Apps helping boost businesses

New technology improves service, tracks tasks

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Boosting business potential may be just a few taps away.

Mobile applications are a growing high-tech trend, and some businesses are taking the digital phenomenon into new territory. They are using apps to improve customer service, increase profits, and get an edge on competitors.

At the Bakery of France in Boca Raton, Fla., lines are becoming a thing of the past thanks to the specialized programs for smart phones and tablets.

When owner Marie-Jose Brau purchased the cafe more than four months ago, she realized the cash register had to go. The lone machine at the back of the bakery handled all customers — whether eating in or taking out — and could only conduct one transaction at a time. Lines routinely backed up.

"It was a mess," she said. "It was too old-fashioned."

Brau's solution was to go high-tech. She purchased an iPad and two iPad minis and equipped them with Square, a mobile payment app that works on both Apple and Android devices. The app allows businesses to conduct transactions through the mobile devices and swipe credit cards using a plug-in accessory. App users pay either a monthly fee or a per-swipe fee.

Now the iPad has replaced the cash register used by take-out customers. The iPad minis are brought directly to eat-in diners' tables when they are ready to pay.

"It's so cool," cafe regular Erica Goodstone said.

For Royal Palm Beach, Fla., lawyer Lynne Hampton, a mobile app is the ideal way to increase profits.

Previously, when clients called the solo practitioner on her cellphone, she had no easy way to track who called, the length of the conversation, and what was discussed. That's critical to someone who bills clients at an hourly rate.

So Hampton designed Monetary Mobile, an application for Android phones. When a call ends, the program prompts her to indicate whether the call is billable and to file details of the call.

She invested more than $7,000 and 1,000 hours into creating it.

"This way, you're not stuck at the end of the day trying to remember what you talked about," she said.

Hampton said the app has already helped her bill more than $8,000 she would otherwise have missed. Monetary Mobile app will be available for sale on Google Play by the middle of August. A 30-day free trial will be offered. After the trial, users can purchase the app for $29.99.

When a company is deciding on whether to use an existing app or create one, digital strategist and business consultant Justin Dennis recommends potential users look at the cost.

"They need to be very concerned with how much they invest versus the return on investment," said Dennis, who has been a consultant for than six years.

He defines return on investment as technology that "makes your employees' lives easier and increases revenue."