In the early to mid-2000s, entertainment apps like Angry Birds overran app stores. But during the past couple of years, business apps have grown far faster than other types of apps. Between 2014 and 2015, developers built more than 128,000 business apps — a 210 percent increase from the previous year.
Now that enterprise companies have latched on to the app world, the question is no longer, “Is there an app for that?” Instead, today’s business leaders should ask themselves, “Do I really need an app for that?”
Why Apps Can’t Cut It
Communication is one of the biggest hurdles of business. You need to reach out to prospective customers, contact existing customers, and spread the word about your company. Business leaders face three great hurdles when getting their messages out:
1. Volume of Communication
Communicating with a large number of customers can be expensive and time-consuming. One option is to build an app and encourage people to download it, but 77 percent of consumers stop using an app within three days of installation. And considering that it takes an average seven months and $270,000 to develop an enterprise app, you’re likely to spend a lot trying to reach customers who don’t really want another app on their iPhones.
You could call each customer, but people don’t trust automated systems, and thousands of person-to-person calls are incredibly time-consuming. Email is a good bet because it’s an open network – you just need the email address to contact customers, regardless of email platform or provider. Unfortunately, spam filters tend to catch emails addressed to hundreds or thousands of people, and poor open rates make email a risky channel. SMS, however, has a 98 percent open rate and costs about 1 cent per message. There’s no better – or cheaper – way to communicate with thousands of people than the text.
2. Varied Communication Channels
Both internally and externally, the generational divide makes communication via app difficult. While Millennials prefer to use apps and tweets to communicate, Generation X tends to communicate via email. Baby Boomers are more accustomed to phone calls and direct mail. It’s also impossible to predict which channel a given industry might use. Some stock traders I know still use instant messenger software to communicate with one another, while many police and fire departments fax out crime reports.
The key to reaching people is to use the right channels. Worldwide, 85 percent of us use email, compared with just 62 percent who use social media. Fortunately, 92 percent of American adults and 75 percent of people worldwide own cellphones that receive text messages. Good luck getting three-quarters of your customers to download an app.
Internally, enterprise companies have spent lots of time trying to unify communications. Unfortunately, do-it-all conference systems are extraordinarily expensive and require lots of time to train employees on their use. Business leaders would be better served assuming all employees have cell phones and asking them to text a keyword to join a group chat. At worst, you’ll need to upgrade employees’ cellphone plans to unlimited texting, which costs about $20 per month.
3. Message Reception
Once you’ve sent your message, ensure your recipients actually read it. Read receipts were a good idea to solve this challenge, but people disabled them. Of course nobody wanted to be chastised for having read an email and not responded. Apps can’t cut it, either: Who knows which notifications employees or customers actually read? Even if somebody opened the app at a certain time and date, it’s impossible to know whether she read her notifications.
SMS offers an easy solution where email and apps can’t. Ninety-six percent of smartphones have SMS, and the average person checks her phone 150 times per day. For instance, you might think you need an app to survey customers or employees, but you could simply add a link to an SMS message that takes them to a webpage with the survey. Airlines want to ensure customers receive their boarding passes, and an SMS link could allow travelers to easily navigate to digital passes.
No App? No Problem
While apps come and go, SMS won’t. Even Facebook Messenger, the most popular instant-message app in the world, isn’t as popular as SMS. In business, the disparity is even more significant: A whopping 80 percent of people prefer SMS to apps for business purposes.
Don’t believe the hype: You don’t need an app for everything in business. And considering that the average app loses its entire user base in mere months, maybe you don’t even want an app for business communication.
Ash Rust is the CEO and co-founder of SendHub, a leading business communication company. He’s a coach at the Alchemist Accelerator. Ash served as an officer in the British Army before studying Computer Science at Exeter College, Oxford. Connect with @SendHub on Twitter.