Small Business

255 posts categorized

February 05, 2016

Can Mobile Tech Solve Long Lines at the Grocery Store?

 

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Retailers are regularly on the lookout for ways to improve the customer experience and cut costs—if there’s a way to do both at the same time, that’s even better. One emerging trend in this area involves utilizing mobile technology to help expedite certain transactions. Tech companies, restaurant chains, clothing stores, and more businesses have implemented cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) systems in an effort to reduce long lines and other potentially problematic retail behaviors.

 

What Is a Cloud-based POS System?

 

Traditionally, when you go to the grocery store, the final step in your customer service journey includes the interaction you have with a checker tending a stationary till at the front of the store. The number of checkers and cash registers is limited by the resources available. As a result, customers might have to wait in long lines to make their purchases. If this sounds like a familiar scene, you’re not alone.

 

What is less familiar (but currently growing in popularity) is the mobile POS system, which manages transactions and other customer-related actions exclusively online. As a result, the transaction is accessed remotely using a mobile technology device like a smartphone, tablet, or iPad. 

 

Is a Cloud-based POS System Safe? 

 

Customers not accustomed to making purchases online might find the mobile POS a little intimidating, especially if they’re fearful of online corruption or attacks. For customers who are comfortable with making online purchases, the process is only slightly different from buying goods at popular online retailers like Amazon or eBay. 

 

For customers, cloud-based POS systems are just as secure as traditional transaction methods. Security features include encryptions and fire walls to protect incoming and outgoing personal data. 

 

From a retailer’s perspective, the shift to a mobile POS system actually mitigates some risk of fraudulent activity. In the future, credit card companies are expected to make good on all purchases (even fraudulent purchases) so long as the vendor has upgraded to a mobile system. 

 

A Better Customer Experience 

 

One of the greatest advantages of using a mobile POS is that customers can make purchases from anywhere in the store. Moreover, with sales associates standing by, customers can get answers and assistance for a broader range of needs, including inventory, warranty specifics, price checks, and more. 

 

By making this information mobile, retailers stand to save money on overhead while simultaneously making more money on the sales floor. Imagine how much potential business is lost because a customer doesn’t want to wait in line to ask an inventory question. By offering a mobile solution, associates can deliver expedited service to customers that would otherwise never make it to checkout. Meanwhile, giving sales associates more flexibility on the floor will make them more productive and likely reduce the number of required sales associates.  

It’s not a matter of if retailers will decide to make the switch to mobile POS; it’s really a matter of when. Several retailers have already made the transition and are offering customers a wide range of transaction options like mobile receipts and quicker checkout times. As the technology develops further, this trend will become as prolific as retail stores themselves, ultimately changing the way we do business on a daily basis. 

 

January 31, 2016

The Best Ways to Monetize Apps

 

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Knowing which monetizing strategy will work best for a mobile app is like trying to figure out what’s in the secret sauce atop your favorite burger. You can see bits and pieces of familiar condiments and spices, but when you try to make it at home, it’s never exactly the same. Maybe that’s because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, or secret sauce, for monetizing apps. 

As strange or cliché as this hamburger analogy sounds, it’s safe to say that most burger recipes are uniquely their own; and that’s typically the way all successful apps find their way to the top of the charts. Creating a unique app is most certainly the first step in creating a viable monetization strategy—your secret sauce—and your ticket to a wildly successful app. 

If no two apps are exactly the same, it’s logical to assume that no two apps make money in exactly the same way either. There is, however, a good chance that most successful apps use similar strategies, in a variety of combinations, to optimize strengths and dull app weaknesses. Understanding which mobile marketing strategy - or combination of mobile marketing strategies - will be most effective for your brand is a core requirement for success. 

Here’s a look at some of the best ways to monetize apps using popular strategies. Think of these techniques like you would ingredients to the secret sauce on your burger. Ask yourself what works best with your app, and try combinations until you’ve made something delicious…I mean profitable. 

 

Freemium Apps 

It’s a play on words, and it also accounts for 93 percent of all downloaded apps in 2015. Freemium apps are just what they sound like—they’re free. So, in order to use this ingredient effectively, your app had better offer a premium, or upgraded version, for a small fee. 

This strategy only works well, though, when there are clear advantages to the paid version; it also has be to a first-rate, highly useable, and addictive app. If this sounds like your burger, then feel free to say it’s free; but be sure you’ve got a better version of the app available for purchase. 

 

In-app Purchases

Depending on the meat of your app—the genre, if you will—in-app purchases are a great seasoning to add. The trick here is to make a game that’s highly addictive and charge users small fees to enhance their addictive experience with features like profile personalization, game currency, or increased usage. 

