Remember when apps first burst onto the scene? It’s hard to imagine life without them now; they are such a part of our daily routine. But the app experience remains fragmented—it’s still a challenge to engage customers on them. The ability to send push notifications has been a game-changer, and there are copious amounts of evidence proving that they improve engagement. But still, the question is raised, how do we reach out? It’s time to think in terms of a message preference framework.
This is an exciting new frontier. According to Nielsen, consumers may have hit a ceiling in the number of apps they’ll access per month—the average is slightly north of 26 in the United States, and that number has remained more or less steady. But we’re spending a lot more time on apps, about 37.5 hours a month and rising. Of course, much of that time is spent on the most popular apps, like Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter.
For marketers who are trying to figure out how to capture customer mindshare in this environment, push notification messages are a popular option. But marketers recognize, too, that it’s a delicate balance. Customers can quickly become annoyed with too much engagement via push notifications, resulting in app deletion, shutting off notifications or unfollows on all social media.
Individual brands will try to strike the right balance, but keep in mind that with a couple of dozen apps on the average phone—many created by brands also hoping to engage customers via push notification—the volume can quickly become untenable. Also consider the number of devices people have that are capable of delivering messages—including smartphones, wearables, and tablets. That multiplies the effect.
Moving Toward a Preference-Based Hierarchy
Maybe it’s time to take a step back and acknowledge that “mobile” isn’t a device anymore; it’s a lifestyle. Moreover, it’s an omnichannel lifestyle, with push messages coming in from multiple platforms. Push notifications are an incredibly powerful tool with the potential to enhance the omnichannel mobile lifestyle. But before they can fulfill their potential, we’ll need to figure out a way to prioritize messages.
The debate about how many push messages are optimal and what platform should control them is worth having. So is a debate about message content and delivery method—text, voice, video, etc. But the debate we urgently need to have right now is this: How do we make these communication abilities work for customers while consistently delivering a positive experience?
We now use communication tools that were unthinkable to us a few years ago, but the information that flows through these tools, over multiple channels, is still siloed and not always actionable. So far, businesses seem to have accepted that this is the way it is. But if the point of technology is to make life better—and I strongly believe that is the case—we need to do more.
We have ways of categorizing possessions and putting them in a hierarchy that makes sense to us. If you use email a lot, you will have set your email platform to separate the important stuff from the less urgent so you don’t get overwhelmed, and you can customize the way it works according to your personal preferences.
The same should be considered for push messages. To truly make these messages work for people, there has to be a way for the customer to prioritize, sort, and categorize them—recognizing that messages are flowing in from multiple channels, and that customers have distinct preferences about how to receive and respond to them.
Meeting Customers Where They Are
So what would push notifications inside a truly optimized, omnichannel, and mobile lifestyle look like? Various mobile communication channels that are currently operating in silos would be integrated to form an ecosystem that works harder for consumers. Consumers, then, would be able to easily control their messaging preferences. The ecosystem would inform consumers in their “micro-moment,” which is defined by Google as those “I-want-to-know, I-want-to-go, I-want-to-do, I-want-to-buy” moments.
The ecosystem would allow for messaging hierarchies in a mobile-optimized omnichannel framework to be as varied as consumers’ preferences are. But one thing they would have in common is that consumers would be able to easily set up their preferences and receive and respond to messages across all devices—with data flowing between channels in a way that enhances the customer experience.
Ultimately, it all comes down to respecting the customer—getting to know her preferences, using her data in a way that enhances her life and honoring the choices she makes when we start a conversation. We’ve come a long way since apps first came on the scene, and push messaging has opened up a world of new possibilities. But we have more to do. By recognizing that all messages aren’t created equal and supporting a workable preference framework, we can—and should—make things better for consumers.
Tara Kelly is the founder, president, and CEO of SPLICE Software. Kelly, has a passion for enabling clients to engage in a meaningful Data Driven DialogTM with their customers. As a serial entrepreneur who has developed three companies including one outside the technology field, Kelly is focused on creating businesses that use technology to enhance operations, service, and the customer experience. In addition to running SPLICE Software, Kelly is an open source activist and recognized user experience designer who has served as a board member for the International Board for Voice User Interface Design and the Canadian Cloud Council.