On-Demand Services and Apps Becoming Inevitable Tools for Reaching Customers

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It seems these days like every type of product or service is becoming available on-demand through an app — or will be soon. Plenty of companies claim to be the “Uber of” their respective markets, but there is more to making it in this scene than just getting goods to customers fast. An on-demand app can give clientele a sense of surety that their needs will be met, and moreover, that the company is listening to them. The trick is to deliver on such promises.

Not every company that goes this route gets it right immediately; there is a steep learning curve for handling the logistics behind on-demand services. Companies that stand out, though, might lead the way for more changes to come to commerce.

“Being an on-demand solution is all about accessibility and immediacy,” says Andrew Chomer, executive vice president of sales and marketing with Pager, an on-demand service for connecting quickly with healthcare providers to assess their medical needs. Chomer says his company developer chat features to reach nurses, as well as see doctors via video, with the push of a button.

Simple as that sounds, he says there is more to it than instant gratification for the user. “Just being on-demand and immediate doesn’t necessarily mean you have a great product,” says Chomer. Given the sensitivity of medical care, he says Pager also has to ensure that the connection between patients and care providers evoke a sense of authenticity. Advances in telemedicine, and the spread of its use, have also helped make such an on-demand service more possible, he says.

In many ways, there is a democratization of access that on-demand makes available — which also means more potential revenue streams. Michael Jaconi, CEO of Button, says one driver of excitement for such apps and services is the way they bring more spending categories into the digital economy. “When daily spend moved into mobile, you had an addressable market size that is much more material than what Web scratched the surface with,” he says. Button’s software connects features from one app into a third-party app, so someone who uses Foursquare might find a button in their app that lets them book a pick up from Uber.

Mobile on-demand services, Jaconi says, create connections between the electronic and physical worlds in ways that businesses built just for the Web might not. At the touch of button, a customer can get a ride to work, order food deliveries, book dinner, and other services that may not have been as prolific via the Internet economy. “LimoRes (now GroundLink) wasn’t quite as popular as Uber has become,” Jaconi says, “but the services were designed with the same spirit.”

The recent flourish of on-demand apps though owes considerable thanks to the development of technology and infrastructure that can support them. “Five or six years ago, this type of service might not have been possible,” says Holger Luedorf, senior vice president of business with on-demand delivery service Postmates. His company uses a network of couriers along with its app and software to deliver products from local stores to customers within one hour of ordering.

Luedorf says we maybe be at the threshold of the next phase of e-commerce where many more products can be purchased and delivered on the fly. The progress that Amazon Prime made in cutting down shipment times, for instance, has changed customer expectations to two days to receive their deliveries down from five-to-10 days. “More and more companies are going to offer same-day or same-hour delivery,” Luedorf says.

Still, there can be places where on-demand services may stumble. The logistics of getting goods to there destinations on time might hold some companies back, says Rick Robinson, co-founder and SVP of Urgent.ly, an on-demand roadside assistance service. “When you need an army of people doing work for you coordinate things, it is a real challenge,” he says.

Urgent.ly dodged such a headache because its app connects users to a pool of tow truck companies local to them who are already in place. Robinson says it will be vital for more companies to take the plunge into on-demand services especially because Millennials tend to look first to apps to get what they want.

“If you’re a business, particularly trying to get goods to a customer, if you’re not doing it an on-demand fashion, or planning to soon, you’re dead,” he says.

headshot Joao-Pierre RuthJoão-Pierre Ruth is a freelance writer, editor, photographer, and the New York editor with Xconomy.

The Local Visionary Awards will honor the company with the Best On-Demand App or Service. Click here to enter before the September 2nd deadline.