Once a user makes the first purchase, he or she is usually hooked. Game apps like Candy Crush Saga made an estimated $630 thousand a day with this technique. You can, too, if you make an appetizing app. 

 

In-app Advertising

Think of in-app advertising like you would an assertive spice blend—use too much, and your burger is ruined. Successful in-app advertising does two things: compliments multiple ad networks and functions within well-designed ad space. 

In other words, in-app advertising should not be the only revenue source holding your app together. Additionally, thoughtful and strategic ad placement is very important to the ad’s success. An occasional banner add at the bottom of your favorite app isn’t so bad; pop-up ads flashing across your smartphone screen every 30 seconds are not the way to go. 

 

Sponsorship 

Finally, sponsorship is a great way to offer products or services most relevant to your consumer. Prominently displayed sponsors will pay for both impressions and clicks if this strategy is implemented correctly. 

The important thing to remember about this monetizing tactic is that what you’re selling, and when, is critical to the user’s experience and general acceptance of the advertisement. 

For example, the RunKeeper fitness app partnered with third party Kiip to showcase products that would appeal most to runners, particularly during times the app was aware the runner had just started or completed a run. Timing is everything, and sponsorship monetization needs that and good products to be successful. 

Building your app’s unique monetization strategy will require some trial and error; but the payout for the time investment can make all the difference in your journey. What’s in your secret sauce?

January 30, 2016

What is Sales Force Automation?

 

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Before the proliferation of digitalized communications, records, and processes, pen and paper were the sophisticated tools of the trade for most sales associates. A Rolodex, for example, is the tangible version of most contact lists we use today on our mobile devices and computers—without which, most professionals could hardly function. 

Today, the job of the sales associate is greatly helped by the advancement of Sale Force Automation (SFA); which covers an array or responsibilities that empower sales professionals to work more efficiently from just about anywhere in the world. 

 

How Does Sales Force Automation Work? 

At its most basic level, SFA is software designed to organize customer data, record customer interactions, and deliver insight on short- and long-term sales behavior. 

Between the early 1980s to Y2K, SFA began to incorporate more aspects of the sales process including, web-based contact list, e-mail packages, custom templates and more. By automating the sales process and digitizing the data, sales methods became more specialized and, over time, increasingly more successful. 

 

Customer Relations Management 

Software companies like Oracle, Baan, and Microsoft pioneered the industry and helped bridge the gap between SFA and Customer Relations Management (CRM). 

In the early 2000s, Paul Greenberg published CRM at the Speed of Light, which helped guide the notion that CRM should include a company’s overarching strategies, practices and technologies aimed at building customer relationships as well as driving sales.  Eventually, CRM and SFA became intertwined—with SFA focusing on the systems and software, and CRM focusing on the analytics of the customer lifecycle. 

Today, CRM includes things like social CRM, which aims to prioritize customer interaction over customer transactions across different media channels. However, CRM also includes things like customer retention rates, online shopping trends, email open rates, and other data points that improve business relations, drive sales, and curate a strong customer base. 

 

The Future of SFA

Because sales associates are no longer sitting behind a desk making phone calls all day; many of them work exclusively in the field, the future of SFA as well as some combination of CRM will inevitably include features specific to mobile devices. This includes formatting sales catalogues and brochures or mobile, digitalized forms, paperwork and signatures, as well as streamlining the purchasing process to maximize efficacy in the field. 

Further, these mobile solutions will continue to assist sales professionals with traditional SFA tasks like managing appointments, rescheduling, and record keeping. 

Just like other business tools and systems, mobility is essential to the future of SFA. Sales teams are made of increasingly on-the-go professionals, who need devices that reflect this change in professional behavior. Thus, mobile is not only the future, it’s the present hot spot in sales and customer management. 

 

January 28, 2016

mPulse Mobile Boosts Funding to $10m

 

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What if I said your healthcare plans could fit in the palm of your hand? For a topic so significant, especially on the political stage, it would seem impossible to assume that all our daily healthcare needs could be met with something small enough to hold—something, say, the size of your cell phone. 

But that’s exactly the direction some mobile apps are turning, as healthcare costs continue to soar and our need for personalized healthcare grows. mPulse Mobile is a perfect example of how one little startup from California is making the most of this gap in medical demand by securing almost $10 million in series A funding last week.

But this is not a story about altruism and improving the lives of the general public—those are welcome byproducts of what mPulse is doing, but certainly not at the core of their endeavors. mPulse was simply in the right place at the right time. 

