It wasn’t too long ago that public touch screens and kiosks were widely popular choices for retail stores, restaurants, travel hubs, banking, workout equipment and more. Customers appreciated the convenience and efficiency of touch screens, and businesses benefited from the ability to streamline, automate and track their customer interactions.
But it only took a few months — and a devastating global pandemic — to change all that. Researchers have found that the virus that causes COVID-19 can linger on surfaces like touch screens for as long as 3 days. For many people, using public kiosks now means arming yourself first with gloves or hand sanitizer — or, better yet, avoiding them entirely and seeking alternative options.
By the time the worst of the pandemic has passed and global lockdowns are lifted, consumer habits will have changed irrevocably. In order to stay competitive and relevant in a post-COVID world, businesses need to change, too. Transitioning your business away from public touch screens to handheld mobile devices could be one of the most important strategic moves you make in the coming months.
While the sudden demand for this transition presents a challenge, the good news is it also creates powerful opportunities. After all, mobile tech offers many additional ways for companies to interact with their customers and vice versa, compared to public kiosks and touch screens alone. You’ll have the option to bring in possible solutions and capabilities like Bluetooth location beacons, facial recognition, voice control, geofencing, QR codes and NFC communication for data transfer and more.
For companies ready to start exploring this transition and enabling contactless interactions through customers’ personal mobile devices, here’s a guide to getting started. We’ll take a look at the first steps to take, some of the solutions available to you, the risks and challenges you might face and other considerations that will be key to successfully moving your business ahead. Although the approach will vary depending on whether you have an existing mobile app or not, similar factors will guide much of your decision-making in either situation.
1. Be prepared for common challenges and create a plan to address them.
Let’s be realistic: even though it’s a vital business move in this post-COVID world, transitioning from public touch screens to handheld devices won’t be without challenges, whether you have an existing mobile app or not. Knowing what you’re getting into is the first step to navigating those challenges successfully. Here are a few of the most common hurdles you could face:
- User education. Even though customer demand is high for handheld alternatives to public touch screens and touchless interactions in general, navigating the transition period will depend on creating a strong plan for educating and communicating with your users. They’ll need to understand what options are available to them through your mobile app, how to use them, and — most importantly — how these options will benefit them.
- Mobile app adoption. Along similar lines — if you are planning to replace a public kiosk with a mobile app, a major challenge will be getting your customers to download and use your app. Although demand is high among many customers, others may be more skeptical. You’ll need to make sure you’ve got strategies in place to encourage a high mobile app adoption rate and that you’re monitoring this rate and adjusting your strategies accordingly. If you have an existing app already, looking at your current adoption rates and increasing them will be vital.
- Seamless customer service. Providing seamless customer service and support through a mobile app is a top goal for this transition, but also a significant challenge. You’ll need to ensure that help is easily within reach for your customers, especially when face-to-face interactions may be limited or non-existent. Whether its FAQs, chat capabilities, phone lines, or more, plan to make support easy to access and be ready to address customer frustrations through a variety of approaches.
- Technology limitations. Depending on your business and whether you have an existing app or not, effectively transitioning away from public touchscreens and harnessing the full potential of a mobile touchless environment may require significant technological leaps. Incorporating technologies ranging from computer vision and machine learning or capabilities like document detection and facial recognition could be a significant undertaking. An effective R&D process will be critical to bring these technologies into a mobile device, especially for companies with existing hardware that needs to be integrated with a new mobile app experience.
No challenge is insurmountable, but all of them should be considered and factored into your development and transition process. These challenges will impact not just how your mobile app is developed, but also your broader transition strategy to ensure both new and existing customers are fully on board with the new process and engaged with your business.
2. Understand your customer and determine your mobile app’s most common use-case.
As you start to approach planning your transition to a mobile app, a crucial starting place is truly understanding who your customer is and how they’ll want to use an app, especially when public touch screens are no longer an attractive option for them. This may or may not be the same thing as how you want your customers to use the app. And it may or may not be the same thing as how your customers currently use your public kiosks.
For example, what are your customers’ demographics? Who is your target market? What type of tech do they gravitate towards? When it comes to mobile devices, does the majority of your target market use iOS or are they more likely to be Android users?
These are important questions, not least because it’s probably going to be most cost and time efficient to start with an app on one mobile platform and then defer the other platform for a bit later, unless your branding dictates differently. If it’s not possible to choose one platform over the other for your business, you can develop both versions of your app simultaneously — but be prepared to adjust your timeline and budget accordingly.
