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

Mary K. Pratt | Oct. 14, 2015
How four organizations tapped into fast-moving advances in mobile technology to crank up the functionality of their existing customer offerings.

"We have a closed-loop network, so we work with millions of merchants across 100-plus countries. And the number of operational systems that have been supporting the functionality has grown over time," he says. "This sets the foundation, so we're not reinventing the wheel every time."

Wolf says the Pay with Points app works regardless of form factor. Customers can use it whether swiping their card at a fast-food register terminal or paying with their card via Apple Pay in a cab.

"We are completely agnostic in terms of the form factor, in keeping with our goal to go where our customers are," Wolf says.

Forrester's Ask calls the app "outstanding" and elegant in its simplicity. "They tend to get it right, and they tend to be cited as market leaders," she adds of American Express. "They do things that make sense for their businesses and that drive tremendous value."

Like most other companies, Amex uses some off-the-shelf technology combined with a significant amount of in-house engineering (using open-source technology) to power the Pay with Points function, Wolf says.

Amex officials don't report numbers publicly, but Wolf says that "millions of customers are paying with points, and it results in billions of points being redeemed through these new experiences." He also notes that the Pay with Points function is particularly important in attracting younger consumers who are big users of mobile.

Wolf says one challenge is enabling interaction that requires complex back-end processes while still keeping the consumer's experience simple, intuitive and fast. "It requires some heavy IT lifting," he says.

Amex met this challenge first by choosing investments wisely and putting the resources into the foundational assets, which included training and hiring the right IT talent for the tasks and moving to agile development; and second by creating a workplace culture that makes workers feel comfortable taking calculated risks. "Without that, a lot of these experiences wouldn't have made it to market," Wolf says.

"There are no other Pay with Points at point of sale. No one else can do it because our unique close-loop setup lets us do it," Wolf says, adding that the Pay with Points application is positively impacting both the company's top and bottom line.

United Airlines: United Mobile App

United Airlines has worked hard over the years to develop technology products that put more functions in consumers' hands. Airport kiosks for passenger check-in are a case in point.

So four years ago, when United saw that mobile would be the linchpin in its digital strategy, the airline went all in. "We started by putting ourselves in the role of the customer," says Scott Wilson, vice president of e-commerce and merchandising. "We know the ins and outs of the complexities of this industry, but we needed to think about what it means for our 400,000 daily customers."


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