Is There An App For That? Maybe There Should Be.

When the history of this era gets written, one phrase is almost sure to stand out. It’s the expression we’ve all overheard, or uttered ourselves: “There’s an app for that.” And often, upon checking, there already is. For businesses of all sizes, your app is central to securing a relationship with your customers. And internally, apps are increasingly doing the heavy lifting of increasing productivity, streamlining operations and reducing drudgery.

In the consumer space, if you’re a runner and you want to find out how far you jogged this morning, there’s an app for that. If you’re diabetic and want to monitor your blood sugar, there’s an app for that. If you’re a Taylor Swift fan, there’s an app for that too. Android users are able to choose between 2.8 million apps, while Apple’s App Store offers only 2.2 million of them. But don’t worry, more are on the way.

Clearly, the “app-mosphere” is evolving, as apps become the nexus of consumers lives, connecting everything from wearable devices to public transportation and small and mid-sized business operations. If it’s a customer-facing application you’re working on, simply gaining attention for your app is bound to become more difficult. U.S. smartphone users access 26 apps per month, according to a 2014 survey. But 80 to 90 percent of all downloaded apps are used only once. And 70 percent of the total app usage is coming from the top 200 apps.

Industries Being Disrupted By the App Craze

Meanwhile, whole industries are being disrupted by those little icons on your smartphone.

Take the taxi industry as an example. In late 2017, there were more app-based rides than taxi rides in the Big Apple, according to the New York Times. The gig economy and the sharing economies are both app-based. Need somebody to run a few errands for you? There’s app for that. Need somebody to walk your dog? Ditto. The way businesses acquire new customers used to be via the Yellow Pages. No longer. Today, it’s all about harmonizing with app world.

Business reputations rise and fall according to the dictates of certain apps. Today’s time-starved consumers don’t have time to ask for word-of-mouth recommendations from friends. Luckily there’s an app for that. Yelp and its ilk enable distraught customers to vent their horror stories. Or to express their love and appreciation when treated to excellent customer service.

I witnessed how valuable favorable reviews are to local merchants when my wife and I went shopping for a picture frame not long ago. We settled on a gorgeous gilt frame only to discover that it was almost as expensive as the artwork. When I asked the shop owner for a little relief on the, ah, price, he didn’t miss a beat. “Absolutely,” he responded. “If you’ll post a review on Yelp, I’ll gladly give you 20 percent off.”

Perhaps the greatest untapped potential for apps is in the workplace. Apps that increase productivity and empower employees are mushrooming in popularity, and this app market is just getting started. I recently spoke at a pest control industry conference and learned about a forward thinking company called Rentokil, based in the U.K.

Rentokil arms its field technicians with a proprietary app that helps them do their job more quickly, and with greater accuracy. When confused by a type of bug or rodent, the technician simply snaps a photo and runs Rentokil’s proprietary app, which sifts through a bank of pest images and quickly identifies the intruder. The app then suggests remediation solutions. Problem solved.

Businesses like Rentokil often go on to sell their apps on the open market to others in their industry. They are always on the lookout for apps that eliminate drudgery, enable customized solutions, and add unique value. Proprietary apps give sales professionals the information they need to solve problems on the spot in real time. Other apps help in troubleshooting, managing inventory, providing on-site estimates, generating invoices, and gathering customer data.

Scheduling apps are popular right now. With some, you can build employee schedules in seconds, track your team’s hours, and manage labor costs in real time. Workforce apps also enable employees to chat with coworkers in real time, request time off, or trade shifts. Employers can also track both paid and unpaid breaks and retroactively edit employee shifts to ensure accurate reporting. It’s also convenient for employees, since it gives them better access to schedules, shift trades, shift covers, time off requests, and availability.

Communications apps are also big these days. One of the fastest growing apps in this arena is Slack, which bills itself as a real-time messaging, archiving, and collaborative tool for teams. Slack offers a variety of messaging options, including group chats, and private channels that cannot be joined or viewed by others. It also allows users to drag and drop files, and seamlessly share information without having to switch to email.

Exploring Your Next App

To test the “app-mosphere” in your firm, here are three suggestions for staying ahead of the curve:

1) Keep abreast of apps coming online in your industry. Attend industry technology conferences and read the trade magazines. Try to figure out where are you and your company are on the app adoption curve. Is it time to play catch up with regards to apps for your customer base? What about apps for your employees? If other businesses have already adopted an app, what has their experience been? Check out apps that are already available that you can purchase, and “plug and play.”

2) Experiment with new apps. Look for where and how your employees might benefit from being able to use an app, rather than doing something by hand? How might providing customers with an app provide faster service? Not all apps will fit your strategy, or will be accepted by your team. But keep trying new ones out and dropping those that don’t prove effective.

3) Pioneer new apps. Where do ideas for apps come from? They come from people like you, observing their own unmet needs, paying attention when somebody says “there’s got to be a better way to do X.” And taking action, which is the hard part. Innovators wade in where there’s an unmet or unarticulated need. So I’ll end this “app-rap” by suggesting an app that doesn’t exist, but should exist, and maybe will exist at some point in the future. Traditional lie detector machines measure and record several physiological indices such blood pressure, pulse, respiration and skin conductivity, while the subject is asked a series of questions. Deceptive answers apparently produce physiological responses that can be differentiated from those associated with non-deceptive answers. The technology has been around since the 1930s, and is good enough to be admissible in courts of law. But why not make an app out of all this and skip the hoses and wires and have the app record these vitals when your smartphone is sitting before you on a surface? If the app were free, everybody would download it to test it out. my app would be connected via bluetooth to your smartphone and they’d exchange information. Suppose everybody could use it free for the first 10 times, and after that there was a small charge for each use? How many relationships would be improved knowing that this app-based fact-checker was listening? How might it improve social trust?

This could be the start of something!