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It's the Map, not the App !

Customer engagement is key in any long-term relationship and any potential for future sales. If you don’t have a relationship with your customer, they are not a customer, they are just a transaction. We have all shopped online and logged in as a ‘guest’ because we know the chances of us returning to purchase another item is very slim. The same cannot be said for online Applications where we need to provide various details in order to store our card details and specific customer profile. The trouble is there are so many Apps that the customer has a choice and often as not it’s not just the product or service that is a key element but how the customer engages and interacts with the App.

Keeping customers informed is critical to customer success and helps engage the customer too. Improve the communications, increase the stickiness and transactions are more likely to become repeat transactions and guests can turn into customers.

In 2006 Transport for London (TfL) began a project that would deliver from 2013 the TfL Countdown Digital Service. With 17,500 bus stops served by over 8,000 buses transporting 6.3 million journeys every weekday a project on this scale must make financial sense as well as provide a better service. Prior to this, customers would arrive at a stop not knowing how long to wait and, if they had a choice, which route and bus to take. Add to that the option of rail or underground public transport and ride-share or a taxi and it became quite clear the customer was not well served and TfL was losing business in one hand and tilting people more towards the already crowded ‘tube’ where train times information was available. Provide the customer more and better information and you win or retain the business and, potentially, move people away from the tube towards the bus, if they have the option.

Stepping away from the bus, or tube, and the same can be said of many customer engagements. How frustrating to sit in a waiting room without an appointment and not knowing if your name will be called in five minutes or 20. The problem is not the wait, the problem is that we cannot plan. If you are told that the wait will be 20 minutes then you know to make a few calls, do some emails, or indeed bring a good book!

Hospital Accident and Emergency departments (A&E) have waiting time signs, and for two very good reasons. Firstly, it deters those with minor injuries and non-emergency requirements who may think better to call an online triage or seek an arranged appointment. For those with a genuine A&E requirement knowing the length of the wait allows people to plan and it allows those accompanying the patient to plan. Knowing is key.

When you order something to be delivered it once used to be that you would receive a date when the delivery was due and advised to “wait in, because we don’t want to miss you”. Typical today is you will have a one-hour window for the delivery with very specific times determined by the routing application algorithm.

But what does this all mean for the App?

Really it is very simple. Keep the customer updated, drip feed them information to show that progress is being made. Please no spinning discs or rotating hourglass/sand timer! Typically if it is a complex process there may be a progress bar or a pie-chart that gets filled at each step. This does nothing to increase the processing time nor does it provide any worthwhile and genuine feedback, rather it pacifies the customer.

The best exponent of keeping customers engaged for no real purpose other than to make them stick are the ride sharing applications.

When we need a lift home we have a number of options – public transport, local taxis and mini-cabs or a ride share applications. The convenience of the latter may trump the mass appeal of public transport but how often do we check the bus stop first before deciding what Plan-B is? It would be interesting to see if TfL put tube arrival times above ground at the most off-peak times whether this would have an impact on demand.

Assuming we have opted for the comfort of the back of a car, then a London Black Taxi may be one option for some, but not for all. Should we walk two minutes to the nearest cab office and wait? First of all we would need to know where the office is which means attending our phone for a map to look it up. Then arriving there we have no idea how long the wait it. Even if we are told “five minutes” we are still not engaged in the process and five may only be two or may indeed be ten, but we’re not entertained, we’re not fed data and, ultimately, we’re not part of the process.

Options for a ride-share application means we open the App and call for a car. It may be five minutes away, but we have a little picture, we know the drivers name, we know the car. Even before we can see or hear the vehicle, we know a lot. We now watch with amusement as the car approaches and marvel at watching it sit at traffic lights! This is not so much a business tool rather this is a passive computer game.

The process of engagement begins immediately and ends at our destination. Here the decadent element takes over as we exit the car without so much as a backward glance. Our driver has delivered us, and we can simply walk away. Our first impressions are to be immediately engaged and, if we’re being honest, amused. Our final impression is one of simplicity. The entire process is here to engage the customer. That it is more expensive than public transport and very often more expensive than a local mini cab is not part of our buying criteria.

Every business can learn from the Uber-ification of customer engagement; whether you want to apply for a business loan, buy a house, see how your child is progressing at school, or simply order a take-away meal. The provider does not have to provide detailed updates, but it might be good if it did. Do not wait until the end. A simple and effective progress indicator is enough to keep the customer engaged.

If you don’t have repeat business, you don’t have a customer. How you make a transaction into a customer is to engage with them and keep them amused and informed. Telling them something is so much better than telling them nothing, until it’s too late.

For ride shares, it’s the Map, not the App, that makes it successful.


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