How to Leverage Mobile for Customer Engagement: Part 1: Check-Ins

So you’ve got a business, a successful business, but you are always looking for ways to stand out amongst your competitors. Traditionally, your marketing department runs the standard stuff (TV ads, mails out coupons, limited time sales, seasonal promotions, etc.) but you’re hearing all about mobile these days and wondering if and how mobile can help your business. Maybe your marketing team has a ‘mobile website’ (which someone defined as a site that can be viewed on an iPhone — which pretty much all sites can) but hasn’t really seen and effect from it, maybe you even have an app that lets your customers find your closest store or you have a Twitter account with a few thousand followers. You’re marketing team thinks they are getting on the mobile bandwagon but does anyone there really understand WHY you should be on the mobile bandwagon and HOW to use mobile to enhance your business? Or are they just checking off buzz-words because everyone else is and thinking they are adding value.

It’s not easy to determine how different mobile and social services can fit into your business and how that can maybe even revolutionize how you communicate with customers but there are a few things you can look at to help decide what aspects of this new world you need to move on — before your competition does.

Ultimately, the over arching goal of your businesses interaction with your customers is called Customer Engagement (or at least that’s the term I’ll use here for that context). It starts before a customer has heard of your business and it never ends. That’s right, there is never a time where you give up on a customer and don’t think about how they are engaged with your business. Even if your product is selling shingles with a 25 year warranty, you want to keep finding ways for customers to be positively engaged — even if sporadically — to encourage positive word-of-mouth and referrals. The more frequently you are selling your product to someone, the more important continuous engagement is as you are trying for repeat sale after repeat sale and keeping the revenue flowing to the customer long-term.

There are a lot of mobile technologies that can make a big difference in engaging your customers. I will start by tackling different buzz words or technologies, look at what they are (briefly), how they can be leveraged and what cases they may be good or bad for. After all that I’ll talk about tying some of them together in a more cohesive mobile plan which is orders of magnitude more impactful than each on their own.


A check-in is basically someone saying “I’m here!”. The GPS co-ordinates of the mobile device used to execute the check-in are transmitted to whatever system is being checked into. These co-ordinates are, generally, then converted into an actual name for the location by matching with a list of pre-determined locations a GPS co-ordinates close by.

People check-in to locations for many reasons: to let people know where they are, to participate in a meta-game where check-ins earn them points, to qualify for rewards or offers from the location they’re checking into, or for other reasons. There are many social networks and businesses that have built up a following of people who regularly check-in. Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook and Gowalla are some of the more well-known sites/services but even Twitter posts can be tagged with location data and some people tweet when they arrive places with location turned on which is effectively a check-in.

A check-in is an active action by a user, a person has to make a choice to check-in and usually that involves pressing a few buttons or touching their phone screen a few times and waiting for confirmation they have successfully checked in. Active actions require the customer to understand the value of performing the action. If that value is not clearly communicated, or is not worth enough to the customer, they won’t check-in.

It’s difficult to value a check-in by a customer at your store’s location. The very nature of “checking in” somewhere means the customer is already there. How much value do you place on the extra step of checking into your store vs. just being there in the first place? What message to the customer are you trying to send? or are you actually trying to send a message to that customer’s friends?

The question becomes: how can I generate value by having a customer check in? If you can answer that key question, you will be able to assign a value for that check-in and reward customers appropriately. If you can’t quantify the value of a check-in, how will your customers?

I, personally, don’t see a lot of direct value in a simple check-in to my store. By the time the customer checks in, they’re already at my store and I’d rather they be engaged by my in-store visuals and atmosphere. There is, however, in-direct value to someone checking in. Letting friends know that their friend was here is not a ton of value either. Each person visits so many locations in a day that were they were for lunch, 2 hours or 2 days later is probably not relevant information for their friends anymore. But, for some businesses, where the customer is engaged at a single location for a longer period of time, the fact that the customer is here is much more valuable as there is the opportunity to attract the customers friend to come to your store and generate revenue. The key there is the amount of time the customer is expected to spend at your location. If I’m a sandwich shop, my customers will be in and out before a friend could join them. However, if I’m Starbucks, someone sitting for a couple of hours would be a good person to get to check in as that’s enough time for a friend to see the current location and join them.

The larger value for check-ins is in the meta-space of check-in actions by a person. It’s easy to see the value in knowing if a customer is near your store or in a competitor’s store. This data provides good analytics, but limited value unless you act on those analytics. Ultimately, for most businesses, I don’t think check-ins alone add much value. Used in concert with other technologies (which I will address soon), you can create direct and indirect value for check-ins and use check-ins as a piece of your mobile strategy.

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2 Responses to How to Leverage Mobile for Customer Engagement: Part 1: Check-Ins

  1. Pingback: How to Leverage Mobile for Customer Engagement: Part 2: Location Based Services | Bacon on the Go

  2. Pingback: How to Leverage Mobile for Customer Engagement: Part 4: Personalization | Bacon on the Go

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