Next time you step into your local Walgreens store, take a look around. You might be looking at the future of the church.
Sound weird? It’s not as weird as you might think. After all, there lessons to be learned all around us.
Few companies have been as successful as Walgreens at employing technology in their efforts to serve customers (and ultimately grow their businesses). Its mobile app has been particularly important in this effort.
What specifically can your church learn from how Walgreens has invested in mobile technology? Here are five ideas:
1. Be helpful
Don’t let mobile technology become a matter of vanity. You embrace mobile, not because it makes you cool, but because you can serve people better through it.
Deepika Pandey, Walgreens’ chief digital marketing officer, recently wrote about the Walgreens strategy: “We constantly ask ourselves how can we be more relevant? How can we better meet the daily needs of customers who are in-store, at home or work, on a tropical vacation, and everywhere in between?”
This way of thinking led Walgreens to create tools within their mobile app, like a pill reminder that will notify users when it’s time to take medicine, and the ability to scan prescriptions in order to easily and quickly refill them. Those two tools in particular have led to a dramatic increase in mobile adoption among senior citizens.
Fierceretail.com says more than 20 percent of Walgreens’ mobile users are in the 55-and-older demographic. That’s double the industry average for mobile apps. Why? It’s easy to use (more on that later), and it meets the needs of these older customers.
Churches can’t be happy with just having an app. We need a helpful app. That looks different in every context. But it starts in the same place as it does with Walgreens, “How can we help?”
2. Let high-tech lead to high-touch
If diving full-force into technology makes your church less personal, you’re doing something wrong. Walgreens has shown they get this. Pandey writes:
“One of the things we hear repeatedly is that customers really value their connections with individual pharmacists and staff. We wanted to replicate that connection digitally, so customers can get a high-value, personalized experience even when they can’t make it into a store. Pharmacy Chat enables customers to have access to trusted experts through our site or mobile app anytime of the day or night, wherever they are.”
Mobile technology means your church can engage with congregants at all times. Don’t think of technology as a substitute for personal interaction but an enhancement of it. Let it save your staff administrative time so they can spend more time with congregants.
Like Walgreens, work toward offering a personalized experience when people connect with you through your app. Look for ways to provide an on-call minister (either someone from your staff or a volunteer) through your mobile app. Imagine the ministry potential of making the counseling ministry of your church available at least during daytime hours (and maybe into the evening). If your church already has a minister of the day program, this could fit nicely into it.
3. Aim for seamless engagement online and offline
One of the hallmarks of Gen Z, those born at the tail end of the 20th century, is they no longer compartmentalize their lives into time that’s online and time that’s offline. It’s all just life.
Walgreens has demonstrated that they understand this by creating a seamless experience between what customers see in the store and in the app. The company has looked for ways to use the app to make the in-store experience better. For example, customers can search for store inventory and get a map of the store layout. The company has discovered that customers who shop in-store and on mobile are six times more valuable to them than those who shop only in store. More than half of Walgreens app users have used the device in the store. Adam Crouch, director of Walgreens’ digital commerce product management, told Digiday:
“Offline and online have blurred in the minds of consumers, so almost everything we do digitally ties back to stores in some way. We’re figuring out how to use digital to take convenience to the next level.”
Your most engaged congregants in the coming years will be the ones who are involved in person and online. Look for ways to enhance your on-campus experience by providing tools congregants can use while they are there, such as using quick polls during sermons and providing a map to help people navigate your campus.
4. Gather feedback
Walgreens takes user feedback very seriously. They’ve developed their own internal application to view feedback left in the App Store, Google Play, and other similar locations. They then aggressively use that feedback to upgrade the app. Pandey told Seekingalpha.com:
“When you’re talking about falling in love with your customers, I think it’s really all about having that customer focus, taking the feedback that you’re getting, acting upon it, and thinking differently.”
To improve your church’s mobile app, you’ll need to do more than simply skim the reviews your users leave. If your app doesn’t meet congregants’ needs (or worse yet, is full of bugs), they’ll delete the app or leave it unused on their phone.
5. Technology must be easy
When it comes to how you engage your congregants through your app, don’t think in terms of minutes—think seconds. That’s all you have to deliver the experience your congregants expect on a mobile device.
To do this, your app must be easy to use.
Walgreens does whatever it takes to keep the app easy to use and intuitive. The ability to scan and refill a prescription take mere seconds.
“Simplicity is complex, but when you get it right you win every time,” Pandey says. “You’re trying to take that friction out of the experience, and we’re just obsessive about that.”
Keep looking for ways to simplify your app. Time how long it takes to do key mobile tasks—like watch your worship service, give, or find a small group.