Need for Consumer Centric thinking before building Mobile Applications

Last week I came across a Forrester report on mobile banking. The title of the report is “Consumers Are Apathetic about Mobile Banking”. It says “A Lack of Urgency and Availability of Other Channels Holds Back Adoption”. The executive summary is worth reading:

“Despite their bank or credit union imploring them to “bank anytime, anywhere,” online bankers and bill payers are uninterested in the mobile banking pitch. And while Gen X and Gen Y are slightly more receptive, the vast majority of online users are simply not interested in mobile banking. Sizeable advertising budgets by the top banks have generated awareness of the service, but mobile banking’s duplication of online banking functionality is failing to drive significant adoption. Why? Online bankers and bill payers don’t see their transactions as urgent enough to warrant mobile access. Instead, they prefer to wait until they can access the Web, ATM, or phone channel.”

The report cost US$ 279.00.

My first thought was, why would anybody spend that much money to buy a report which is reporting something obvious?I spend some time trying to think of a situation where I would need to use my mobile phone to make a banking transaction. I had a difficult time and could not think of an obvious example. I have asked around and had similar reaction from everybody.

Look at the irony of the whole situation. Banks spend money developing application which gives no benefit to the user. They spend money to try to popularize it. When it fails, Forrester spend money to commission a study to check if it has really failed. Then enterprises spends money to buy the report.

I was reminded of a book I had read long time back, “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore. The premise of the bookis that innovative element in any high-tech product may find an initial set of customers who are tech savvy but getting product accepted by other not so tech savvy people requires a different approach. The book outlines a strategy of achieving large scale acceptance and talks about few specific techniques. It is a must read for anybody venturing into building such innovative product.


Usage Scenario

One on the technique the book talks about is to create usage scenarios to gauge the acceptability of the product. The idea is to think of a possible consumer of the product and write a usage scenario of how the product could be used. Once few such scenarios are identified then the next step is to rate how usable is the product in each of the usage scenario on a scale of 1 to 5.

1 = Not usable

2 = Usable, but with no obvious benefits

3 = Nice to have – benefit not very important

4 = Should have – benefit important but there are alternatives

5 = Must have – benefit important and there are no alternatives

For a product to have possibility of large scale acceptance, it has to have a scenario with rating 5 or few scenarios with rating 4. This simple analysis can avoid lot of misdirected investment.

This technique is so relevant today when consumers are flooded with choice of products and services and where there is a proliferation of channels to access them. The key to this technique is to think of the product from the perspective of the consumer, which we can call Consumer-Centric thinking. It is common sense but it seems to be so uncommon among enterprises.


Consumer-Centric Thinking

Every enterprise has a process of identifying what new application needs to be built. This process may not be systematic and sometimes it can be very ad-hoc, but there will always be some thought process going on behind. Typically, this thought process falls into one of these three categories.

Enterprise-Centric thinking: What additional feature can we provide to our customer? What benefit will we get by making this available?

Example: Which part of our website can we make available on a mobile phone?

Technology-Centric thinking: What are the advances in the technology? Where can we apply it?

Example: What application can we develop for the latest iPhone?

Consumer-Centric thinking: For a specific consumer interaction, at a specific time and place, what does the consumer need from us? What is the best way to satisfy that need?

Example: I am in a meeting which is running longer than expected. I have to catch a flight and am getting late. I cannot step out of the meeting, which rules out check-in through the web site and it also rules out check-in through the call center. How else can I check-in?


Mobile Application

You need to be extra careful while trying to identifying applications for a mobile phone. That is because, except for the location aware applications, almost all other mobile application has to compete with an existing application available on a normal PC. In addition, mobile phones have several limitations like small screen size, limitation of the input device, processor power. Available bandwidth is limited and is more expensive. In addition we have the problem of fragmented software technologyfor the mobile phone and coexistence of different generation of hardware.

However, a mobile phone does have a few advantages over a PC. It is always available and over a period of time tends to become an extension of individual identity where part of our memory is stored in our mobile phone. In addition, mobile phones are location aware and they are always on.

This post on Mobile Enabling an Enterpriseprovides more detailed information on points to consider for building a mobile application.

In a nutshell, when you take a consumer-centric approach to decide what mobile application to build, you quickly come with the conclusion that it does not make sense to just extend all the features of your web site to the mobile. You need to construct usage scenario where the consumer …

  • … needs to access the application urgently and cannot wait
  • … does not have access to an Internet connected PC
  • … does not have to view large amount of information
  • … does not have to key in too much data

However, if you can think of any useful application, which behaves intelligently based on the physical location of the consumer, then it may be an application worth building.

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