic Automation to enable streamlined, efficient journeys, regardless of the channel or app the user chooses to use.

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Bart Vandekerckhove, Head of Mobile Messaging, BICS

I think we’re at a crucial point for RCS, and with operator support and consumer backing, it could well achieve widespread success.

WhatsApp and the like have been around for some time now, so we could see growing app fatigue, with consumers becoming reluctant to download multiple non-communication apps.

And that’s where RCS comes in – and shines. RCS has the potential to replace brands’ own apps and instead offer a universal, in-built solution for instant engagement with brands. Rather than calling a customer services phone line (and being put on hold), RCS can offer instant chat and media sharing.

This opens up opportunities for companies to develop their customer service offerings and is a revenue-generator for operators whose networks support RCS. Airlines could send boarding passes to travelers, for example, who could then contact and book their hotel room – all through RCS.

The last hurdle for RCS – but the thing which will help it really take off – is integrating payments. If the ability to pay for goods and services via RCS is added into the mix, then we’ll definitely have a strong contender to apps, and a replacement for consumer/brand interaction and engagement.

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Nick Millward, VP of Europe at mGage

A few years ago, a strong mobile strategy would have included a corporate mobile app. But today’s mobile users are less attracted to the idea of downloading and using new applications. A 2017 Compuware study found 80-90 per cent of apps are deleted after first use.

Text messaging is an effective, immediate and engaging alternative for brands to communicate with consumers. Viber found texts have a 99 per cent open rate – with the average response time for those messages just 90 seconds. Brands can reach their intended audience with a message of value at the most appropriate time.

However, to maintain consumer interest and make a real business impact, brands need to craft engaging and timely messages that customers want to open, while making it easy for them to take action. SMS is currently being upgraded to RCS (Rich Communication Services). RCS messaging introduces a new level of interactivity. With the ability to use custom colours, logos and brand name as the sender ID, RCS messaging enables companies to create compelling branded content using features like video, GIFs, quick response buttons, carousels and maps to engage audiences and position them as an active participant in conversations.

RCS is innovative step forward and allows companies that master and use RCS functions to deliver powerful, engaging and conversational messages to help increase customer satisfaction and loyalty and drive increased sales.

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Dan Marsh, Digital Director at bigdog

I don’t see the app age dying off any time soon. Younger generations have grown up habitually tapping icons on their phones to shop, chat, navigate, date…you name it, there’s an app for it. Continuing to serve these offerings and catering for evolving behaviours is essential for brands to win on the digital battleground.

 As most marketers have come to accept, mobile is now a pre-requisite to any brand that wants to be relevant in the digital age, if mobile experience is poor, you could be alienating more than half your audience. With smartphone usage so common, ensuring that your mobile presence is well-optimised is half the battle.

 Speedier connectivity through 5G will see our on-the-go lives become more reliant on mobile devices. But with apps, it’s worth taking a step back and asking yourself – what value can this give my customer that a great mobile site can’t?

 My rule of thumb for apps comes down to two things – convenience and frequency. The value you give users is by never being more than a tap away at any time. Consider some of the most popular apps: Uber, eBay, Deliveroo, Netflix, Google Maps, all serving a high-frequency, reactive or impulsive need. They’re there when you need them.

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Amy Robinson, Senior Brand Development Manager, Commify

RCS not only offers the same capabilities as branded apps, but also solves business pain points, such as missed appointments or debt collection. This is demonstrated through the ability to reschedule an appointment or complete a purchase online, without ever leaving the messaging app.

Driving traffic to your app is a challenge in itself; coupled with the cost of building and maintaining an app, estimated to be between $25,000 – $1,000,000, it’s a substantial investment. RCS’ appeal is that it can offer your customers the same functionality as an app, with an impressive engagement rate and at a price just marginally higher than an SMS.

The true future of life post-app is dependent on customer behaviour. However, with just a little investment, RCS future-proofs your presence and brand reputation in the eyes of your customer base.

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Seth Campbell, Head of Product Development at Big Radical 

When organisations want to gear up for the future, as Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary Geneal succinctly put it: “what matters now is not to learn things, but to learn how to learn things.”

The future will not be app-centric, messaging-centric apps, nor other methods of engagement – voice, image or video. What is becoming indispensable to ensure user adoption and competitive advantage, is to grow an inbuilt capability to learn fast, targeting user needs and the outcomes we are looking to facilitate.

This can then be married with small-scale experiments across multiple interaction contexts, in order to quickly understand what is most useful and satisfying.

No doubt apps and other methods of engagement will continue to grow, powered by machine learning and AI, and with upfront costs-to-entry steadily falling.  App downloads are still increasing, from an estimated 205.4 billion in 2018 to 258.2 billion in 2024, and consumer spend grew 30% YoY in 2018 to $110 billion. Messaging-centric apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber and WeChat cover most of the world, opening up opportunities for “DM marketing at scale” and Social Commerce through services like Facebook and WeChat’s integrated payment APIs.

The underlying human goals are not likely to change fast, but the way we provide more value to customers will evolve and will come in many guises.

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