Mobile Must Evolve: Open Mobile Summit Day One

Companies shouldn't linger at a mobile-centric strategy, experts say. Susan Kuchinskas reports.

The first day of the Open Mobile Summit 2017 made one thing clear: Mobile is one aspect of what must be a unified customer experience. While some admitted that their mobile strategies were still in development, the majority of the mobile experts who assembled on the stage are pondering how to be truly omnichannel—especially as new devices and technologies come in faster and faster waves.

Platform-ization of everything

One approach to the omnichannel imperative is the platform approach, in which a company works with a federation of partners to bring new kinds of services in, as well as to distribute its services beyond the confines of its servers.

Carey Kolaja, global chief product officer, Citibank, explained that the financial institution is moving to a platform approach by creating a mechanism and technology platform that allows third parties to come build experiences within its brand.

"By … capitalizing on them, we're starting to create amazing experience for customers," she said.

Chris Sperandio, product manager of Segment, agreed that this approach is necessary. "The most impactful customer experiences are powered by a data-agnostic strategy. Future-proof your data strategy by adopting a platform mindset," he said.

Examples of the possibilities in this approach flew during a panel moderated by Gina Michnowicz, CEO of the integrated advertising agency Union+Webster.

Panelists Arthur Orduna, chief innovation officer for Avis; Haden Kirkpatrick, vice president of innovation for Esurance; and Kathe Anchel, director of product management at Citibank, were almost making deals onstage. For example, they suggested, when someone rents a car from Avis—or books a Zipcar, another Avis brand—why couldn't she get an on-the-spot quote for short-term insurance and have the option to pay in a variety of ways?

In a platform-centric world, companies need to understand how their APIs stack up against competitors. Dan Lee, product manager for mixpanel, an analytics provider, identified four universal KPIs for product health—although many customers are focused on only one or two. The critical KPIs were:

  • Usage
  • Retention
  • Engagement
  • Conversion

Investment, innovation and KPIs

While some companies have innovation officers or teams charged with peering into the future, they must get buy-in from business executives. While the metrics for skunkworks projects may be different, would-be innovators must be able to make some kind of business case for projects.

Balancing growth with engagement and retention is another challenge for mobile companies. Several panels discussed the importance of the latter two, as well as the importance of personalization.

Bernadette Morgan, director of CRM for Tinder, said, "Driving value for a user is so much more valuable than an acquisition campaign. … At the end of the day, everyone has the same KPI--retention. That should be foremost of what you're thinking about."

Artificial intelligence to meet innovation challenges

Artificial intelligence was mentioned in almost every presentation at the Summit. Every reservation made on Airbnb interacts with AI it's developed, said Surbahi Gupta, director of engineering.

In 2018, TGI Fridays will launch an AI-powered virtual bartender that will create personalized drinks for guests. But Sherif Mityas, chief strategy officer, TGI Fridays, pointed out that the capabilities of AI will often exceed those of operations. For example, AI could provide a personalized menu for each diner—but how would the kitchen handle that?

Messaging app Verve has found that intelligent bots that learn about an individual user increase overall engagement and time spent with brands, according to Debbi Doughtery, head of B2B marketing.

Intuit is using the technology to answer tax software users' questions; the idea is that by tailoring the answers to an individual, it builds trust in the product. EBay uses AI for innovative services such as letting people take photos of their possessions to find out how much they might be worth.

Mark Rolston, co-founder and chief creative officer of Argo Design, brought the audience into the future, describing a time when we'll all have a "meta-me," that is, one that's the amalgam of all our digital data. Plugging AI into that would create an agent that could make its own decisions without us having to bother.

Bring the emotion

Striking an emotional chord is another way to increase engagement and retention. Brands are looking to technology to take them beyond the technology and into consumers' hearts.

Citibank's Kolaja sees her job as "elevating micro moments of attention to extraordinary moments that matter." Payments have always been a utility, she noted, but new technologies can let Citi tap into the emotional moments in our lives. For example, she'd like to be able to reach a new college graduate with information about managing her finances, or help someone getting his first paycheck to figure out savings and taxes. Without describing exactly how this might work, she said it's unlikely these moments will happen via someone logging onto the Citi website.

Mityas detailed the stages in the restaurant's mobile journey, from driving initial app installs to experimenting with in-restaurant functionality. He said that a guiding principle for the 50-year-old company's innovation efforts is that anything his team does must fit with the brand's persona: interaction that's fun and social.

Apps vs. mobile web vs. PWA

Apps are still a huge part of everyday mobile interactions—and fraud is a huge problem, said Sunil Bhagwan, vice president of North America sales for AppsFlyer. A Forrester survey of mobile marketers spending more than $1 million a month commissioned by AppsFlyer found that 88 percent thought they were successfully preventing fraud. Sixty-five percent used a manual approach to fraud detection, while 7 percent barely or not at all addressed fraud. Seven out of 10 planned to increase their ad spend. Meanwhile, the company calculates that one out of every 10 app installs is fraudulent.

Luke Chatelain, vice president of innovation at West Elm, and Thao Tran, head of global product partnerships for Google, described how the furniture retailer chose Google's Progressive Web App framework (PWA)—rather than a native app or responsive mobile site—for the company's mobile experience. The resulting site, still in beta and rolled out to only 25 percent of customers, led to a 15 percent increase in time on site, a 9 percent increase in mobile conversions, and a 9 percent increase in revenue per visitor.

Beyond mobile, architecting for a future we can't see

At this mobile conference, alternative ways of accessing data and services were top of mind for everyone. What's next? Voice interfaces and augmented reality were identified by several speakers as potentially important venues for customer experience.

Chris Sperandio, product manager of Segment, advised companies to avoid over-indexing on any given channel—including mobile. Instead, they should step back and make sure they have the infrastructure and data strategy in place to understand and optimize the customer experience in a channel-agnostic and agile way.

Nevertheless, Soofia Inayat, senior product manager for Sam's Club, Walmart, reminded the audience that today, "Mobile is ground zero for innovation and customer loyalty."