The secret to first-rate mobile apps for customers? Iterate, iterate, iterate

Mary K. Pratt

Take four heavy-hitting brands -- Allstate, Hilton, United Airlines and American Express, all of which place a premium on customer loyalty and retention. Mix in the customer-pleasing form of mobile devices and the ever-advancing function of mobile apps.

What you get are four organizations using mobile to connect better with customers by leveraging their well-organized IT structures and well-skilled IT staffers.

"Mobile is really about supporting your overall business objective," says Forrester Research analyst Julie Ask. "Sometimes it's around revenue or sales, sometimes it's about influencing sales in stores. It could be about customer service." But to be successful, she adds, "mobile has to be an enabler of a better customer experience."

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, research director for social business at 451 Research, agrees. "It's all about understanding the personas and building the apps around the personas," he says. "Building an app is relatively straightforward today. But folding it back into the cogs within an organization, when some of the cogs are very old, that's a different story."

These four organizations, among the winners of IDGE's Digital Edge 25 awards, managed to do just that, delivering expanded functionality in their mobile apps within their existing systems. What they learned along the way might help your organization tune up its own mobile offerings.

Allstate Insurance: Drivewise Mobile

For the past several years, many insurance companies have turned to telematics devices, which are plug-in units installed in customers' cars to monitor driving habits, such as braking and speed, and help set rates. Allstate Insurance had its own offering, the Drivewise program, but the company wanted to take the idea a step further and make the information flow more of a two-way street.

The most recent iteration, Drivewise Mobile, collects the same information about driving behavior, but via a driver's smartphone when that phone is in the vehicle. The app also delivers related information in near real-time directly to the driver's smartphone, says Ginger Purgatorio, vice president of Allstate's Drivewise program.

"One of the real benefits to moving to the mobile program is it can expand the way we interact with customers.

"[Drivewise Mobile] makes providing feedback to the customers seamless," she says. "Prior to the app, you relied on the customers to go to the website. That's not as convenient as having it on their phone and being in their pocket at any given moment."

Although other insurance companies have similar telematics offerings, Allstate was the first major insurer to collect that information exclusively through a smartphone app.

Users can check the app when they arrive at their destination and get feedback on their recent driving performance. The app has trip history and shows progress over time, so users can compare past and present performance.

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