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Satisfying consumers’ appetite for apps


Mobile apps have been a saviour for consumers during the pandemic, enabling them to have goods delivered right to their door or ready for curbside pickup. In fact, almost a third of Canadians have used the online technology to order their groceries, according to an Agri-food Analytics Lab poll in November.

For the c-store, a user-intuitive app should drive engagement and revenue. But that is not what always transpires. Scroll through reviews on app stores like Google Play or Apple’s App Store and you’ll read myriad users frustrated with the experience. 

“[My order] was cancelled without explanation.” 

“The app is fine…it’s the stores that are handling the deliveries [that are the problem].” 

“I never get my bonus points. I have emailed and phoned…nothing gets resolved.”

 “Customer service is a wasted phone call.” 

The problem? Too often there is a disconnect between the experience customers have with the app and the experience they have with the store associate, says Britt Mills, senior director of customer experience at Mobiquity Inc., a digital consultancy that partners with c-stores on building apps or setting up their brand on third-party apps. 

“I can’t tell you how many reviews we’ve seen where an experience someone has with the app is perfect – no bugs, no crashes, no issues with being logged out—yet was poorly rated because of an associate interaction,” says Mills. 

Think, for instance, of a customer rewarded for their loyalty with an offer on the app, but can’t redeem it because an uninformed associate thinks it’s a scam. “The app then instantly gets a 1-star rating,” says Mills. 

Once a loyal customer may now be lost. Fortunately, c-stores can take measures to help prevent an app going from a 5-star to 1-star experience. 

Involve associates in testing 

Before launching an app, best practice is to beta-test and then roll it out in stages to help identify where breakdowns could occur between the app experience and the store. Companies, however, make the mistake of only soliciting feedback from customers. 

While their feedback is critical, that cuts out the perspective of associates. “Yet they are often the ones that anticipate friction points users might have with the app,” says Mills. “They interact with customers every day, know what can come up in the store and scenarios that could arise from that.”

If you’re performing a beta-test of 20 to 50 loyal customers, include a couple associates. And when you begin to roll it out, do so in stages, first to associates before customers.

Build a ‘source of truth’ hub

Once pain points have been identified, create what Mills calls a “source of truth.” This can include virtual tutorials, FAQs and more that address for associates how to resolve issues for app users.

An associate can then know how to communicate with – and make right for – a customer, when, for example, their hot food order is delayed for pickup. “Associates can help make sure the store doesn’t drop the ball when a customer expectation isn’t going to be met with proactive customer service,“ says Mills.  

Identify a store champion 

Find an associate who will champion the app at launch. “Choose someone who is in front of and recognizable to customers,” says Mills. Be sure they are digitally savvy, too. “They should be comfortable using apps for delivery and pickup.” 

Let customers know in an email blast when the ambassador will be in the store. If you’re an independent owner with a few c-stores, you can also have this person bounce from location to location during the first few weeks of the app’s launch. 

“A store champion can go over with customers payment options, best times for quick curbside pickup and answer any questions they might have,” says Mills. “It shows to customers that associates are part of the process and just as excited about the app as the customer.”  

Don’t be one and done

Consumers expect an app to be improved and expanded on with new versions. Mills recommends “an update after its first 90 days in market,” and then every few months thereafter. 

Analyze user data to understand what customers are most interested in and value most. Involve associates in the process with workshops or focus groups. This way, they are not only aware of the changes, but can address how they might play out with customers. “You want to create a roadmap for the app and you need associates to be part of that journey,” says Mills.


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