In my work for Abavus I quite often meet with councils who are unsure why they really need to develop a mobile app. After all, if people have access to websites, telephone helplines and customer centres then why do they also need an app? Isn’t an app just another way of accessing the internet? A recent report showed that the majority of e-commerce traffic now comes from mobiles and tablets rather than from desktop computers. There’s been a massive growth in the use of these devices to access shopping sites – in 2010 just 3% of e-commerce traffic came via mobiles. In 2014 that number is 52%. Although these numbers relate to e-commerce, this trend towards mobile still have serious implications for councils and other public sector organisations. In this blog post I’ll explain more about why I think that is and suggest why all councils need to think seriously about offering their citizens access via an app.

  1. People spend more time on mobile apps than they do browsing the web – Online behaviour is changing and the main driver for this change is the growth in ownership of smart phones. In the UK over 60% of the population now have smart phones, and research shows that smart phone users spend 89% of the time that they’re consuming mobile media in apps – that’s an average of 30 hours of app usage per person per month. Typical smart phone users spend just 11% of their phone time on mobile web browsing, unsurprising when you consider that browsing the web is often a fairly unrewarding experience on a small mobile phone screen. But whilst most businesses recognise the importance of making sure their websites are optimised for mobile, relatively few have considered developing an app, and the same is true of councils and other public sector organisations. If you don’t have an app then the likelihood is that people won’t interact with you via their smartphones. Indeed, 85% UK consumers state that they prefer interacting with organisations via mobile apps to mobile websites. Apps are popular because they’re easier to navigate, more responsive and much more convenient to use. No wonder an expected 4.4 billion mobile users will use apps by 2017.
  2. An app can help you build ongoing relationships with people – If mobile users visit a website they generally don’t give it another thought after they’ve left. They’re not really engaged with the site. However if someone makes the effort to download an app then you know that they’re engaged. This gives you the opportunity to develop a real relationship with them through your app. An app can provide an easy way for customers to offer feedback on all aspects of your services and their experiences interacting with your organisation. This can give you a valuable insight into what you’re doing right and which areas of your service need to be improved. You can send targeted, personalised communications to your app users that will make them feel special and drive additional interaction. People tend to have a much more emotional relationship with their mobile phones that they do with any other piece of computing equipment they might use. You can benefit from this by providing citizens with a personal experience via their mobiles that will extend their connection with you.
  3. Your citizens are already moving to mobile – Demand for mobile devices has skyrocketed. Approximately one in five people around the world own a smartphone and this number is growing all the time. UK smartphone and tablet sales grew by 18% last year and these numbers are continuing to rise. A recent report by Google showed that the number of mobile searches for last minute hotel bookings grew by a massive 411% between June 2011 and June 2012, while the number of desktop searches for the same thing fell by 79%. With nearly as many mobile devices as people in the world, and more iPhones being sold than babies born in the world every day, the mobile commerce revolution is just getting started and it will affect councils and other public sector organisations just as much as it does commercial organisations.
  4. The easier it is for people to communicate with you, the more you’ll find out from them – People carry their phones with them almost all the time. On average people check their phones more than 100 times per day. That means that phones provide an excellent way of getting immediate feedback at the point at which an issue is top of people’s minds. Imagine a citizen notices an abandoned car. Reporting that to you by traditional means requires them to be sufficiently motivated to remember the details and then to call you, go to your website or visit a contact centre. However if they have a council app on their phone then the process is quite different. They can take a photo of the car and send that picture to you, tagged with a location so you can see exactly where the car is on a map along with all other relevant details. All this can be done in the moment before the person forgets or is distracted, hugely increasing the chances that you’ll get the information you need quickly and with all the relevant details included.
  5. Enabling people to communicate with you via an app will save you money – People expect to be able to interact with organisations via their mobile phones. Not only are people moving away from desktop computing towards mobile and app-based computing, they’re also moving away from using their phones for making phone calls towards using them as mini-computers. Offering an app will reduce the number of citizens who need to speak to you, either face to face or over the phone, in order to handle their transaction. This is win-win. Citizens feel that they can communicate with you quickly and easily whilst you save money by reducing the number of transactions that your contact centre has to handle. A mobile app can play a vitally important role in your channel shift strategy in a way that’s of benefit to both you and your citizens.