As many small businesses now know, to stay competitive these days, you need to be mobile. But being mobile is not just about having a mobile-friendly website. (Though if you are a retail or service business, having a mobile website is a must.) It means connecting with on-the-go customers and employees – and helping mobile customers and employees to connect with you (and each other). And these seven mobile applications can help small and midsized businesses do just that.
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1. Mobile geo-targeting (marketing & sales). With the rise of beacons and geo-targeting, “it’s become increasingly easy to target key users with location-specific, time-sensitive messages via mobile apps,” says Johan den Haan, CTO, Mendix. “For example, by integrating geo-location technology into a mobile application, businesses can send special offers to customers who are in close proximity to stores.”
“By using this approach, small businesses can decrease spend, narrow their focus and deliver targeted ads to consumers at the right time and place,” adds Roger Hurni, chief creative officer & managing partner, Off Madison Ave.
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Furthermore, “combining geo-fencing with SMS texts allows you to connect immediately with customers who are near your business,” says Ashley Orndorff, market research analyst & copywriter, Visual Impact Group. “Set it up for your loyal customers and send them a text about a sale built just for them, a special event or a flash sale when they are oh-so-conveniently close to your store. You’ll make them feel special, and by leveraging both exclusivity and scarcity, they’ll be more likely to stop in for a purchase or two.”
2. Mobile customer loyalty programs. “Create a mobile app for your loyalty rewards program,” says Orndorff. “Customers who download the app get access to exclusive deals, early bird specials and more.” To make the app even more effective, survey customers (or have the app do it) to find out which rewards they prefer. “Not only do you obtain valuable information to better your business and offers, but your customer feels more appreciated and valued as well,” she says. It also “increases engagement and revenue.”
“Punch cards have long been away to reward loyal customers, with some success, but prove to be frustrating for both the seller and the customer in tracking the punch card (punches, purchases, lost cards and zero purchase reporting),” says Dawn Crowder, owner, Carolina Clover, which sells jewelry and gifts. “We sought a smarter mobile solution for both the customer, who is always carrying her phone and loves a good coupon, and us the seller to gain insight to our loyal customers and communicate with them and reward them,” she explains.
“Our customers make a qualifying purchase in our store [and] gain a punch through the mobile app that counts toward a larger reward after 10 punches, [when] they receive pre-programmed coupons,” she continues. “For example, if they check in on social media they can receive a coupon on their store purchase that day through a push notification.” Through the app, customers also receive a birthday coupon and “we’ve missed you” coupons if they haven’t shopped at Carolina Clover in a while. “It is all automated with options we can turn on and off, which we love and is definitely a smarter solution to the old paper punch card.”
3. Mobile scheduling and reminders. If you are a service business, such as a salon or an exercise studio, use a mobile app to allow customers to make appointments or sign up for classes via their smart phone or tablet. Then use text or SMS messaging to confirm appointments or classes and to send reminders.
4. Mobile payments. “You may have noticed [Square,] the little white [cube used for mobile payments], migrating from farmer’s markets to businesses of all kinds,” says Craig Bloem, founder, FreeLogoServices.com. Square, and similar mobile payment solutions, “allows small businesses to swipe credit cards and handle other business transactions via phone, tablet or even a sleek point-of-sale stand. It is a big timesaver – no need for a bulky register or customized payment system. [And] it allows businesses to take payments on the go in seconds.”
Another advantage of using a mobile payment system for business owners is that “mobile data can be integrated with other apps (via the cloud) far easier than traditional methods,” says David Mercer, founder, SME Pals. “Transactions records are fed straight into other parts of the business, run by different technologies, like accounting, tax and marketing apps, making the entire business more automated, efficient and streamlined.”
5. Mobile communication and collaboration. “Communication and connectivity is key for small businesses,” says Dan Ward, cofounder of mobile app development firm Detroit Labs. “Slack is a great example of a communications platform that can help to minimize email and enhance collaboration. Slack’s mobile app allows you to stay connected wherever you are. It’s incredibly cost effective for small businesses, too.”
“Apps like Slack are great to use on your mobile phone, and [they] enable team collaboration and prioritization of projects for companies of any size,” says Bloem. “They allow you to interact with each other, collaborate and share documents and information all in one place when everyone is on the go.”
Similarly, “Dropbox is essential for small businesses for document sharing,” says Ward. “It offers private folders, shared folders, team folders and the ability to access everything on the go with a great mobile app. Gone are the days of dedicated shared drives and a VPN connection just to access a simple document.”
6. Mobile customer service. Mobile apps can also help businesses better help their customers. “We need to respond to customers within four hours in order to keep our reputation for great service,” says Bloem. “Desk.com allows our team of customer service reps to access customer communications from anywhere, which enables them to keep on top of rising customer demands.”
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“We use Zendesk for support tickets and requests from our clients,” says Mark Tuchscherer, cofounder & president, Geeks Chicago. “Zendesk has a native mobile app and we are able to monitor client support tickets and emergencies 24/7.”
7. Mobile CRM and sales support. “When it comes to customer relationship management, mobile CRM gives business owners a wide range of capabilities right at their fingertips,” says Anthony Smith, founder and CEO, Insightly. “Keeping track of tasks, contacts, organizations, opportunities, projects, emails and your calendar can all happen instantly within a mobile application. This alleviates the need to write down important details on old receipts or worse, trying to recall straight from memory.”
With a mobile CRM solution, “instead of stashing business cards in a drawer, business owners and managers can automatically scan and add contact info straight into their CRM and add important notes about their new acquaintance,” he explains. And “by bypassing manual entry, business owners [and salespeople] can save time that is better spent on building customer relationships.”
“By employing a mobile CRM, your [sales] reps can immediately check-in, access their sales pipeline, client information, previous correspondence and quotes and orders while speaking with a client in the field,” explains Oscar Macia, founder & CEO, ForceManager, a mobile sales management solution. “It saves time, looks more professional while providing you, the business owner, with real-time actionable insight of their performance. This insight can be used to adjust your sales strategies and ultimately build a sustainable, predictable growth model for your business.”