Optimising apps as part of the overall customer experience

Great download figures are meaningless if usability issues are preventing hotel bookings or a complex registration process deterring customers from signing up and placing a bet.

Apps have matured and as they become strategic, getting the right user experience is essential. While the app can be used to target a specific aspect of the customer experience or journey, from pre-purchase through to post-purchase, for the customer it is just one more way of engaging with the brand – and a bad app experience will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on brand perception across every channel.

As the app increasingly takes its place as an essential business channel, business led optimisation strategy across all aspects of the customer experience to drive improved business performance is a must.

App maturity

Recent research from Gartner predicts that worldwide revenues from in-app purchases will grow from £2,731m in 2013 to £21,954m by 2017, an increase of over 700 per cent. This underlines the massive importance of apps to online businesses. But where do those apps fit in to the overall strategy for customer engagement and improving the customer experience?

To date it has been difficult to truly assess the value of the app to the business. Most organisations have developed just one customer facing app and, if they are measuring at all, are concentrating on download volumes. App creation is often silo’d, sometimes the responsibility of IT rather than a core marketing role; and rarely part of the strategic, multi-channel customer experience.

With apps fast emerging as a clear, distinct tool for marketers to engage with and target customers, however, it is time to take a far more strategic approach. Organisations need to be able to assess and refine the usability of the app; to determine why high volumes of app downloads are not converting into customer registrations or conversions; and understand the impact of the app experience on the customer’s overall brand perception. Essentially, organisations need to apply the same rigour to optimising the app that is now standard on both desktop and mobile sites.

Evolving role

Today the role of the app in the customer lifecycle is evenly split between pre-purchase, supporting the transaction and post-purchase. They are being used to increase loyalty, improve communications and service, and increasingly support some core transactions. Different industries are gaining stronger traction with apps than others. In finance, for example, apps are all about offering customers another way to manage accounts rather than providing Marketing with an opportunity to engage with new customers; while travel and gaming are actively exploring apps to acquire new customers, drive new business and improve customer experience.

However, users have a strong response to apps – and are increasingly unforgiving of a poor experience. Critically for businesses looking to use apps to drive customer engagement, only 16 per cent try a failing app more than twice and users expect apps to be much faster, with an average two seconds load time.

If organisations want to exploit the app – which is clearly preferred by the consumer to the mobile site – to improve engagement and reinforce brand value, poor performing Apps or those with usability issues are going to be a problem.

Improving experience

To date, very little testing and optimisation has been performed on apps because it was too hard to achieve. Now that testing can be embedded in app development, growing numbers of organisations are using optimisation techniques such as A/B testing to understand and improve the app experience.

For example, the travel company with a booking app needs to improve usability to boost its download to sales ratio. The issue is not simply that the critical ‘search’ button is poorly located underneath the app fold, hence requiring the customer to scroll down; A/B testing the colour, size and location of the ‘search’ button is key to creating the best customer experience and achieving the prime objective, namely increasing hotel bookings.

Similarly for a gaming company that requires registration before a customer can place a bet or take part in a casino game; A/B testing different registration form designs such as one, two or three page options is key to creating the best environment to turn downloading visitors into active customers.

Moving forward, as organisations increase app sophistication it will be essential to test different versions of new content and functionality before launch to understand the customer response and impact on the customer experience.

Measurable value

The role of the app has changed. Apps no longer simply replicate website content; they form a critical element of key business processes such as booking and payment; and can hold exclusive content to drive brand loyalty. As such, understanding of app performance must improve: analytics and reporting should be far more sophisticated and tie into the business’ overall strategic goals. Focusing on downloads and content views as Key Performance Indicators is meaningless – instead performance should reflect registrations, bookings or revenue increase. 

Critically, these measures need to be taken into account not only in the single app channel but across the board. How is the performance of the app affecting the rest of the business?

And this is key: the app is fast becoming a critical component of the marketing mix but it is just one more channel. Organisations need a clear business led optimisation strategy across all aspects of the customer experience, including mobile and apps, to drive improved business performance and deliver a consistently strong customer experience.

Nick Keating is VP EMEA of Maxymiser.

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