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Why and How to Create BlackBerry Apps for Your Customers

Why and How to Create BlackBerry Apps for Your Customers

Start by focusing on your customers' wants and needs

“Go where the customers are” is a business truism that smart businesses relentlessly follow—especially in tough economic times. And 41 million BlackBerry® smartphone users worldwide represent a huge pool of potential customers. The opportunity is there to extend your market reach by building them a BlackBerry smartphone app. This article offers a primer on why and how to make it happen.

Build your app to benefit your customers

What do we mean by BlackBerry apps for customers? The answer: Any app you build to benefit your customers. UPS, for example, built its UPS Mobile™ app for BlackBerry smartphones to help its business customers quickly manage their shipments while on the go. The app includes smartphone-specific features such as using GPS and BlackBerry® Maps to locate the nearest UPS location or integrating shipping addresses with BlackBerry contacts. It uses the same customer login as the My UPS customer website. And it gives customers a clear benefit: shipping information from virtually any location.

LinkedIn, the professional networking website, offers another example. LinkedIn just launched its LinkedIn® for BlackBerry smartphones app so its 65 million customers can liberate professional networking from the desktop. The app carries the website's most important tools to BlackBerry smartphones. But it also integrates with built-in BlackBerry smartphone functions such as Messages, Contacts, and Calendar.

What to expect from ROI

The first thing to realize is that ROI will not likely be measured in revenue gained directly from the app. Rather, look to ROI from customer retention, brand reach, and engagement frequency.

  • Customer retention and loyalty comes from the fact that a well-design BlackBerry smartphone app can benefit customers in countless ways. Foremost is that engaged customers tend to be happier customers—and more loyal.

    Also, your customers will increasingly expect you to create a mobile app for their BlackBerry smartphones. “Mobile is past the stage where you do it for the sake of doing it. That was 5-10 years ago. Customers now expect to interact with you on mobile,” says Kunal Gupta CEO of Polar Mobile, an app developer for clients like Business Week, Sports Illustrated, and CBS Sports.
  • Another benefit is extending your reach. The Hockey News, for example, is a 60-year-old print magazine reaching about 60,000 hockey fans in the US and Canada. Its website gets about 150,000 visitors each month. But its cross-platform mobile app has approximately 500,000 users from more than 60 countries, according to Polar Mobile, who developed the app.

    “Because of the different distribution channels—BlackBerry App World™, carriers, third-party app stores—mobile is a great way to extend your reach to people who do not know you exist,” says Gupta. “We have some clients where 60% of their mobile users have never visited [the clients'] websites; they are mobile-only users.”
  • People tend to engage with their mobile apps more frequently than they do websites. Why? Gupta credits the fact that we use our smartphones more frequently—and from more locations—than we do our desktop computers. The key to engagement frequency: Pushing fresh content to the mobile app, even when the app is not opened. (More on BlackBerry push technology later.)

Why BlackBerry smartphone apps can work better than websites

  • Smartphone apps are mobile and always with you
  • BlackBerry push technology: “The ability to push content to customers' smartphones drives higher engagement vs. waiting for customers to pull content from your website. And it offers a better experience for customers,” says Gupta.
  • Smartphone apps are information specialists, not generalists. That is, customers get the specific information they want quickly and easily. Example, UPS app customers can get their package tracking quickly. A website, in contrast, provides lots of information that customers must dig through to find what matters to them.
  • BlackBerry smartphone apps can integrate with other features, such as GPS, the Calendar, Messages, Contacts, and the camera. Integration extends an app's features to the entire mobility experience.

How to decide whether your organization should build an app

As a business you need to ask whether you need a BlackBerry app for your customers:

  1. Are your customers active on BlackBerry smartphones?
  2. Are there one or two compelling reasons that a mobile app can better serve customers because it is mobile? Can you provide better services because users no longer have to login to your website from a desktop PC?
  3. Will an app fit with your business objectives? Apps succeed when they align customer needs with your business objectives; otherwise they tend to wither on the vine from lack of use.
  4. Can you devote resources to building the app and maintaining it?

What results are possible?

A well-designed smartphone app aligned with customer needs can certainly be a success. Consider the aforementioned UPS Mobile app for BlackBerry smartphones. The UPS development team built the app in-house with a strategy to use mobility to give customers value. Since launch more than 90,000 people have downloaded it, and it has received 3.5 starts out of 5 on BlackBerry App World.

Another example: 2010 Wireless Leadership Award winner RIDGID built a CRM/sales force automation system for the BlackBerry smartphone. The hand and power tool manufacturer reports that its sales team went from 10% of the sales force updating the CRM system to almost 90% doing so. Sales reps no longer need to power up a laptop when meeting with customers, and sales call volume has tripled since launch.

Should you hire a developer or build it in-house?

Early in the process you will need to decide who will build your app. Do you have the in-house resources and expertise? Or should you hire an experienced app developer?

