Digital customer experience - where do mobile apps fit?

Many organisations are trying to get closer to their customers and see mobile, in particular mobile apps, as a way to engage – but are they always taking the best approach?

The impetus is often somewhat similar to that of putting a business online; everyone else is doing it; if you are not then you run the risk of missing out or being left behind. However, just doing that quickly becomes insufficient. When websites first appeared they were static brochures, they then added interaction and commerce, although as many organisations have discovered even this is not enough and to retain a worthwhile digital presence, websites require a whole load more attention.

The same is true when adding a mobile connection to customers. A mobile-enabled website is at least a good first step, but to really get the interaction going this will be a bit limited – hence the interest in mobile apps.

However, mobile apps require a little more pulling power than websites; not only do they have to be downloaded or installed, they need to be retained. This is getting harder to achieve and recent statistics on app retention from analytics and marketing platform provider, Localytics, indicated that roughly a quarter of apps are abandoned after a single use, and only around a third make it to being used more than 10 times.

To avoid app abandonment, mobile apps need to be a bit fitter to survive:

  • fit to the moment – a real world purpose to get you to open the app while mobile
  • fit with the flow – apps must be really easy to use
  • fit to the everyday – apps need to be habit forming

For many organisations, the main route to start down is m-commerce, but mobile users are not necessarily always in the mood to buy, but to browse, be entertained and get support. Apps will have more staying power if they nudge and engage rather than blatantly try to sell.

So, many organisations have responded with wrapping mobile application usage around loyalty, and a more personal connection through social media. This can again circle quickly back to trying to just increase orders – nothing inherently wrong with that of course – but part of building loyalty is widening the relationship from a simple buy/sell.

One way this could be done is to engage with customers as if they were ‘part of the team’. The goal here is not necessarily to grow sales (although that might still happen), but to reduce running costs and increase customer satisfaction.

This is akin to the incentive programs offered by media companies and others such as the recent ‘GoPro Awards’ campaign, offered by the action camera maker, which is planning to invest around $5m per year in rewards to customers who get recognition and prizes for submitting creative content. GoPro could have simply commissioned professional creative companies, but by incentivising customers it is creating an extra reason for them to keep using its products and rewarding those who produce something special.

Customer feedback is important in any sector, even when it appears to be mostly negative, as if dealt with honestly it can generate more interest and ultimately loyalty. It could be useful for example in public transport, where travellers are quick to jump on their favourite social platform when there are problems, but combining and analysing this information to create a bigger picture would actually be useful for the travel operator and perhaps fellow passengers.

Indeed, by being pro-active and asking passengers for feedback – perhaps along the lines of ‘Tell us about something that made you smile during your trip today’ – could generate even more passenger engagement.  While it may attract many sarcastic responses (which in themselves, when used correctly can show the company as being more human), it could also provide positive responses that can be propagated through the company’s social media outlets to give good news while recognising individual customers.

Netatmo, the makers of a stylish online connected weather station, do something similar by pulling together all of their subscribing customer’s current readings and presenting them on a global map, which can be accessed along with personal weather station data via a mobile app. By using the distributed remote feeds from all of its subscribers it can create a big picture that in turn feeds greater weather data value back to its customers, rather than just being of value to the organisation itself. The feeds of the many outweigh the feeds of the one?

Another example of where this might work is in the hospitality industry, where increasingly the service relationship – good or bad – is more out in the open, due mainly to the explosion of social review sites and services.  Rather than waiting for, and responding to, criticism of services on public review pages, organisations could adopt a more pro-active approach.

This would be a good fit for a mobile app, especially in the increasingly crowded field of ‘loyalty’. Rather than offering a cheap discount for harvesting user preferences, encouraging current customers to do something that will reward them and improve services for future users could stimulate more regular usage.

In the hotel sector this might take the form of ‘user generated maintenance’. Instead of critical reviews plastered around the social sphere, establishments could offer reward points for ‘things we may have missed’ or suggestions for improvements. A simple app on a mobile phone can record, locate and document the issue, submit it to the hotel and gain something of value for the user, while at the same time helping the service provider fix a problem – all without it going public!

M-commerce might seem an appealing route to help directly sell goods and services, but the first thing all mobile apps need to do is sell themselves, otherwise all that development effort runs the risk of being abandoned very quickly. Mobile apps need to be very fit for purpose and offering something of value to customers should be a big part of any mobile strategy.