It’s no secret that the mobile industry is growing at an astronomical rate. On the bus, in the car, in the office, and generally anywhere humans gather, you’ll see people with both hands on their smartphone, fully engaged. According to a report by GetJar, the world’s second largest app store, the market for mobile apps will be worth $17.5 billion by 2012. Downloads of mobile apps are expected to reach 50 billion in 2012; a figure that represents a 92 percent year-over-year growth rate from the 7 billion apps that were downloaded in 2009.

This trend translates to a whole new purchasing process. According to a report released in January 2011 by ForeSee Results, consumers are using mobile phones to access websites and apps more than ever before. “It looks like more than half of all shoppers will soon be using their mobile phones for retail purposes,” said Kevin Ertell, vice president of retail strategy at ForeSee Results and author of the report. “Any retailer not actively working to develop, measure, and refine its mobile experience is leaving money on the table for competitors.”

The study, which surveyed nearly 10,000 visitors to the biggest e-retail websites in the United States, revealed that 11 percent of consumers made a purchase using their phones this holiday season, compared to only 2 percent at the same time last year. Shoppers who were highly satisfied with a retailer’s mobile experience were 30 percent more likely to buy from that retailer both online and offline.

A mobile benefits business

For people in the business of benefits, this means that the influence of mobile apps on consumer purchasing behavior could soon be as significant as the influence of the entire Web. Combine that information with the increasingly common use of mobile apps in HR functions, and it’s clear that it’s time to go mobile.

Many corporations have begun using mobile apps to simplify common HR functions such as recruiting, time tracking, talent management, and e-learning. For example, some companies have started using mobile apps for shift-scheduling purposes, allowing part-time workers to view and register for open shifts using their mobile devices.

According to business research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, companies that use mobile apps in key business areas, including HR, have experienced a significant return on investment. The majority of companies surveyed reported that they were extremely satisfied with their mobile applications. The study revealed many important ROI-related measures of success, including increased revenues, a faster sales cycle, reduced paperwork, improved customer service, and less employee overtime.


Buying and selling in the 21st century

As the advantages of mobile applications in key HR and business functions become more and more evident, benefits buying and selling is surely not too far down the road. And, as HR specialists and time tracking managers become more familiar with the new mobile HR apps hitting the market, the natural progression will be to find brokers, agents, and other vendors who can deliver their goods and services with the convenience of mobile app technology.

Similarly, the employees who have been recruited, screened, hired, trained, and tracked with mobile apps will expect the same kind of convenient experience when it comes to obtaining benefits coverage. Workforces across the country will increasingly use mobile apps for multiple areas of daily work life, and they will expect to be offered apps that make buying and managing their benefits just as convenient. In the near future, it is likely that individuals will use mobile devices to access important benefits-related information like EOB statements, deductible costs, or coverage amounts faster than ever before. These individuals will expect pertinent information about their coverage to be available whenever they need it — and they will look to their mobile devices first.

Just like the agents and brokers who have used the Internet to their advantage over the last few years, those who embrace the power of mobile apps will successfully provide more customers with the innovative tools and convenience they demand.

Prepping for success

Agents can prepare themselves for success by proactively seeking to understand the evolving state of their customers’ expectations. This starts with a recognition of how mobile technology redefines the way we interact with our environment, allowing for greater access to the Internet, faster connectivity, and higher capacity mobile devices. People will soon be using their smartphones and other mobile devices for tasks they usually must complete on personal computers.

For employees across the Unites States, this translates into easy access to critical aspects of their work life from the mobile devices they already use and are familiar with. For managers, it means more time to focus on running operations. Across the board, it means that the providers of goods and services will need to seek out ways to reduce the amount of information consumers must digest before making a decision, and present it in a more user-friendly format, much like an App Store or online marketplace.

In turn, agents must accept the fact that customer satisfaction with mobile websites and applications impacts their future purchase intent, loyalty, and recommendations across all channels.

Sure, you have the insurance products people need, and you certainly know how to sell them. Moving into the future, though, that may not be enough. Agents must be prepared to answer the increasingly common question: Do you have an app for that?

Nancy Sansom is the senior vice president of marketing and communications for Benefitfocus, the largest healthcare and voluntary benefits software provider in the U.S. She can be reached at (843) 849-7476 or nancy.sansom@benefitfocus.com.

For more exclusive benefits coverage, visit ASJ’s Employee Benefits Resource Center.

Past Benefits stories from ASJ:

Help Employees Meet Their Challenges

How to Diversify and Grow Your Employee Benefit Business

Benefits Cost Versus Value: The New Math

A Market in Transition — Trends in the Employee Benefits Sector

When Selling Employee Benefits to Small Businesses, Knowledge is Power