Using Mobile Apps to Create Efficiencies, Enhance Customer Experiences and Secure Market Share
Great opportunity awaits franchises that engage customers with mobile apps. But the path to success demands careful planning and testing.
By Richard S. Weissman
Customer loyalty is a fickle friend, and the thought process of “what have you done for me lately, what are you going to do for me today?” is driving the discourse. Convenience, ease-of-use, accessibility and immediacy have become priorities to today’s consumers who crave real-time connectivity. Without evolving into part of customers’ on-the-go routines, businesses of all types – including franchises – stand the risk of becoming obsolete.
No longer considered a trend or a technological phenomenon limited to games and social media, mobile applications are powerful tools that can be used as crucial conduits between brands and consumers/clients. Additionally, careful and thoughtful development of a mobile app can enable businesses to position themselves to compete on a different level, and in many ways set the benchmark within or even dominate an industry.
Today, 89 percent of time spent on mobile devices is on mobile apps, with only 11 percent on the mobile web. This breakdown highlights the distinct disadvantage businesses without a cutting-edge mobile app face in terms of consumer engagement.
As the largest of the industries within the Franchise 500, quick-service restaurants are utilizing apps to provide customers with accurate information on the status of their orders. For example, Domino’s Pizza’s mobile application allows customers to customize pick-up or delivery orders more accurately than they would be able to over the phone, receive notifications regarding what stage of creation their pizza is in and how soon they can expect it to be ready and delivered. This reduces errors and creates customer expectations that the company can track and fulfill.
While the food sector has led the way in the franchise industry in creating efficiencies and enhancing the customer experience through mobile apps, unique sectors such as early education and childcare (preschool) are fairly new to incorporating innovative technology into their business toolbox. As one of the fastest growing sectors within the franchising industry, early education businesses may have the greatest opportunity for growth by increasing avenues for consumer engagement.
In recent years, with the push from the current administration as well as a flood of supporting research, the importance of early education has garnered significant attention, – especially as it pertains to the critical learning that takes place during the first six years of life. Studies have shown children’s capacity to learn is far greater than previously realized, and lessons in terms of “what” and “how” they are taught are equally as imperative. With nearly 13 million children under the age of six enrolled in childcare, according to the U.S. Department of Education, but only six percent of centers nationwide meeting the accreditation standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, it’s no wonder early education is growing so rapidly across the country.
A secondary focus lies in the fact that the demand of early learning is not matched uniformly with the advancements of societal and technological requirements of today. The preschool sector remains dominated with independent “mom-and-pop” operators mixed with national behemoths. However, even most of the national companies are still only tipping their toe into the waters of progress while those which embrace progress full-on are seeing an acceleration in brand equity and financial advancements.
Realizing the results to be gained, connectivity with parents of its students age six weeks to five years and building brand loyalty led The Learning Experience (TLE) to develop a suite of mobile applications aimed at parents and franchisees called Safe ‘N Secure. To be implemented throughout and customized for all of its locations, the Classroom Safe ‘N Secure component of the suite streamlines processes within each classroom by allowing teachers to take attendance, view critical classroom ratios and important child information, and record daily activities. It works together with the Parent Safe ‘N Secure app to provide parents with the most accurate and timely information about their child’s daily activities and student records.
Therefore, the mobile app is not just an add-on marketing channel, as it is often treated by some organizations. It has tremendous power to become a strategic link between the company and the customer as never before to offer a more personalized experience while cutting down on operational costs, give customers easy access to important information while in turn gathering information on how the customer wants to interact, and streamline customer service channels/processes.
Developing a mobile app to achieve these goals is just one piece of the puzzle. The return on the investment comes once it is rolled out throughout a company’s franchise system with widespread buy-in from franchise owners as well as customers. For companies with a franchise model that includes corporate-owned and franchise-owned locations, losses are limited via the ability to test programs and processes in corporate-owned locations before they are adopted by franchisees, thus ensuring success and alleviating any burden on franchisees. At TLE, 70 percent of all locations are franchised with the balance being corporately operated, a point highly meaningful as it pertains to lines of innovation.
There is immense opportunity for companies in unique franchise sectors to secure market share by better engaging their customers using mobile apps. However, to do so requires careful planning and testing. The more useful the app, the more integrated into the customer’s daily or weekly experience: the more committed to customer service, the more interactions, the stronger the customer relationship and satisfaction.
Richard S. Weissman is chairman and CEO of The Learning Experience, an early learning academy of more than 200 centers for children of ages ranging from six weeks to six years old.