Why so serious? How business app developers learned to delight users

Business apps aren’t what they used to be. And increasingly they are a delight to use. Thanks to innovation in the consumer mobile device space, kickass customer experience (CX) is – or should be – a major focus for businesses. That genie is out of the bottle and it’s sure as hell not going back in.

There are other trends driving the increased focus of CX in business apps. There’s the widespread use of BYOD and related initiatives. Business digitalisation. And the growing presence of younger, digitally native employees in the workplace.

The net result is that B2B companies are under increasing pressure to become more B2C-like.

Business person using mobile app while traveling for work

Consumer-like experiences are now the rule, not the exception

While the boundaries between B2C and B2B might be disappearing, B2B companies have some catching up to do.

Gartner research, for example, found that only 61 per cent of B2B marketers compete “mostly or completely on the basis of CX” – compared to 69 per cent of B2C marketers.

“Most B2B companies don’t have a solid mobile strategy, because they don’t clearly understand what mobile is,” digital commerce consultant Karie Daudt wrote recently on Digital Commerce 360. “It is not that all consumer experiences are relevant in B2B, but the way we interact and the information that is available is being influenced by our personal experiences. Part of the disconnect, when it comes to mobile for B2B organisations, is understanding what mobile really is.”

Daudt notes that B2B companies have multiple options when it comes to improving their mobile experience, and “it’s important to choose a model that is the best fit for your business based on your customers’ needs”.

Bain & Company partners Eric Almquist, Jamie Cleghorn and Lori Sherer studied more than three decades’ worth of customer studies at their firm, and developed a B2B model that resembles Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Instead of having needs like food, water and shelter at the base of the pyramid, though, Bain’s hierarchy puts “table stakes” needs like acceptable price, regulatory compliance, ethical standards and meeting specifications at the foundation. Above that, they place several other levels: functional value, ease of doing business value, individual value and – at the top – inspirational value.

What this means is that it’s vital for B2B companies to provide user interfaces that aren’t just compliant and functional, but that also offer other, higher-value benefits: flexibility, time savings, reduced effort, simplicity, aesthetic appeal, hope, social responsibility and vision. And, whisper it, fun.

Businesswoman using mobile app in a cafe

So how can B2B organisations move their user experiences up the pyramid and create apps that rival B2C apps in appeal?

Focusing on user needs

“Start by understanding your customers and your users,” Daudt advises. “Know how they engage with you and how they want to engage with you in the future. I recommend taking a ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach to your mobile strategy. Begin with identifying your customer needs and desires, then experiment with the different mobile experiences you can provide to support them. Once you gather usage data and feedback, you can begin to expand and build a more robust mobile approach.”

When starting Quorso I was absolutely focused on creating technology that not only was able to capture data but to actually be easy to use and create a beautiful and effortless customer experience. After all, my thought is, you can have all the powerful analytics in the world, but if no one is able to make use of the output, what’s the point?

Luckily, inspiration is all around us. Take a look at how the trailblazers do it. Gartner analyst Laurel Erickson suggests looking at companies like Slack for CX leads.

“On the surface, workstream collaboration solutions do not sound particularly inspirational, but Slack made a concerted effort to make them seem so,” she writes. “Advocacy is an important part of Slack’s business model, as it depends on word-of-mouth among its users to grow adoption within an organisation. From the outset, it placed the customer-user at the centre of everything it does. It moved up the CX pyramid from being useful and usable, to meeting needs that its customers didn’t know they had, to focusing on the inspirational and aspirational things that a passion for great collaboration can enable.”

Slack, Erickson says, does things like encourage customer feedback through “an ever-present feedback button” and continuously updates and fine-tunes its software based on user comments.

The partners at Bain & Company recommend that B2B companies start by benchmarking their value proposition against the competition, and then talking with customers “to understand their experience”.

“Imagine ways to increase value for customers,” they write. “Refine, test and learn.” And then revisit the entire process from the start to make sure the changes you’ve introduced are actually ones that customers welcome.

What B2B companies can learn from B2C apps

In a fast-changing and increasingly digitalised business world where more and more people are using mobile devices for both personal reasons and work, B2B companies need to find ways to differentiate themselves from – and stay ahead of – the competition.

Offering their users consumer-like app experiences will be one important way for them to do so. In fact, Strategy Analytics predicts that the mobile workforce will reach 1.88 billion by 2023. By then the mobile enterprise business applications market will be worth $140 billion.

“Workers’ appetites for mobile applications are increasing; they expect to have mobile access to business applications beyond email and voice,” says Strategy Analytics principal analyst Gina Luk.

“Mobile apps will become more powerful. Emerging technologies will help SMBs and large corporations create more integrated B2B/B2B2C experiences, and utilise mobile devices to administer and integrate the different apps at our disposal.”

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