Chris Nicholson, mPulse Mobile’s CEO, is the former COO of Humana, a Kentucky-based health insurance company. Humana and Nicholson were working with mobilStorm, a secure messaging company and mobile marketing firm. Nicholson was looking for ways to save administrative costs, but instead decided to spin off of mobilStorm and create mPulse Mobile. 

 

Value of mPulse in Society 

mPulse Mobile is a secure messaging service designed for healthcare organizations, patients, pharmacies, medical providers, and medical device companies. Messages can be sent using a variety of systems including basic SMS and secure web portals or integrated into existing apps. mPulse aims to offer a more transparent healthcare experience with tailored features to meet growing patient need, while also cutting costs for medical providers, pharmacies, and other related healthcare industries. 

Right now, the app is really in its infancy, offering services that aren’t more complex than fancy calendar reminders about doctor appointments and prescription refills. But that’s all going to change, thanks to funding by HLM Venture Partners, a firm that invests exclusively in market-leading technologies for the healthcare industry.  

With the funding, mPulse plans to take its fancy calendar to the next level by expanding on proven tools to enhance analysis, natural language processing, and text messaging in real time. In essence, the app will attempt to fill several voids caused by administrative error, lack of human resources, and limitations on imparting sensitive information effectively. 

mPulse has made some impressive partnerships as well. Digital health pioneer Inland Empire Health Plan, a not-for-profit also from California, is working with mPulse to help its 1.1 million users improve patient engagement as well as the overall medical outcome. 

"Our sole focus on healthcare combined with extensive experience delivering mobile consumer solutions makes us the ideal partner for companies who need provider, plan, pharmaceutical, and population health solutions," said Nicholson. 

What he really means to say: mPulse can save you money. 

 

January 03, 2016

The App That's Keeping Tour Operators in Touch with Tourists

 

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There’s a new app designed to keep tour operators in contact with tourists while on their way to local attractions. Recently launched in New Zealand, the app was developed by Auckland-based company Skoot in a joint effort with JUCY, Tourism Radio and Putti, a Spark Ventures company. The app allows businesses to cater to tourists planning the next leg of their vacations. 

 

A Plethora of Functions

Skoot is available as a smartphone app that may be mounted to a rental vehicle. It offers a variety of functions, including onboard GPS navigation, safety messages, information on local activities, WiFi hotspot, and accommodation options in real time. The app also allows tourists to make purchases through stored credit cards on their smartphones. 

Skoot CEO Hayden Braddock notes the app is a built-in audio tour guide that recognizes user location and automatically provides information on over 1,600 local tourist attractions.

“Throughout their journey, Skoot is designed to keep tourists engaged with both local information and relevant promotions - served by audio and digital display feeds,” says Braddock. “Each business on Skoot will effectively have control over their own application which is able to be accessed and used within the Skoot application or on its own in the APP Store. The retailer gets the benefit of being able to create and manage their own app and content in real time, update deals, products, info, branding etc. Tourists will only have to download the one app when they travel around.”

Braddock added that he and other company members believe this is the first time something like this has been done. He also noted that the app will be linked to its nationwide 4G network that allows up to five other devices to use the WiFi hotspot when installed in a rental vehicle. 

 

Future Uses and Safety Promotion

Future incarnations of the app will include a click-to-call function using VoIP. The feature makes it possible for tourists to call and book local attractions for free.

“Tourists are also able to redeem digital vouchers which appear as they close in on local attractions and purchase their tickets at discounted rates using a preloaded credit card,” says Braddock.

The app promotes road safety by helping tourists navigate New Zealand roads and deal with assorted conditions as they arise. Drivers will be alerted to safety hazards such as high crash areas and one-way bridges, as well as when to stay left or slow down. 

Braddock commented that the app will provide more opportunities for the company’s business partners in the future, such as payment methods that encourage tourists to purchase promotional tickets to events and attractions and subsequently expedite their entry. Businesses will also be able to tailor their offerings based on the season, proximity, and other factors. 

Whether the app will be usable in other countries is unknown at this time, however its benefits make the possibility very real. 

December 27, 2015

What Will Happen to Mobile in 2016?

 

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What’s to become of the mobile market in 2016? Said market certainly isn’t going anywhere, and plenty of innovations and changes are expected. Overcoming various hurdles is also in the mix, and with that in mind, check out a few mobile predictions for the New Year: 

 

Messaging App Marketing

Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are on their way to having 1 billion active users monthly. More services and marketing opportunities will be added to both messenger services in 2016, giving marketers the chance to further break from traditional advertising and come up with unique options. 