The panel discussion during the Mobilizing Enterprise Applications session at WES 2010 discussed the issue of hiring a developer to build an app vs. building in-house. The panel recommended that most companies should hire rather than build. Most companies, they concluded, did not possess the in-house expertise to build and especially maintain the app over the long term.

That said, many organizations have successfully built feature-rich BlackBerry apps in-house. For example, two out of three 2010 Wireless Leadership Award Winners—RIDGID and the State of Florida Department of Children and Families—both built their winning apps with in-house talent. So weigh your options and then decide for yourself what will work best for you.

How to get started

As the old saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. The following principles are vital when it comes to planning:

  1. Start with research, both on your customers' wants, needs, and habits and on your competitors' offerings. When it comes to customer research, the answer is always more.
  2. For design inspiration, research other apps in BlackBerry App World. How are other companies bringing value to their customers? How do they take advantage of mobility? How do they integrate with other BlackBerry smartphone features? What features most benefit customers and will they benefit your customers? Are they using GPS and location-based services? Try some apps out. What works for you; what does not?
  3. Plan for updates, bugs, support issues, help files, and customer complaints. Building an app requires a continual commitment of time and resources. Who will be responsible for what?
  4. Remember KISS (keep it simple stupid). Go for what is valuable to your customers and leave out features that do not benefit them.
  5. Remember that creating a useful app is not enough; you must also promote its use among your customers or potential customers. Make a promotion plan early in the process, then make sure to drive it through.
  6. Remember distribution: How will you get your app to new and existing customers? It will take more than just putting it in the BlackBerry App World says Gupta.
[The UPS app] represents a paradigm shift. People now expect to get information when they need it from anywhere. People with a smartphone do not want to wait to
get home.            
- UPS team

3 design rules

  1. Think like your customers: As previously mentioned, success depends upon knowing your customers' wants and needs, and crafting features to fulfill them. Forget this rule and you are sunk. Your app is more likely to succeed if you follow these guidelines:
    • Customers will flock to apps that are useful, relevant, and give a clear benefit.
    • Talk to your customers directly; never assume you know their wants.
    • Focus features on what customers do most; leave out the unimportant.
    • Customer needs may range outside of your app, so think about the entire BlackBerry smartphone experience. Maybe they need access to a database or PDF files, as examples (see the next section on building super apps).
  2. Think like a mobile SUPER app: Successful apps use the entire BlackBerry smartphone experience. These super apps leverage the unique capabilities of the BlackBerry platform, and embody the following characteristics:
    • Always on experience
    • Tight integration with native apps such as Messages, Contacts, and Calendar
    • Proactive and notification driven
    • Highly contextualized
    • Social and connected
    • Designed for efficiency
    • Integrated with backend data

    Take the Facebook® for BlackBerry smartphones app as an example of an app with super app characteristics. With the app you get notification of new Facebook messages in your Messages folder. Facebook members' photos automatically appear in your Contacts. You can even share a photo you take with the camera to your Facebook profile—all without opening the app.

  3. Think push, not pull: BlackBerry push technology lets you send fresh content to customers' BlackBerry smartphones so it is there when customers need it. Pushing content to your app is a main driver for increasing customer engagement, says Polar Mobile's Gupta. The best content is fresh and relevant to customer needs. Leave out the fluff.

    Polar Mobile, for example, created a push-based app for the Liberal Democratic Party in advance of the recent elections in the UK. The party was able to push out real-time news alerts, copies of speeches, policy briefings, and so on. The fresh content continues to keep supporters more engaged than if they had to spend the time to go “pull” content from the party website.

    If you do decide to push content, make sure you have the resources devoted to keeping it fresh. Without a strong commitment creating content can become an afterthought your customers will notice.

Click here to learn more about the BlackBerry® Push Service »

5 final lessons

  1. Get a champion in senior management. The UPS development team got organizational support from their senior management—a key factor in securing the organization's commitment. The UPS team built a strong business case by showing market trends, providing facts and figures, giving competitive intelligence, and demonstrating how important mobile devices had become. Once they got senior management support, they were “100% a go” for building the app.
  2. Test, test, TEST. The UPS team ran its own beta testing program, with several rounds of usability testing. Based on the feedback they made improvements.
  3. Customers will surprise you. The UPS team thought that most users would be among small businesses. It turns out that users come from the full range of company sizes (and 10% are even from UPS strategic accounts at large companies).
  4. Include a customer feedback mechanism and be prepared to act on customers' reactions. “Having that feedback has been really helpful in helping us guide where we are going next,” says the UPS team.
  5. Think long-term: “It is not just about getting your app to market today,” says Gupta from Polar Mobile. “It is also about how your app will look six months from now.”

Where to go next

BlackBerry App World Vendor Support »

Java Application Development »

BlackBerry Super Apps »

BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express

Support Forums

The BlackBerry® Support Community Forums are a great place for your BlackBerry device users to get help—and a place for you to connect with other IT administrators. Do you have questions about BlackBerry Enterprise Solutions? Are you looking for support on devices or accessories? Visit the BlackBerry Support Community Forums.