Most successful businesses today already realize the importance of technological advancement and the need to keep customers engaged.
Mobile and online presence are especially important today for businesses wanting to meet the needs of customers who are on-the-go and seeking convenience more than ever before.
One company that has successfully branched off into the online and mobile space is Weight Watchers. The company, which offers assistance to those seeking to achieve a healthy weight and lifestyle, provides customers with an online tool and mobile app for keeping track of their weight and health no matter where they are.
I recently caught up with Mike Basone, president and chief technology officer of WeightWatchers.com to find out more about the company, their push into the mobile space, and their plans for the future.
Our exchange follows.
SV: How important is it for businesses today to offer customers Web options and mobile capabilities-particularly with the rising popularity of the iPhone?
MB: Given the rapidly changing and ever-evolving business landscape, having an online presence and a mobile product has become a necessity and absolutely critical to doing business these days, especially for a consumer-facing business such as ours. We see that customers expect to interact with well known brands in multiple ways - in-person, through the Internet, on a mobile device. And as people's lives become busier, more complicated and more on-the-go, customer demand for mobile technology has grown -mobile has become a central part of daily life - so it's essential we provide a solution that addresses these specific needs. Yes, we want to be a first mover in this arena and yes, we want to establish a presence on this new platform, but more importantly, we want to engage our customers by providing functionality they can fit into their daily schedule so they remain motivated and successful in their weight loss goals.
SV: Do smartphone applications offer a direct channel to customers?
MB: Yes, we believe smartphone applications are a major communications channel to customers. Not only is it a fresh and new way of accessing information, but it's about extending a brand's value proposition - meeting a customer where they want to be and where they want to interact. When a customer taps into mobile it gives them the ability to directly engage in your brand at around-the-clock, anytime, anywhere. You can literally connect with customers on-the-go. It also provides a place where customers can have a meaningful and useful two-way conversation with you. For us, this is paramount. We know, through extensive research, that the more engaged a customer is with our plan, the more they track and the more successful their weight loss. Mobile gives our customers the opportunity to stay engaged and accountable.
Weight Watchers is a brand that has been helping people achieve their weight loss and health goals through personal attention and through a powerful connection with our customers. We do it every day in our Weight Watchers meetings and in our online product. We make it a point to understand an individual's lifestyle, personal tastes, and life circumstances so we can provide specific strategies at key points along a customer's weight-loss journey. Our mobile product provides us the opportunity to connect with our consumers in a way that keeps our brand relevant to them on an ongoing basis.
SV: How is Weight Watchers meeting this need and have you noticed any positive benefits to offering your services via the web and via mobile devices for customers?
MB: Our online products and mobile apps were developed to meet clear business objectives: increase brand awareness, increase customer loyalty, and to address key customer needs by extending the Weight Watchers brand through new and multiple channels. Interestingly, mobile, like the Weight Watchers program is all about utility and convenience, so for us this was a natural fit. The key was to drive engagement because we felt that would lead our customers to weight-loss success. Turns out in research we conducted a few years ago, people who went to Weight Watchers meetings and used our online product were 50 percent more successful in reaching their weight-loss goals. By making our tools and content available to customers through online and mobile - and therefore, making it more ubiquitous- we saw positive results for our customers and for our business. The goal was to provide instantaneous utility to customers in the exact moment they needed it: at home when cooking the family meal, in a supermarket, or at a social event such as dining out with friends. In this way, they could make informed and smart choices for staying on plan. It worked and our customers love it.
SV: A lot of success behind the Weight Watchers program has traditionally been owed to the face-to-face group meeting sessions-how has the Web changed that today?
MB: The Web and our mobile offering have only given us more opportunity to do what we do best - help people lose weight. Our company was founded by Jean Nidetch, who started Weight Watchers in the basement of her Long Island home 45 years ago. She gathered a handful of friends and friends of friends who all had a common goal - to lose weight. Every week they met to discuss their struggles, share in their accomplishments and offer support to one another. The meetings business was born. So in a way you can say we are the original social network. As time went on, and customer needs changed, we needed to think about a more flexible mix of products. So today we have meetings, an online Women's and Men's product and our mobile offering. We have made social networking a priority for our business. We are a company that has moved seamlessly from face-to-face to Facebook. Again, it's all about engagement. We want to offer our customer various touch points to our brand so they have multiple ways of interacting with us. As a user of the Men's Web site, I still go to meetings, particularly for my weigh-in. It keeps me accountable but so does the tracking I do online or on my iPhone. It removes the barriers to tracking - because I have instant access, it's not a problem for me to track more often.
SV: Do you have any plans to expand further into the Web and onto more mobile devices?
MB: Yes, we continue to innovate and are always excited to find new ways we can engage our customers. With everything changing so quickly and being so new, we can't afford to stop innovating. We are constantly evaluating new platforms, new devices and new technologies so we can deliver the best user experience. We look at what our customers want, and how they are interacting with these new mediums so we can help them lose weight and lead healthier lives. Stay tuned for some new updates to our iPhone app. We are also supporting Blackberry, Android and Symbian(for our international sites), and an iPad app is coming out later this year. We're still learning but the opportunities are endless. These are exciting times.
Stefania Viscusi is an assignment editor for HealthTechZone, covering voice and Voice over IP technologies. She also oversees production of HealthTechZone's e-Newsletters in the areas of Internet telephony and speech technology. To read more of Stefania's articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi