What's your smartphone app's unique value proposition?

CIOs who offer a unique value proposition with their smartphone app strategies can get a huge payback.

At this week's SearchCIO360 dinner in San Francisco, we spent quite a lot of time talking about the smartphone apps developed by our esteemed guests, CIOs and IT directors. Two apps in particular -- deployed by the CIOs of Safeway and BevMo -- alleviated a common annoyance of daily life: coupon clipping. Download those apps, and they not only make suggestions as to shopping lists but track deals and save you cash. Their unique value...

proposition is to help improve the customer's life and increase customer loyalty.

San Francisco is a busy town. Anyone who has ever tried to find a cab at rush hour knows what a pain it is. There's an art to it -- you stand on a street corner so that you can double your traffic stream. And of course, there are better corners to stand on to increase your chances that a cab for hire will happen past you. Then there's the heartbreak as cabs pass by, filled with the lucky people who already had rides. Admit it: You might indulge in hating them a little bit.

On this trip I was saved from that annoyance by the elegant and simple Uber app. The idea behind this app is relatively straightforward: It uses your smartphone's GPS and the GPS of the Uber car service's drivers to match you to a nearby, available car for hire. Using traffic patterns, it tells you that your driver will be coming by in the next four minutes. You can watch on the map to see exactly where your ride is -- and the Uber app also gives you the opportunity to connect with the driver. It's a clever use of technology to solve a universal problem.

But wait, here's the elegant part. The Uber app already has your credit card on file, and it charges the card for the trip plus a standard tip for the driver. You don't have to worry about any awkward exchange of cash -- or that you'll have to stiff the driver because you're out of singles. The car drops you off at your destination, and you thank the driver and step out. Then the Uber app sends you an email receipt and asks you to rate the driver on a scale of 1 to 5 -- and if you score them a 3 or less, the app asks what they did wrong. Does that feedback ever matter? Don't know, but the autonomy is definitely back in the hands of the customer.

Because Uber cars are all luxury vehicles, the service costs a little more than your typical nuts-and-bolts taxi cab -- but you know what? I've been using it all over the place. I'm willing to pay four bucks more to be able to use my credit card and not have to sit there waiting for the driver to make change for a twenty. I'm thrilled to not have to wonder if I need to look more eager to get the cab drivers to stop. It's an addictive service for customers because it's like having a legion of benevolent uncles waiting to drive you around -- and they all own Town Cars and Mercedes-Benz sedans.

The Uber app is a clever use of technology to solve a universal problem.

Due to a wrong turn (that I wasn't charged for, BTW) tonight, I had an opportunity to talk to one driver about his experience as a service provider. He was happy with the fact that he didn't have to worry about being stiffed by a customer and with the fact that he already knew whom he was picking up, which increased his level of personal safety. What's more, he said that thefts were down as well because the drivers didn't have to carry a ton of cash.

Certainly Safeway and BevMo have more opportunities to impress the customer. Their unique value proposition is more complex than just the fact they rely on a smartphone app. Not all of their customers are using their apps, nor do their customers need to use the apps to enjoy the store. However, the basis on which Uber operates demands the use of smartphone telephony. Its unique value proposition comes entirely from the architecture of its technological delivery of the product -- a classic Town Car ride.

From what I've seen on social media, Uber has attained a cultish love among the denizens of San Francisco. Everyone mentions the added cost, but they do so with a shrug, as if to say that the convenience factor definitely makes the cost worthwhile. All thanks to a smartphone app.

These kinds of waterfall effects are unexpected when the problem to be solved is the wait for an available cab. When they happen, however, it truly is gravy for CIOs. Additional perks might seem theoretical in the conception phase, but they really make the difference when it comes to customer relationships -- and can even help a cheapskate like me justify paying a small markup out of my own pocket for on a quick ride across the city.

What are you doing to make your customers into rabid fans of your business? What's your unique value proposition for future smartphone apps?

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