It’s a smart move for companies to strengthen their mobile presence, and in many cases that means developing a customer-facing mobile application, but creating a good app is not as easy as it might seem. It’s a large and crowded market; any app is just one of millions competing for a smartphone user’s time and attention. While a good app can help businesses collect valuable customer data, provide special offers and incentives, and solve for major pain points in a customer’s journey, there’s a good chance it will fail to take off if not given the proper consideration.
“At the heart of a mobile app is anticipating what your customer is looking for, and being able to provide it for them immediately, in a couple touches without them having to do a lot of manipulation and engage in a lot of effort,” says Jeffrey Hammond, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Because if you think about it, most of the time when we’re using our mobile devices, we’re walking around, or on a train, or in a car. We’re moving. And the idea of having to have an involved conversation is painful.”
And if designed well enough, mobile apps could become easier to use than websites, leading people to open them when they’re not on the go.
However, the truth is that “app fatigue is a very real thing,” says Van Baker, a vice president at Gartner. Studies show that customers are spending most of their time on fewer than five apps, and are “reticent to add new ones.”
“The median user is downloading zero apps a month,” says Henry Cipolla, chief technical officer of Localytics, a mobile engagement platform provider. “Competition for screen time is different than it was before.”
Another issue companies face is a lack of focus. Firms often fail to iron out what they should offer through their apps, which users they should design for, and how to make them compelling enough to remain installed.
And many companies are not thinking about their apps as long-term commitments, and so are not evolving the apps over time to see major payoffs.
Mobile applications might still be relatively new—Apple introduced its mobile App Store less than a decade ago—but the market has reached the point where there is enough knowledge to outline strategies on developing and sustaining these bite-size tools.
MOBILE APP VALUE PROPOSITION
A common mistake, Baker holds, is to assume that customers are chomping at the bit for your company’s mobile app—or that it’s a given you should have one, and that it will be used.
In fact, rushing the release of an app without thinking it through could result in lower adoption, and possibly failure. Often rushing to market involves copying and pasting the company’s website format and shrinking it to fit the mobile app. Behavior on mobile devices is vastly different from behavior on a desktop, though, and it’s likely that won’t fly with users.
Baker recalls a healthcare company that made this mistake. The firm had taken a portal process that was very popular on the Web, and highly rated, and migrated it to a mobile atmosphere. But the portal called for a complex process, involving six screens to complete the goal. “People didn’t use it,” Baker says, “because on average most sessions on apps are in the range of a minute.”
Hemant Sahani, director of product marketing at VMware Airwatch, states that users, on average, reach into their pockets to pull out their phone 150 times a day, but all that phone use could easily translate into fewer than 150 minutes. And while people check their apps often, they don’t typically spend more than 90 seconds in any one of them. So while it might seem impressive that a user stay logged into an app for more than a minute, the lengthy interaction might not be a good sign; it could indicate the app requires more time than users would like to spend—which makes it more likely they’ll stop using the app altogether.
In other words, less is often more, as users value simplicity. Baker recommends identifying one or two things from a feature perspective that really deliver value, and not giving into the temptation of imitating what other companies offer. Just because an app works for a particular company doesn’t mean that success will transfer. For one thing, companies tend to serve different sets of customers, and so each should be thinking about what it offers that is unique to the segments it serves.
Hammond says that customer journey maps are useful in identifying the major customer pain points a mobile app could potentially solve. Viewing what irks a customer during each interaction with a company can be highly beneficial and reveal opportunities for improvement. That means figuring out the “customers’ journey throughout the day, figuring out what they need, when they need it, and what sorts of things they’re trying to do.”