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How 4 companies use mobile apps to court customers

Beth Stackpole | Oct. 29, 2013
Via the deployment of strategic apps, mobile presents businesses with a unique opportunity to engage customers with a product or service any time, anywhere, in a manner that is specifically tuned to their individual needs.

The greatest pain point: The primary challenge to pulling off Concierge Elite was navigating the ever-changing mobile device landscape, Maranville says. Freeman accomplished this by using a development tool called PhoneGap to provide a layer of abstraction around the app so it could easily be ported to different form factors and screen sizes and deployed in the different app stores. "Right now, our biggest challenge is staying caught up with all the devices and operating systems so we can provide the best experience without being tied to a specific device or screen size," Maranville says.

The payoff: Concierge Elite cost less than $500,000 to develop, and Maranville says the payback has been "huge" in terms of improved customer service. The mobile strategy has improved Freeman's customer service measurements by 300 basis points, and feedback continues to be positive. "Our focus has always been on customer service, but we saw [mobile] as a lever that can make us even better," Maranville says.

Toyota Financial Services: IT proves its mobile mettle
Location: Torrance, Calif.
Line of business: Financial
IT staff: 150 employees

The mobile opportunity: With a mandate from the CEO to improve the customer and dealer experience, it was a no-brainer that Toyota Financial Services (TFS) would deliver a mobile app to let customers access key services on the go. What was questionable was whether the internal IT team would spearhead the project or whether it would be handed off to an outside player considered to have deeper experience in mobile development practices. (Spoiler alert: IT got the job.)

What they launched: The project encompassed a series of mobile apps for the Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands, allowing for bill payment, simple account access and a dealer locator, among other services. Mobile websites were launched first for Toyota and Lexus in January 2011. These were followed by iOS versions for each of the three brands (myTFS, myLFS, and Scion Solutions) for the Apple App Store in October 2011 and then for Android in October 2012.

The technical details: The apps, developed with re-use in mind, were conceived as an extension of TFS' retooled consumer website. As opposed to taking a native development approach for each mobile platform, TFS choose to build out the app portfolio on a foundation of federated security and Web services, including the REST open source Web services technology.

The idea, says Marlo Donate, chief digital officer, is that once developed, the apps could quickly be ported to multiple mobile platforms in a relatively short time frame. Case in point: While the Toyota Financial Services and Lexus Financial Services mobile websites took eight months to develop, subsequent Mobile Click to Pay versions for the Android platform took only three and a half months.


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