Next, determine how your customers would use a mobile app to accomplish the same (or similar) goals as they would through a public touchscreen. What problem does your customer have that your app can solve? In other words, what is the most common mobile app use-case for your customers? For example, would they be more likely to make a purchase through the app, seek information, submit data, make a reservation, request assistance, track their progress or something else? Do your customers have vital tasks that are currently not enabled through your public kiosk that could be handled through an app?
Once you determine the most common-use case, your initial move in transitioning away from public touchscreens should be either (1) implementing it into a new mobile app if you don’t have one already, or (2) adding more self-service features into your app to meet this common use-case while transitioning out your public kiosks. As time goes on, you can increase your app’s capabilities to bring in additional use-cases, but the smartest and most efficient way to begin is with the one that will be the most useful to the most users.
3. Identify and evaluate potential touchless solutions.
Once you determine your initial use-case as a starting point, you can begin to identify and evaluate the solutions that will get you there.
Mobile apps that replace public touch screens can incorporate any number of capabilities, depending on how they’re used. We’ve already seen leaps away from public touchscreens towards personal mobile tech in a number of industries in a number of ways. For example, airlines have been increasing mobile options for check-ins and in-flight entertainment, and mobile devices are speeding up customs screenings at international airports. Mobile apps enable cashless payments and touchless banking, and they facilitate ticket purchases, rental cars, restaurant orders and in-person shopping, such as at Amazon’s cashierless stores.
How many capabilities your app will need will depend on how and why your customers will use your app. For example, what level of authentication is needed to verify their identity, if any? How much does your app need to communicate and interact with the space around it? What about integrating with other software, hardware or infrastructure your business relies on?
To start, here’s a list of some of the possible solutions available to you:
- Authorizing user access with Face ID or other methods. One of the first questions to ask is how users will be granted access to the features that your mobile app will provide. For example, an app could harness mobile face ID or could require a PIN for user authorization, among other methods. The level of authentication and type of security needed would depend on how the app will be used — e.g., a mobile app aiming to replace an ATM machine would likely need a multi-layered set of identity verification protocols versus an app used to order food at a restaurant.
- Detecting position with Bluetooth beacons and other location-based triggers. A mobile app replacing a public touch screen might take advantage of the indoor positioning systems or real-time locating system capabilities possible through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or other proximity beacons. Similarly, geofencing techniques can enable an app to spring into a pre-programmed action when the mobile device enters a defined area. These capabilities are likely a good fit for apps that help users navigate a space (such a shopping mall, an airport, or a museum) or in retail environments, among others.
- Enabling touchless data transfers and one-to-one kiosk interactions with QR codes or NFC communication. Even if you’re deploying a mobile app to transition away from a touch screen on a public kiosk, some sort of one-to-one kiosk interaction could likely still be needed or beneficial for your customer or business. An app could make this interaction touchless. Users could quickly scan a QR code with their mobile device or enter a one-time code provided to them in order to access the kiosk or begin their interactions. And of course, these interactions may need to be two-way, as well — QR codes could also be deployed to pass customer data from a mobile app to an external kiosk in a touchless data transfer. Near Field Communication (NFC) can also enable a mobile device to read data from electronic tags installed on location, whether it’s for check ins, data transfer or other purposes.
- Freeing up hands with voice control. Building voice control into apps and touchless kiosks could prove essential to minimize touch-based interactions in the post-COVID environment.
- Providing better touchless customer service with facial recognition. Facial biometrics also have rapidly increasing applications in a touchless world, since the technology is relatively easy to deploy and requires little to no physical interaction. In addition to authorizing access or verifying a customers’ identity, a mobile app replacing a public touch screen can bring in facial recognition capabilities or other biometrics for a number of reasons, whether it’s smarter advertising, more effective product recommendations, and more. Recent advances in emotion recognition, in particular, could help you assess your customers’ experience and guide them to better customer service through your app.
- Creating an SDK so partners can use your mobile technology. Depending on your business and your use-case for your app, there may also be powerful opportunities to incorporate partners into your mobile business environment. In that case, building an effective mobile software development kit (SDK) or devkit in conjunction with your app can provide the tools to enable these partnerships and facilitate seamless integration.
- Transferring data via audio without any other network. In some situations, it may not be possible or ideal to depend on a Wi-Fi connection, Bluetooth or a cellular data network to connect with your customers and their mobile device. Integrating data-over-audio (also known as an audio data modem) could enable offline and network-free data transfer. You could harness features or capabilities like automatic content recognition (ACR), audio fingerprinting, proximity alerts, broadcasting and authentication, to name a few. It works with any device that has a microphone and speakers.
