While Gartner has called this the “post-app era” it doesn’t mean smartphone users are abandoning their use of apps. The most popular on-demand, media and social apps – think Uber, Deliveroo, Google Maps, Facebook Messenger, YouTube – count for the majority of users’ time, which means it’s difficult for the proprietary native apps that brands have been building to get a look in.
A new opportunity for mobile engagement
Whether your customers are business users or consumers, everyone wants the same thing: their problems solved and questions answered, and quickly. Today that means delivering digital customer experiences that are consistent and efficient across multiple devices and channels.
With users congregating en masse in the most popular digital mobile spaces, there is a tremendous opportunity open to brands to reach their customers inside those apps they are spending a lot of time using.
For example, if your target is business customers, you might have more luck reaching them through Slack or Skype for Business than any of the app stores. For consumers it might be Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, good old SMS, up-and-coming RCS, or even Snapchat. But how do you do this?
Conversational micro apps
Rather than relying solely on heavy-duty native apps with multiple functions and menu levels, companies are instead beginning to deploy nimble, lightweight micro apps on messaging channels such as Facebook Messenger that offer a set of simple functions at a time, in a conversational context that makes it easy for users to interact.
For example, a bank might build a balance-checking micro app within a third-party app such as Facebook Messenger, using templates provided by the platform, and adding on customer ID verification through integration into back-end systems via APIs. Or balances could be accessed through Amazon Alexa by a simple voice command – with biometric voice recognition (in the near future) taking care of verification.
Unlike chatbots, which tend to be single channel, micro apps are channel-agnostic, and may well be designed to orchestrate customer journeys across multiple messaging channels. For example, an outbound SMS fraud alert may route the user to a micro app on Facebook Messenger.
Micro apps can also keep context, allowing customers to move seamless between channels and devices, and facilitate proactive end-to-end customer journeys across channels.
Proprietary mobile apps vs conversational micro apps
|Mobile Apps||Micro Apps|
|Must be installed and frequently updated, and passwords remembered||Accessed from inside popular messaging apps your customers are already logged in to without separate installations|
|Reactive – consumers use them only when they need to||Can also be proactive, based on business or consumer triggers|
|Lots of functionality to be navigated - most of it never used||Simple user interface. Customer just asks a question, taps icons, or chooses quick answers|
|Time-consuming to build and code, have to be rebuilt for different platforms, require constant maintenance||Low or no-code using APIs and third-party tools; can be embedded in many environments|
|Updates required to take advantage of new functionality, limiting frequency of roll-outs||Good for continuous optimisation. Updates can be deployed as and when needed without action by the end user|
|You have to push for installs then to get customers to use the app||Easily extend your reach as messaging apps already have billions of users|
|Large, unwieldy single apps trying to cater for everything a customer might want to do||Each micro app has a single or small set of functions, allowing easier development and deployment|
|Have to be re-installed when consumers move on to the next device||Future-proof – even if devices change, consumers will likely be using Messenger, WhatsApp and Slack for years to come|
The future is still digital, still mobile, and still apps
Conversational micro apps are a great additional opportunity for brands to engage customers on their preferred channels and in a more natural way, without major investment. They also extend reach – for example, one of our financial services clients has a fantastic mobile app, but it’s used by only 25% of their customer base. With so many customers already having popular messaging apps installed, and of course SMS, their reach has been extended to the rest of their base with little effort/expense.
As a bonus, doing it this way is much cheaper, far more flexible, and you can still use the back-end stack you’ve already built.
To find out more, download a copy of IMImobile’s eGuide to conversational micro apps.