 

More Mobile Payments

Paying for, well, anything through smartphones is something that will likely continue in 2016. Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Android Pay, and similar mobile payment possibilities are set to become standard smartphone features, however undoing years of paying with cash, debit cards, and credit cards as opposed to swiping a smartphone takes diligence. Mobile wallet incentives such as coupons, rewards and loyalty perks, and similar discounts will therefore be required if this form of payment is to really take off. 

 

Increased Data Release

Consumers are predicted to allow more personal data release in 2016, though whether they’ll do it willingly is up for debate. The “convenience and value” of the connected world is something consumers like a lot, so the release of more personal data to publishers and marketers is a distinct possibility. 

 

On-Demand Delivery and Small Businesses

Small businesses will get in on the on-demand delivery action in 2016, something that’s mainly been reserved for corporations and other big businesses. Food ordering, package delivery, and similar easy-to-use services are great for small businesses, and something more of them will utilize in the New Year. 

 

Facebook=Entirely Mobile

The days of checking out Facebook feeds through laptops are increasingly coming to an end, with the social media juggernaut set to become “entirely mobile.” In Q3 2015, 78 percent of Facebook’s $4.3 billion in ad revenue worldwide was due to mobile, and many of the site’s users log in through their phones anyway.

 

Stronger Cybersecurity 

The creation of more cloud-based services and more consumers relying on their phones to purchase goods and services means strong cybersecurity is a must. Small businesses should take note of cybersecurity options, as more cyber attacks are predicted for small businesses in 2016. 

 

Battle For “Mobile Moments”

In a blog for Forrester.com, analyst Thomas Husson called mobile moments the next “battleground” among marketers. 

“Mobile moments – a time when consumers picks up their mobile devices to get what they want in that moment of need – are the next battleground where to win, serve, and retain customers,” he writes. “Mobile experiences are too static today and leverage too little consumer context. As customer expectations of convenience escalate in 2016, the pressure will be on firms to tap new technologies to serve customers in context where they already are – not where brands find it convenient to serve them. Firms must look to use context both to assemble and deliver experiences dynamically on their own and third party platforms.

“In particular, we expect alternative ecosystems beyond Android and iOS to emerge. With consumers using fewer or more integrated apps, new mobile platforms that offer a more relevant experience such as WeChat in China or Facebook Messenger in the US are quickly accumulating power as the owners of vast audiences and rich data about those consumers.” 

 

December 18, 2015

Five Festive Apps to Make You a Better Christmas Shopper

 

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You can’t giftwrap them, but apps still make a great gift for Christmas. Check out our top six apps and see if you can bring a little something different to the table this year…

 

Shpock

The self-styled “boot sale and classifieds app” puts the emphasis squarely on secondhand goods, with categories including home and garden, leisure and games and baby and child. Shpock’s USP is its focus on local transactions. Think of it as a virtual car boot sale, where you can make offers, ask questions of the vendor and even haggle a bit.

 

Etsy

As well as providing a handy Christmas countdown clock, Etsy’s app covers all your gift-shopping needs, with a particular focus on homemade items. If you want to shop online but avoid sending generic presents to creative family members, this app is your festive friend.

 

Gift Professor

This free app helps you decide what to get for those tricky friends and family members who are particularly hard to shop for. Gift Professor connects you with two thousand online merchants, suggesting several ideas based on answers you give to questions set within the app. It takes minutes to proffer a range of suggestions, and allows you to easily save them so you won’t accidentally give the same gift to that hard-to-please loved one when their birthday rolls around.

 

Pinterest

Pinterest is another perennial favorite in the arty, crafty, homemade mould. It’s also the go-to app for anyone who likes to get super organized for the holidays. Planning a pre-Christmas party and want some new recipe ideas? Check. Struggling with the right gift for your creative niece? Pinterest will more than likely solve your problem. If you’ve never used it before, now’s the time to start pinning away, and with a recent update allowing you to buy directly from clickable pins, gift-buying with Pinterest is more convenient than ever.

 

Delivery Status

Shopping in-store has one notable advantage over shopping online: knowing where all your gifts were once they’d been paid for (at the back of the closet, away from small prying hands, if you’re my mother). Delivery Status has capitalized on this gap to put comprehensive tracking capabilities in the palm of your hand. It supports more than 30 delivery services, including FedEx, UPS and DHL, enabling you to keep track of their progress, count down the number of days until a package arrives, and even label individual packages in app so you won’t forget what each parcel contains. 

 

December 15, 2015

Are Consumers Used to Bad Service?

