3 Steps to Build the Next Great App
Progress bars inching forward ever so slowly. Confusing application layouts. Downloader’s remorse.
These are a few of my least favorite things, and I’m sure your customers share similar sentiments. In our digital-centric world, applications have become the modern storefront for nearly every business. They're expected to provide convenient services, perfectly and right now. This is especially true for consumers with a mission to accomplish and limited time to get it done -- whether "it" is paying bills, ordering fresh groceries or purchasing event tickets. Applications that don’t nail expectations are quickly abandoned.
In fact, consumers take app perfection so seriously, nearly two-thirds of users who responded to our AppDynamics App Attention Index 2017 said they will delete an app or abandon a website altogether due to performance problems after just one attempt due. An overall poor digital experience has led one-third of respondents to take their business elsewhere. And one-quarter of those surveyed said they'd be less likely to use a service in the future.
Clearly, businesses offering digital services have a lot on the line. Poor performance could cost companies billions per year, and a bad UX can forever tarnish relationships with customers.
My time in the trenches of app development for the NFL, Google, Tapjoy and AppDynamics has helped me refine three top strategies to escape the fate of app abandonment and built a product users actually like.
1. Climb the user-first design pyramid.
I’ve been asked one question countless times throughout my career: “I have a great idea for an application. Where do I start?” I always start my answer with a drawing that at first glance looks like the standard food pyramid. Instead of layers of grains and vegetables, though, it contains four building blocks: performance, utility, functionality and delight.
Performance is the base of the pyramid. At the end of the day, no one will use an app that doesn’t work. Performance must be a holistic part of your application so you can measure how well each layer above is operating. Unfortunately, performance often is overlooked or taken for granted. To get it right, you have to deploy the proper tools and infrastructure. Otherwise, you run the risk of crashes, bugs and unhappy end-users.
Utility focuses on how useful your application is and whether it maps back to what your intended audience actually wants. For example, I’m a huge football fan, and I always want to know when the Bears play. Based on utility alone, an app that simply lists all my team’s matchups would meet this need. Delivering value to your customers should be the sole reason your application exists. Concentrate on value, avoid unnecessary clutter and allow your users to find exactly what they’re looking for as quickly as possible.
Functionality encompasses features that make your application easier to use, such as filtering, good UX design or streamlined processes. In my Bears schedule example, consider a default view that shows only upcoming Bears matchups and filters out games already played. Good functionality provides a clear and easy path to fulfill the needs that consumers value most highly.
Delight is the cherry on the top. It’s the small things that make your users smile. That might be the added ability to watch game previews, a slick pull-to-refresh interaction or a Bears-themed loading screen. I’ve seen what happens when developers jump straight to this stage without providing utility first. In the best-case scenario, your user will spend a few seconds trying to find value and then abandon the application (maybe forever).
2. Pay attention to retention rates, not customer complaints.
Once your application is off the ground, start paying close attention to metrics that indicate whether users are sticking around. For many mobile applications, the number of daily active users is a good metric to watch. Specifically, at what rate are daily active users converting to monthly active users? This will help establish a standard number or baseline for how sticky your application is.
People often rely on ratings or customer reviews, but be careful: It’s been shown that 96 percent of unhappy customers don’t complain -- they'll simply leave and never come back. Setting key performance indicators (KPIs) that reflect retention can help you keep a good pulse on how your application is performing with your users. Any deviation from your baseline should be a red flag that causes you to dig deeper into what’s happening. It could be a sign of natural user attrition or a clue to bigger performance issues.
3: Don’t let the tyranny of the urgent take over.
Figure out what defines a great customer experience for your application and use it as a north star to set priorities. Let it guide what you'll fix or improve first. Floods of bugs or customer complaints might come in on any given day, causing you to play whack-a-mole. Developers need to stay focused on the problems that are most strongly tied to the excellent experience they strive to maintain. In the long run, aligning priorities with customers' leading values will uncover opportunities to build stronger, lasting relationships.
Consumers’ preferences are dynamic and ever-changing, so getting an application right is a continuous process. Building the next great application involves regularly putting yourself in the mindset of your end-users. Test for yourself whether your product's evolution parallels what users want and how they expect to experience it. An application built on user-first design and guided by the proper metrics has a good chance of standing the test of time and ensuring you stay hyper-focused on building great products your customers won’t ditch.