For many people, interacting with a brand often begins on a mobile device. Mobile devices and apps increasingly allow consumers to carry out numerous tasks such as booking a flight or hotel room, checking balances, sending email, or interacting with a customer service associate over video chat.
Approximately 80 percent of U.S. adults now carry a mobile device such as a smartphone, according to market research firm GlobalWebIndex, which surveyed 170,000 adults on device ownership. While smartphone ownership has not yet overtaken the ownership and usage of PCs (which is at 91 percent), consumer expectations toward mobile are growing every day, making it critical for companies to provide optimal experiences.
While many brands and app developers recognize the importance of building mobile experiences based on customer insights, few can report success. Google Play and Apple’s App Store offer more than 2 million apps combined, but the user experience varies widely across the app ecosystem. In fact, 29 percent of marketers say they have an “average” mobile experience level, and 23 percent say they’re behind the times, reports eMarketer.
This creates an opportunity for savvy companies to respond with a customer-first approach when designing their mobile engagement strategies. Developing an excellent app experience is not about offering the most advanced features—it’s about understanding your customers’ needs. Here are the key aspects to keep in mind for delivering engaging mobile app experiences.
1. Let customers take the wheel
The first thing to do is yield control to customers. Companies are accustomed to controlling their brand experience. But in the age of the empowered consumer, they have to listen to what customers want. Asking customers what they need and how they want to communicate with the brand should be part of every company’s engagement strategy.
For example, when using a banking app, customers may want to interact with a customer service associate to resolve certain issues, but they may prefer to quickly ask a question and receive a response through a text message or email for others. Giving customers options for interacting with a company is critical.
2. Give users a reason to share
People are more likely to provide information about their preferences and other details if you explain how it will improve their experience. A pet store, for example, can let pet owners know that filling out a profile about their pet on its app will help the store send them more relevant rewards and provide a more personalized experience.
Another example comes from a company that offers weight loss and maintenance products. Its new mobile app engages customers throughout their weight loss journeys and allows users to create a profile about their lifestyle and exercise preferences. A coach is assigned to users based on their profiles, who can be reached via the app. And instead of just pushing products through the app, the company builds relationships with users by helping them make healthy decisions and guiding them along their path to better health.
3. Don’t just collect data, act on it
Following through on user feedback is critical. Once a company understands its customers’ individual channel preferences, content needs, and engagement frequency, it must create a mobile strategy that provides value and assists customers with the help they need when they need it.
Collecting data just for data’s sake or purely for advertising purposes can even hurt consumer perceptions of your brand. Many people today understand that information like email addresses or customer preferences is valuable and are reluctant to share it unless they receive something in return. Communication and transparency are key aspects of the customer experience. For instance, when asking for location data on an app, consider telling customers that this allows you to provide them with more accurate services.
4. Try something new
While data-driven decisions are important, don’t be afraid to experiment with services or products that fall outside of customer requests. Also, look for ideas outside of your industry. Uber, for example, revolutionized the taxi service industry with its app, and other companies can learn from its focus on on-demand services. Asking users to volunteer as beta testers could potentially boost loyalty by making customers feel special while also driving increased app usage and engagement.
5. Strive for a seamless experience
Brands are getting closer to providing a seamless mobile experience that meets a customer’s service, marketing, and sales needs, but several gaps remain. A common mistake in the race to develop app features is adding new capabilities without integrating them into existing ones, which in turn creates a siloed experience within the app.
Additionally, some brands still have poor mobile experiences, such as not offering mobile-optimized websites or featuring limited app functionality that doesn’t meet the specific needs of customers. Also, not all apps allow brands to engage customers across the various departments within their organizations. Instead, they’re most often bound to individual departments.
6. Appoint a customer insights leader
One of the biggest obstacles to providing a better mobile experience isn’t even tech-related; it’s an organizational issue. Companies must clearly define the employee or employees responsible for building and managing their apps and mobile experiences. They should also encourage collaboration and feedback from other key areas of the organization with a stake in the customer experience. Oftentimes, the task falls to marketing or IT, with little input from other areas of the company.
Make it a priority to better understand your customers. If you haven’t done so already, appoint someone to oversee the distribution and analysis of survey results and user tests for obtaining customer insights. Streamlining the process of collecting feedback data gives companies a rich and comprehensive database of user insights to pull inspiration from.
Many companies make the mistake of focusing on the technology solution or platform powering their app. This approach is detrimental in the long run, since it can limit the app’s functionality. For example, behind the scenes at the aforementioned weight loss company, the organization’s advertising, sales, service, and other departments had to realign their objectives and collaborate more closely to provide a seamless mobile experience. Likewise, companies also need to step back and reassess their approaches to meeting customer needs before launching apps or reconfiguring their mobile presence.
Remember that many consumers are turning to their mobile devices and apps as the first access point with a brand. Brands that fail to provide that optimal mobile experience are quickly discarded. We see this reality being played out across numerous industries. The average mobile user downloads hundreds of apps, but many apps are only used once or forgotten.
At the same time, the gap between brands that offer excellent versus mediocre mobile experiences is widening. As competitors upgrade their mobile features and services, brands that fail to keep up risk appearing out of touch with customer expectations.
The bottom line is that effective mobile experiences focus on the customer’s needs. Additionally, incorporating input from several parts of an organization such as marketing, sales, IT, and customer service in the development of a mobile engagement strategy can deliver a more seamless user experience. While there’s no surefire way to build a successful mobile presence, putting the customer first is a step in the right direction.