 

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Consumers argue that customer service is important when deciding what products or services to purchase, however, according to new research from Arizona State University, customer service can’t keep pace with shoppers.

The latest version of the school’s ‘Customer Rage’ study suggests that customer satisfaction rates haven’t changed dramatically since the 1970s. People are not only dissatisfied with customer service, but some consumers don’t even expect it anymore.  

 

Customer Service and Millennials

Millennials in particular can rarely recall a time when automated phone messaging systems or online customer service wasn’t available—so they don’t know what better customer services feels like, said retail-industry consultant Jack Abelson. 

And it’s not that companies aren’t spending time or money on the prevailing issues. In fact, most companies spend plenty of resources on building a better customer experience, albeit on the wrong solutions.  

For example, according to a recent report conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 75 percent of consumers were most frustrated when they couldn’t get a live person to handle their phone calls. The same number of respondents also complained that rude or condescending employees (both in-store and on the phone) contributed to this frustration. Being disconnected from a phone call, long wait times, and poor menu options also topped the list of complaints.

So while companies with limited human resources are moving toward automation, it’s clear the money could be better spent on something else. 

Despite these alarming increases, there were decreases reported by the Better Business Bureau, which logged fewer complaints overall this year compared. Nine out of ten commonly reported industries also had notable declines; this unfortunately excludes cable and satellite services.

One explanation for this decrease in direct reporting may be because consumers have more power to help themselves. This is most apparent on FAQ pages, in How-To videos, forums, and customer review pages, where people can share their opinions freely with other customers. 

Another reason consumers seem apathetic about customer service is that they are more diligent about researching a product or service (particularly via mobile device) before they decided to make a purchase. This is like preventative medicine—they know more about what they’re getting into before they make the purchase. 

That being said, businesses should be wary of this consumer behavior and reconsider how they allocate time and money when trying to resolve customer-related issues. In particular, businesses should provide thorough and up-to-date resources online for clients who want to help themselves before making a customer service phone call. 

Are automated messaging systems and foreign customer reps really the way to go? According to the latest research, the answer is no. 

 

December 07, 2015

Holiday Party Calendar

Planning a holiday event is one thing. Making sure everyone shows up at the right time and place is another. To help you manage the party season more effectively, we've put together a Communications Calendar. Don't let anyone miss the memo. Or the fun. Happy Holidays!

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November 30, 2015

What Does the Mobile Messaging Boom Mean for the Customer Service Industry?

 

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When you need to get a hold of a customer service representative at your bank or another business, do you often feel your only choices are waiting forever on the phone or getting lost in a barrage of “press one for this” and “press two for that” options? Sometimes, these options don’t even get you to the person you need to speak with.

Instead of waiting around on the phone for hours, or getting a wrong department or being hung up on, consumers are finding mobile messaging an effective customer service solution. And, they’re loving the convenience of taking care of issues via mobile, so that they can go about their business while they wait for someone to solve their problem.

Is mobile messaging the way of the future for customer service? Let’s take a look at how SMS messaging might be the best way to communicate with companies going forward.

 

Customer Service and Changing Times

Traditionally, consumers have experienced many troubling scenarios with customer service reps, including phone calls that were never answered, dropped phone calls, poor connections to overseas call centers, and calls that did not get to where they were supposed to go after being led down a rabbit hole of “press” options. These customer service experiences are certainly not desirable service experiences for the customer. They’re nightmares that have the potential to turn off consumers from engaging with a brand.

Regardless of how much, or how well, a business markets its products or services, if its customers can’t get help when they need it, consumers likely turn away from the brand. Brand loyalty is only a possibility when a company can help a customer appreciate its products and services. To increase brand loyalty, many companies are turning to text messaging as a way to easily and effectively communicate with their customers.

 

Why Mobile Messaging?

Consumers have pretty much created the new wave of customer service communication for themselves. They are demanding mobile messaging as a customer service option because they feel more in control when they can simply leave a message as they would to a friend, and then have a person get back to them via text. There’s no hanging on the phone, no navigating customer service forms on websites, no hang-ups without having a question heard, and none of the other traditional customer service problems. Consumers like being able to use iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and other messaging apps to state their issue and go about their lives as the business looks into the problem and gets back to them.

Of course, this only works when a company puts structures into place to receive mobile messages and sets aside time to diligently reply to mobile messages—a task that many businesses have dedicated themselves to. As consumers show they don’t have the time, or the inclination, to deal with customer service issues of the past, companies are listening and making mobile messaging to customer service a reality to build brand loyalty.