As the mobile experience rapidly evolves, brands are folding apps into broader digital strategies including the web, in-car experiences, TVs and wearables.
Companies that want to compete in this new "digital experience" paradigm are creating omni-channel strategies that manage customer expectations and create user experiences that reflect their brand. Mistakes at any point of engagement will have implications across the entire omni-channel.
Mobile is a major component of omni-channel and is arguably the trickiest to manage, because mobile environments change constantly – Wi-Fi becomes 3G in an instant, a phone call interrupts an app, user load spikes without warning.
Another mobile challenge is that the inconvenience and costs of switching brands for mobile users are virtually zero. It can be as easy as deleting one app and downloading another. Done.
With this in mind, brands must know their customers better than the competition, and provide a personal and consistent experience. The mobile experience, by design, is very personal and users are more willing these days to provide personal information with the understanding that their favorite brands will predict their needs. The days of experimenting with a mobile app strategy are over. Either brands get the mobile experience right or risk sending the message that they don't care about their customers.
Trust and loyalty are what matter most, and are perhaps the only sustainable competitive advantages for brands in today's digital economy.
So what are the keys to releasing mobile apps that earn and keep customer trust?
The Importance of Collaboration
For your app to reflect your brand's commitment to customers, the development process should first and foremost, be collaborative. This requires marketing and DevTest groups to work together to certify that app performance aligns with the way users expect to engage with apps.
Marketers should understand the app's primary flaws – such as poor performance on 3G or app freezes caused by incoming calls – and work closely with developers to solve real user problems. Marketers can also work with developers to ensure the app presents a user experience look and feel that's consistent across all devices and operating systems.
Anticipating where customers are using their apps and in what environments is also essential for a quality experience. Marketers are the ones who should know how and where customers will engage with their apps and must communicate that to developers, so they can account for any technical challenges these environments may present.
Technical and marketing teams haven't always seen eye to eye, but the pressure to release high-quality mobile apps has brought them together. If the app is consistently great, everybody wins.
Once developers and marketers are working together to discover and fix app flaws, DevTest teams need to repeat the process by methodically updating their apps as quickly as possible to alleviate pain points and improve the user experience. The best method to release better apps faster is an agile methodology that emphasizes automation, compatible tools and test reports that help generate fast feedback to developers.
When striving to continually improve, it is dangerous to prioritize new features over primary functionality and reliability of the app. No matter how many fancy features an app has, if the app does not work when it needs to, customers will be left frustrated and the hard work your team has invested will be negated.
Test for User Environments
One thing is for sure, an app will never meet customer expectations if it is not tested to work for everyone all the time. Ignoring certain customer demographics or overlooking performance blind spots could alienate previously loyal customers.
To avoid this, QA teams need to test for a variety of user conditions. If they only test on popular devices and their app fails on a more dated device, users will feel alienated. "Why does the app work on my friend's new iPhone but not on my old Galaxy S4? Maybe this brand is not for me," might be the inner monolog.
Not testing against the appropriate user environments will also lead users to think your brand does not understand their needs. For example, hikers often travel in remote areas where connectivity is limited. If an app built for these users is not tested in this type of environment, the chance of the app failing and disappointing users is much higher.
Without appropriate user condition testing, companies also risk alienating users who simultaneously use popular apps. In some cases, hardware resources are not available when certain apps remain running in the background. Brands need to test for resource conflicts with their app and today's most popular apps (think Facebook, Spotify and Waze).
A brand's fundamental mission is to understand its digital customers, anticipate their needs and build trust. Brands must execute on this mission across all devices, platforms and environments or risk losing customers. Mobile apps present unique contextual and technological challenges, but the personal nature of mobile devices provides a great opportunity for brands to continually delight customers and build long-term loyalty.
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