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iPad Apps and Customer Empowerment

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Five Considerations when Deploying iPad in Your Business

Factors to consider before deploying the iPad

It hasn't taken long for the iPad to create a big buzz in the business world. Most of the stories focus on how it makes easier the lives of attorneys, physicians and other professionals using it.

 

A Computerworld article details stories of happy iPad business users, including 100 attorneys at Chicago law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal who like the devices so much they were willing to buy them with their own money. Even more attorneys will likely use them if the firm decides to offer it as a laptop alternative, something the director of application services says it is considering. A cardiac surgeon says he and several colleagues like the "low profile" of the iPad during exams and use an iPad application to access patients' electronic health records.

 

A Wall Street Journal article quotes Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, as saying that half of the Fortune 100 are testing or deploying iPads. Among companies using iPads mentioned in the article: Mercedes-Benz Financial, which created an application that lets dealerships begin the credit-application process while customers are standing near a vehicle; Kaiser Permanente; and Bausch & Lomb.

 

As both Computerworld and the Journal note, the iPad has been quickly accepted by IT departments because it uses the same software as the iPhone. While IT departments largely rejected the iPhone when it first came out, they changed their position when Apple added support for Microsoft Exchange and business-friendly security and management features to its software. As PCWorld.com reports, with an OS upgrade due in November, the iPad will gain the ability to wirelessly print documents, share files and multitask.

 

Some companies are also taking advantage of the iPad's ability to strengthen relationships with their customers. Earlier this week I interviewed John Roddy, the senior vice president of Logistics and Distribution for Arhaus Furniture, an upscale furniture retailer that will test six iPads in its local Cleveland market in November. The company then hopes to roll out the devices to 52 delivery drivers in 13 states by the end of the year. Working with partner TOA Technologies, an on-demand provider of mobile workforce-management software, the company created applications that promise to transform both back-office and customer-service aspects of the delivery process.

While I played up theiPad's ability to streamline back-office processes and improve operational efficiency, it will also add a huge "wow" factor for Arhaus customers. Upon meeting customers, delivery drivers will hand over an iPad, which will show a message from the company's owner thanking them for their purchase. Customers will then be able to browse through an online catalog while the driver unpacks and sets up their furniture.

If there is a problem with the purchase, the application will allow the driver to resubmit an order then and there, which Roddy says will speed delivery of replacement merchandise by three to five days. When the delivery is complete, drivers will use the iPad to collect an electronic signature, which will generate an invoice and prompt the financial system to e-mail a receipt to the customer.

Most folks who use the iPad seem to love it. Roddy, Arhaus' head of IT and the company's senior executives are all iPad converts, and he thinks the burly drivers will find them far easier to work with than the cell phones they use on the road now. Because of its intuitive interface, Roddy thinks little training time will be required for the iPad. Said Jennifer Friedman, TOA Technologies' vice-president of marketing who sat in on my interview with Roddy:

The iPad offers a pleasurable experience for everyone involved, the drivers and the customers. We think that alone is a great benefit.

A "pleasurable" experience is good, of course, but it's even better when it's empowering. Arhaus is just one of the companies mentioned by CRM expert Brent Leary in a Focus discussion of how social channels, mobile technology and location-based services could change the way companies approach customer service by giving customers more control over their own destinies. In addition to Arhaus, Leary (whom I interviewed about social CRM last August) provides other examples of companies that are improving operational efficiency while simultaneously wowing their customers. Among them: Southwest Airlines, Walgreens and Chase.

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