The app is the new website. Since they are talked about ad nauseam by most people under 40 every business thinks they need one in order to stay relevant. Because of this we now have the ability to buy apps from almost every company, whether they rightfully need an app to improve their customer experience or not. Hankering for a roast beef au jus? Don’t worry Arby’s has an app. Wondering where to find nearly expired candy and flimsy plastic spatulas? The Dollar General app will surely help you with that. Or, you could just search for that same information in a number of apps that you are already using.
Buildings can be guilty of this same over-exuberance for apps. There is a long list of companies that will build apps for buildings. Most of them will even “white label” these products so the buildings can put their own brands on them. The allure of a shiny new technology to show off to investors and the idea of “branding” is often enough to make building owners jump at the opportunity despite the costs.
Don’t get me wrong. Apps can add a lot to a building. There are building apps that can help tenants schedule their time, connect them to the building’s community or to outside businesses and control everything from door locks to thermostats. These types of functionalities improve user experience of a building and have the added value of collecting all of this information into one centralized place to help the management team’s workflow and research.
But many building apps don’t have this plethora of features. Some are mostly a way for tenants to communicate with the building’s staff for things like making service requests or complaining about something (probably the temperature). New research done by Building Engines suggests that these types of communications might be better done without a designated app. Their head “Researcher and Storyteller” Phil Mobley told me about their new study:
“The source for these findings is our upcoming proprietary research report, The Future of Tenant Experience. The findings indicate that 80 percent of office workers use some form of messaging as their primary means of communication with friends and family and that most (73 percent) would be comfortable using the same channels for business communication. The PropTech world is full of tenant mobile apps, but many people are reluctant to download and keep engaging with something so highly specialized.”
We are getting to a point where we already have so many forms of communication in our personal lives (text, email, Facebook Messenger, Slack, WhatsApp, ect) that we don’t want to have an entirely different set of tools for our work or for our workplaces. Plus, when you are in a hurry (or emotional) finding the right communication channel is extra exasperating. If a printer isn’t working before a big presentation I want to shout it from the rooftops not try to navigate an unfamiliar communication tool.
So Building Engines is integrating its new products, like its automated communication chatbot Bengie, to be able to work with outside sources of communication. This gives the tenants flexibility to communicate through the channel that they are most comfortable with, not just forcing them to use a dedicated app because a building thinks it will build their brand.
Apps for the built world were supposed to bring about more options for building tenants and occupants. They can facilitate a lot of great tools that would be possible any other way. But building owners and managers should understand that they shouldn’t eliminate other options for users by forcing them into a rigid system and shouldn’t be surprised when some people just want to communicate with their building the same way they do with everything else.