When you see someone using their smartphone, what is your first impression? Do you assume that person is engaged in personal business or professional business? Logically there’s no way to know because people use their smartphones for both reasons.

On a personal level, smartphones are used to text family and friends, check social media and play games. On a professional level, smartphones are used primarily for phone calls and replying to emails.

Recently, however, vendors in the retail automotive industry (and other industries) are releasing mobile versions of applications that can be used on either smartphones or tablets. If you ask your employees what their personal preference is, many of them will choose the smartphone versions of these apps.

I believe this is a mistake. Based on feedback from our dealership clients, I now believe that mobile tablets are the better choice for mobile apps in the workplace.

First Impressions: Using a Smartphone

The usage of mobile apps in the dealership is a relatively recent phenomenon. For this reason, most consumers’ first impression of an employee using their smartphone is that the employee is doing something personal in nature.

For example, many salespeople are now using smartphone apps to scan customer driver’s licenses. We have heard feedback that some customers feel uncomfortable with this and have complained to the manager. Their perception is that the salesperson has taken a photo of their license with their personal phone, and they are afraid of identity theft.

However, when mobile tablets are used to scan their driver’s license, customers do not suspect nefarious activity and they are less likely to complain. Why is this?

Tablet Usage and Customer Perception

We have all been programmed to associate tablet usage with a professional digital experience in stores like Apple, AT&T and Best Buy. On some level, the customer perceives that a mobile tablet is more like a computer, and is tied into the store’s software system. They don’t mind if their personal information is stored in that system, because they trust that brand.

However, they are not as comfortable with the idea of their personal information being stored on someone else’s personal device. Whether or not their data is actually stored on the device is irrelevant; it’s all about customer perception.

If you leave the choice to your employees, they will probably prefer to use mobile apps on their smartphones. Phones are less bulky and easier to use.

However, smartphone usage in the dealership may be perceived by some of your customers as unprofessional, annoying or downright creepy. Why risk losing their trust? Building customer trust is difficult enough without placing obstacles in the way.

A mobile tablet provides a professional, interactive experience that most consumers are comfortable with. This may not always be the case; talk to me in a couple years and I may change my mind. But for now, if you care about customer experience, mobile tablets should be the device of choice when you are implementing mobile apps in your dealership.