APIs Can Offer a Frictionless Customer Experience Amid Crisis

Nearly everyone owns a smartphone, although “phone” may not be the most representative term for it. Our phones are media devices, gaming consoles, social media browsers, video-chat tools, among other functions. Mobile phones are able to offer this laundry list of capabilities because of APIs. When you open your healthcare provider's app on your smartphone, it isn't storing all that information on the device itself. Instead, an API enables access to the provider's database, presenting you with just the information necessary for the transaction in question.

It's clear that today, APIs are providing crucial services during a crisis. The ability to interact with companies and service providers is crucial for customers, and APIs allow that to happen without requiring physical interaction. Telehealth, for example, has become especially prominent during the global pandemic, with programmable communications enabling doctor visits and uninterrupted medical care via video chat and video consultation. 

In fact, use of programmable communications - messaging, video, chat and verification - has grown explosively during the past several years as more businesses realize the benefit of embedding contextual, personalized communications, and the ability to connect and communicate with customers  via their own preferred channels.

Why is the world seeing such sustained growth in the use of programmability? In a word, communication. Smartphones that are more pocket computer than phone have transformed the way customers interact and expect to communicate with companies. This shift in the way customers communicate with service providers, and the ensuing businesses built to meet this shift,  is what's known as the API economy: wherein entire business models are built around the transaction of information, enabled by programmable communications. Though the API economy isn't a new term, it is proving an especially important concept during our current global crisis. 

APIs Make for a Smooth Customer Experience

Customers expect their interaction with companies and service providers to unfold as one, seamless experience. Imagine a scenario where you want to schedule a COVID-19 test. You schedule the test through your healthcare provider's smartphone app. Later you receive an email saying that day is actually full, and are directed to contact a customer service email address, which refers you to a patient hotline to call. By the time you confirm your appointment, you've used three different communication channels. When a customer must switch from mobile app to web browser to phone call, the communications chain becomes disjointed, even broken altogether. 

Organizations that successfully leverage APIs for a modern communications experience are more likely to create lasting customer relationships. Now, imagine you make that testing appointment with your app. When the healthcare provider realizes that day is booked, the app sends you a phone notification. Swiping the notification opens the app calendar page directly with the next available date. You reschedule your appointment without ever leaving your smartphone app or resorting to other communications channels. Which of these two experiences would you prefer?

For smaller or lesser-known providers, the ability to offer seamless communications can spell victory even in the face of established industry incumbents. 

Consider These Steps for Successful API-led Communications Strategies

  1. Listen to customers. It will be difficult to sell a product that doesn't meet customers' requirements, no matter how much time and energy teams put into product development.  If patients want a healthcare app that doesn't require phone calls to schedule appointments, they won't use said application if it continually directs users to call the service provider. If they want an app that offers a video chat Function for virtual doctor visits, but the app doesn’t offer that option, patients will look elsewhere. APIs can turn an application or website into a game-breaking offering but only if the development team wholly understands customer demands for specific features and capabilities. Before developing an application, listen to customers and design based on their feedback. 
  2. Start with a business case. Rather than throw APIs at a wall to see what sticks, companies should first develop a business case that satisfies the outlined customer needs and fits within the larger business strategy. It’s easy to get excited about incorporating APIs into a mobile application to create custom solutions. It’s just as easy to spend time on a use case that exists on the fringe of a business, but these proofs of concept aren’t likely to earn the executive buy-in needed to move forward with development. Sure, an API can send an SMS from a mobile app, but if most customers interact with the company via web browser, those texts will be ineffective. Companies should find a solution that solves for a unique workflow or enhances existing applications with the ultimate goal of addressing the demands of their target audience. 
  3. Build a solution, not a product. It's frustrating to have to move from app to email to phone call to schedule an appointment. It's excruciating to have to navigate to an entirely different app or webpage to view test results from the same care provider. After all, the goal of using APIs to power apps is for the company to appear as one unified entity no matter which channel the customer chooses. Communications APIs can greatly reduce friction in the customer experience, but that smooth interaction will only get companies so far if the app in question only serves one need. Instead of developing an appointment-scheduling app, a healthcare provider should develop an app that also displays test results, health records, provides secure and compliant video capabilities and other features that make for a well-rounded experience. The final product should be a mobile solution for healthcare, not another calendar app. 

A Careful Approach to APIs Can Enable Differentiation

Hard lines used to exist between a company website, its call center, and its mobile presence. Those lines have blurred. As a result, the products that companies release must also be cross-functional. With the right approach to identifying a business use case first, APIs can transform the way companies interact with customers by creating one seamless chain of communication. The API economy has been the backbone for most customer-service interactions for some time; but, today the ability for companies to create seamless, virtual customer experiences is more crucial than ever before. Following these considerations for a frictionless customer experience can help companies stand out among their peers.

Be sure to read the next API Strategy article: API Businesses Don't Deserve to Exist Unless They Aggregate