Having a cross-sector focus here at Engage, we’re lucky enough to speak to a large mix of clients looking to provide online services to their customers. Whether a housing association, block management, an estate agency, build to rent or PRS, there’s always a common theme and that’s to deliver the best customer experience that they can.
Ten years ago, Apple launched the first iPhone and catapulted smartphones into the mainstream. The way we access the internet has changed and these devices have become intrinsically integrated into our daily lives. Pair this with the rapid expansion of technology within the property sector and it inevitably leads to one question when speaking to clients about Engage: “Does it come as an app?”
The short answer is “Yes!”…. but that’s not the question you should be asking.
These days, users want fast access, a great user experience, and convenience. You can get apps for your bank, apps to monitor health, even apps to tell you when to drink water. These apps are great and are well designed but most importantly, they are fit for purpose because they are self-contained. On the other hand, there are some apps that are gimmicks, provide a subpar user experience or they take up far too much space and usually get deleted very quickly!
A gimmick app can’t be the result if you’re looking to deliver the ultimate customer experience.
For most people, the question “Is it an app?” means:
- Can our customers install it on their phone?
- Can they download it from the App Store?
Instead, the questions they should be asking are:
- Can our customers access all their data quickly and securely?
- Do our customers get any additional value from our app?
- Can our customers upgrade their phones and still get the access they need?
- Am I prepared to put in significant money for high development costs and support costs for the future?
If the answer to any of the above four questions is “No”, then your app is likely to be installed, tried, and deleted before you can say “Steve Jobs”!
In general, there are two types of apps:
Native apps – These are what we usually think of when thinking of ‘an app’. You download them from the App Store or Google Play onto your smartphone. They deliver rich experiences and high performance, but at a cost of storage space, lack of real-time updates, cost of development, cost of ongoing support, and low search engine visibility.
Web apps – These are what you may have experienced when going to a mobile website through your internet browser. These are optimised for the user experience regardless of which phone model they are using but you can’t download them from the App Store or Google Play, and you can’t use advanced app features such as notifications.
Both native apps and web apps have advantages and disadvantages, and what might be suitable for one app is not suitable for another.
A quick search on Google Play for housing apps show companies who have chosen the wrong solution rather than looking at the problem they are trying to solve. The result? Poor reviews, badly designed and out-of-date applications, low uptake, and frustrated customers.
So, what’s the answer? How can we deliver the best customer experience?
Progressive web apps
Here at Engage, we’ve been monitoring the technology very closely and are very excited about the development of progressive web apps (PWAs) and the capability that they can bring. PWAs provide native-app qualities in web applications that are reliable, fast, and engaging for your customers.
PWAs are Google-backed and allow developers to build mobile sites that load quickly like a native app. They allow offline access to cached content, connect securely, allow native app user interfaces (think swiping, zooming, etc), and are not device-specific so no lengthy or costly redeployments when new hardware or software is released.
Most importantly for PWAs though, are the use of ‘service workers’ which enable applications to be not just ‘mobile-first’, but ‘offline-first’.
PWAs also provide the starting point for features such as on-screen notifications, push notifications, background synchronising, and user-interaction messaging. A PWA can access your phone, your contacts, your calendar, and your location to give you a richer experience.
In a nutshell, a PWA can do everything a native app can do, but without the downsides. The proof?
- Forbes reported a 43 per cent increase in user sessions with their PWA;
- Lancome has a 53 per cent increase in mobile sessions, with a 17 per cent increase in conversions;
- Twitter Lite has a 65 per cent increase in pages per session and a 75 per cent increase in Tweets sent;
- BookMyShow, India’s largest ticketing firm with 50+ million monthly visitors, delivered an 80 per cent increase in conversions, which means more users buying tickets.
In summary, don’t ask “Does it come as an app?”, instead ask “Which app type is better suited for my customers - a native app or a progressive web app?”.
We think that most people will say the latter.
Rob Simmonds is the technical manager at Engage Property Technology.