The Chinese economy is often associated with copy cats and cheap and –yes- crappy mimics. But times are changing. Chinese app developers are starting to take a leap from their Western colleagues, taking copies of Facebook, Amazon and Snapchat to the next level. The ultimate proof of this shift is WeChat: the king of all apps that gives new meaning to user experience. I’ve come across many articles that tell you how to learn from WeChat as a B2C company, but in this blog, let’s look at some app development tips for B2B companies.
What is WeChat and how does it work
As you probably know, the Chinese government has blocked quite some number of Western websites, including Google, Facebook and Twitter. Maybe in the name of protection and safety, maybe not. Chinese people, however, have the same urge for innovation and convenience like any other population, which has boosted the development of Chinese apps that serve the same purposes as Western apps. This explains the development of Baidu (which can be compared to Google), Alibaba (eBay) and Weibo (Twitter).
WeChat, on the other hand, is not a Western copy and has more advanced features than anything we’ve seen so far. The app has 889 million users, that use the app around 50 minutes per day. Why? Because it has everything. Not in a Facebook or Google kind of way, but in a Facebook Google Twitter LinkedIn Instagram Uber Tinder Airbnb Booking.com and many more-kind of way. WeChat combines every single app that makes life easier, better or more fun, and turns it into one single, user friendly one. This is good news for the Chinese people, but also for you. Let me give you three app development tips that made WeChat what it is today.
#1. Observe how products are used, especially in ways you didn’t see coming
Whether you created an app for customers, partners or third parties: you probably thought about added value before you started. So did WeChat. Its developers created a WhatsApp-like application so users could talk to friends and family. However, they found out people also used the app for business purposes, resulting in them creating a new feature especially designed for business communication.
So how does this translate into a B2B setting? Well, if you developed an app for, let’s say, truck drivers to send information to customs on company details, cargo and licenses, you did so to make border control faster and less complicated. But what if truck drivers also use the app to take notes to share with colleagues? This information could inspire you to add a chat function. By monitoring your users’ behavior, you can anticipate actual usage to serve real needs.
#2. Team up WeChat-style
WeChat may be a super app: they don’t do everything themselves. Their force lies in finding out what their users want and integrating the answers to those needs in their app. They do so by gaining access to third party developers, who can connect their own apps to the WeChat open platform. This platform has turned WeChat into a hub where users hang around to chat, shop, order a cap, schedule a dentist appointment, watch their kids at kindergarten and check if the eggs they bought are free range (true story). As WeChat owns the platform, they decide which apps are allowed to connect and which aren’t, which is worth a lot in China, where fraud is the order of the day.
I’m not suggesting you should connect to chicken farms and kindergartens; it’s the open API platform that’s the interesting part. It doesn’t matter which industry you’re in: every B2B business has partners to communicate with and customers to serve. If you build a platform where the applications of yourself and your partners are integrated, you simplify collaboration and provide your customers with a one-stop-shop, just like WeChat does. In transit, for example, this helps you align schedules of buses and trains of several transit providers and make contract management systems more transparent and sharable.
#3. Connect your applications to the outside world
In China, people can go to a restaurant without speaking to anyone. They use WeChat to look at the menu, send their order to the kitchen and pay in advance. This is only one of the many examples where WeChat connects their services to the outside world. Let’s go back to the kindergarten one last time. Chinese parents use WeChat to get visual confirmation someone (the right one) has picked up their kid. This is all thanks to IoT technologies, that connect devices and sensors to the Internet.
As I said in an earlier article, the Internet of Things and B2B make a perfect combination. In every sector, there’s stocks to track, transportation to monitor and information to share. If you manage to communicate directly via embedded sensors, software and other identifiers, you can provide customers, partners and other departments with real-time information on pretty much everything you like. Add to this the open data platform, and you can have third party developers do this for you.
Don’t be like WeChat- just use them for app development tips
Do you have to build a super app that’s going to be a hub for millions of people? No. Does your open platform need giant partners like Uber and Singapore Airlines? Also no. You don’t have to be like WeChat to use them to get some free app development tips. Just keep an eye on their successes and you know where to start with your own customers. You already did by reading this article!