These are just a few examples of possible solutions. All of them will require special considerations and strategic decision-making when it comes to the design, development, deployment, maintenance and support of your mobile app, of course. For example, some capabilities might need to be in place right away, while others could be more slowly introduced and incorporated over time in an iterative process. This means that strong long-term planning and sound project management will be key to your app’s success.
4. Assess your resources and determine where you need to expand them.
Transitioning from public kiosks and touch screens to personal handheld devices is obviously going to take resources and a strong, skilled team behind you. Understanding and planning ahead for these needs for all phases of your project — from the design and development to the maintenance and operation — will be key. Your approach here will vary depending on whether you are in the camp of creating a new app as a dedicated replacement for a public kiosk, or planning to expand on an existing app.
- Expanding an existing app. If your company relies on public kiosks and touch screens but you also already have an existing mobile app, then your challenge will be adding additional functionality to facilitate the touchless transition. It’s important to evaluate not just what your app can do right now vs. your new proposed use-case, but also what resources you’ll need to enhance it on the back end. Many apps initially built for specific purposes may not be immediately capable of integrating more advanced solutions that rely on higher-level tech. You’ll need an API and back-end team that’s ready to make the changes needed to support your app’s next level. Don’t neglect the front-end, either. Make sure you have the UI/UX expertise on hand to ensure your expanded app’s interface encourages a higher number of customers to use the app at your locations instead of public kiosks. Finally, your operations and maintenance resource needs may change as your app’s functionality changes, so plan ahead for that.
- Creating a new app. If you don’t already have a mobile app, then you’ll need a dedicated team that can build a new app with a limited, but well designed and focused, feature set to replace your current public touch screens. You’ll need to plan sufficient team resources for the entire lifecycle—from designing and developing the app, to implementing it, and then operating it and upgrading it as needed. It’s going to be critical to have an experienced product manager who can ensure effective communication between the technical team and your business stakeholders throughout this process.
5. Understand and mitigate the risks involved with the transition.
COVID-19 may have effectively made the decision to begin transitioning away from public touchscreens for all of us. Public touch screens have become too high of a risk for customers, and consequently too high a risk to depend on for your business. But as you plan to make the transition, it’s important to assess the risks that will be involved from your end as well. For example:
- Not moving fast enough. Customers will be (and are already) selecting touchless business over old-school touchscreens at unprecedented rates. There’s a risk in rolling out mobile-first interactions too slowly and losing customers in the process. Your goal should be to deliver the first version of your new or expanded app within 6 months, so you can start getting user feedback and incorporating it as soon as possible.
- Not being ready on the back end. As mentioned above, your API and back-end services need to be ready to support advanced mobile features. You either need to augment your team with additional back-end resources, or else have a separate back-end team that is working in conjunction with the mobile team.
- Not appealing to — listening to — your users. Your app’s success is going to depend on (1) an excellent user interface and (2) rock-solid responsive user support. Both — especially the strong support — will be essential for securing good reviews from users on your app once it’s deployed. To replace a public kiosk, your app needs to be not just useful but easy and fun to use. Otherwise, any gains you make in getting users to adopt your app will be lost when they uninstall it. You may even lose them as customers, if they find a better solution to their problem elsewhere.
- Not coordinating well with other partners and supporting technology. Integrating with third-party partners could be vital to the long-term success of your app in a post-COVID world. You’ll need to plan ahead to successfully coordinate with other CTOs, as well as ensure your app is ready to support this kind of integration with a solid STK in place.
Conclusion — Preparing for the Future
Investing in the technological overhaul required to transition away from public touch screen kiosks is understandably a significant decision for any business. This is especially the case in the increasingly uncertain economic circumstances brought on by COVID-19. Every decision from this point forward has the potential to shape your company’s future success — or failure — for good.
Just remember that we can’t control how the world changes, but we can control how we adapt to it. With smart long-term planning and the right mix of skills and capabilities, companies with public touchscreens can navigate the transition to mobile successfully and come out ahead on the other side with a solution that opens new doors.
But expediency is key. Understand the challenges and risks, prepare your teams, and then get started. Move forward into the world of contactless tech. Your customers are there already, waiting for you. It’s no longer about preparing for the future — thanks to COVID-19, the future is here. The time to act is now. Get ready, and good luck!
Can Genium help connect you with top-notch mobile app development expertise?
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