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Increasingly, we use mobile devices to interact with that great sprawling thing called the Internet. Over the next five years another billion humans will come online, the vast majority via smartphones, with more than 80 percent of the world’s adults owning one. 

Mobile phones are how we share information on social media and consume entertainment via video, books, and texts. Mobile phones are quickly becoming our preferred tool for doing business, whether buying, selling, researching something we’re going to buy, interacting with a company’s support organization, or simply coordinating a delivery.

Clearly, IT organizations need to become experts at building mobile applications. But that can be more complex than one might think. Let’s look at a couple of examples—one good and one bad—to see how important, and challenging, meeting the demands of mobile customers can be. These examples come from my personal experience interacting with large banks and illustrate how a well-executed mobile application can provide convenience and cement customer loyalty, while a poorly executed app frustrates customers and reduces their satisfaction.

The good and the bad

With a horde of fintech startups nipping at their heels, banks face real pressure to deliver more convenience and innovation to their customers. As Time magazine noted, these startups threaten incumbents because they carry a different cost structure. Unhampered by investment in expensive physical locations, they can afford to deliver services less expensively and can therefore serve new swathes of customers that cannot be profitably addressed by legacy banks.

A good mobile banking app example

As a positive example, let’s look at what we’ll call Large Bank 1. I often travel internationally, which requires making my bank aware of my need to use its credit card in another country.

Up until a few years ago, I needed to call the bank’s credit card center and tell a service representative about my plans before every trip. Eventually the bank migrated this notification service online, which was great. I could go through the process without needing to make a call or interact with someone, which saved me a bunch of time.

It’s even better today. The bank now offers this notification service as part of its mobile application.  I can accomplish the same task from my phone when I arrive at my destination. In fact,I can perform this task whenever and wherever I am, including being out of my native country (full disclosure: this means I can do it when I am in the destination airport after landing, which I often need to do because I forgot to do it before I left!). Anyone who has ever dealt with having a credit card transaction declined in another country because they forgot to notify the bank about travel plans will appreciate this flexibility.

Do you think this service makes me more loyal to the bank? You bet it does.

A bad mobile banking app example

Now let’s look at the mobile app of what I'll call Large Bank 2. It, too, trumpets its dedication to customer service and user convenience. It, too, has a mobile application. But let’s look at where this bank falls short in its mobile application.

One of the most convenient functions in a banking mobile application is the ability to deposit checks remotely using your phone’s camera to take pictures of a check’s front and back. This bank’s application supports mobile deposits. Unfortunately, the mobile deposit function has a monthly limit of $5,000.

This means that every month I have to drive to a branch location and use its ATM. Every month I’m forced to go out of my way to stand in front of a glorified computer planted in the outside wall of the bank branch and physically feed a few pieces of paper into a device. By the way, in case you’re thinking that this limit is due to some government regulation, my credit union, a small fraction of the size of this bank, allows mobile deposits of up to $100,000.

So every month I’m reminded of how inconvenient this bank makes it to use its services. Do you think this makes me a satisfied customer? It does not. It makes me extremely unhappy and motivated to find a way to terminate my relationship.

3 tips on creating mobile apps that delight customers

So it’s not enough to create a mobile application. You need to create a mobile application that aligns with how customers want to do business with your company. Here are three tips to help you achieve this:

1. There's more to mobile than a smaller screen.

If you assume that a mobile device is just a smaller computer, you'll tend to focus on porting the browser experience to a, well, smaller browser. In fact, mobile phones are different devices with different capabilities, so recognize those capabilities and use them as the foundation of your mobile application. Large Bank 1 lets me log in using my phone's fingerprint recognition feature, avoiding the password lookup and cut-and-paste required for a password-based login. It won’t surprise you that Large Bank 2 still requires a password to launch its mobile application. 

2. Replace UI with UX. 

While it’s important to recognize the characteristics of a mobile device when envisioning a mobile application, your analysis should extend beyond the device itself and into the experience of the person using the device. The key is to rethink how the device and mobility can be used to change the user experience. This is where the discipline of design thinking comes in. It starts with understanding the experience of the customer through questions and empathy. Next, rethink the process to increase convenience and satisfaction.

Large Bank 2's deposit limit is a good example. While keeping the monthly limit low reduces risk, it ignores the fact that once customers start using mobile deposit, they are going to want to make all their deposits that way, including larger ones. 

3. Rethink business practices and policies to align with your new customers' demands. 

Banks are having to figure out how to address the desires of millennials. One characteristic of this cohort is that they treat mobile devices as the primary way to engage with organizations rather than as an ancillary engagement mechanism grafted on to a physical-first relationship.

That means they’d rather listen to nails on a blackboard than darken the door of a bank branch. This makes it challenging for them to open a bank account, which typically requires a visit to show someone a piece of identification. However, I recently worked with a financial company that verified identity by allowing customers to take a selfie holding a driver’s license next to their face. So rethinking business practices can uncover new ways to complete tasks. The payoff is increased customer satisfaction.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the difference between a winning and losing mobile application is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Mobile is reshaping the way people use the Internet and transforming their interactions with businesses. Getting mobile right is crucial for the future and is a core IT capability.