When it comes to mobile, most companies will probably be presented with the decision of whether they should develop a native mobile app. You’ll probably have seen many blogs, discussions, reports etc. on the app versus responsive web debate, but how do you really know which is right for your company? Actually, I don’t think it’s a case of one is better than the other per se.

The choice is dependent on your business goals, the goals of your customers and the context in which mobile will be used by customers (if at all). But other factors will also contribute to your decision e.g. developer skills, timeline and budget. When we’re working with clients, the following questions help to inform whether a native app is really needed…

Are Your Customers’ Mobile Users?

It sounds obvious, but what percentage of your customer base has a mobile and one that lends itself to an app? While around 70% of the UK population have a smartphone, this doesn’t mean the statistic relates to your customer base.

How Frequent Is Customer Contact?

Are customers calling daily, weekly or once a year? Infrequent contact makes a native app much less compelling than for a customer who is calling to top up their phone or pay their bill weekly or monthly.

Is It Worth The Extra Development Time & Cost?

The downside of creating a separate native app is the increase in development time and maintenance costs. With advances in mobile web technology such as HTML5, much more is possible in terms of functionality and user interface (UI) design without relying on a native app. This means some of the benefits previously only seen from apps, such as making use of handset features (e.g. GPS and camera), are now possible through mobile web.

Apps still beat mobile web in speed and performance, so if your customer tasks are reliant on those kinds of features, then a mobile app approach may be better for your customers. But developing a responsive web UI means maintaining only one web application. Hybrid apps could also be an alternative i.e. a HTML user interface in a native wrapper.

Will A Mobile App Improve Customer Experience?

Much more is also possible with responsive web design in terms of user experience. A web user interface can be designed and used to work consistently across multiple devices (mobile, tablet, desktop). Really think about what your customers need from their mobile experience. Can tasks be achieved from a mobile web interface, or even your existing IVR? IVRs can get a bad press, but designed effectively, they can offer a quick and efficient way of serving your customers without the need for downloading a separate app.

In Summary…

Really think about the benefits a native app will give you and your customers. Just because everyone (including your competitors!) may seem to be jumping on the app bandwagon, in a lot of cases you’ll be able to deliver a great user experience through mobile web and traditional channels such as your IVR without the need for a separate native app.

So, do you really need an app? The ultimate goal is to develop a customer experience that supports the needs, behaviours and expectations of your customers, seamlessly, across relevant channels and devices. The questions above intend to set out some pointers when considering a native app. But if you haven’t already done the research to find out your customer needs, behaviours and expectations, then that should be your first step.