Blog: The seven critical success factors for mobile apps and services
As we explained in a previous blog, offering your products and services through mobile is hugely important. With people expecting to interact with your organisation whenever and wherever they want to, mobile provides the front door. The experience therefore needs to exist, be available on a device of their choice, be context-sensitive, and be of a high quality.
Get it wrong, and it’s never been easier for customers to take their money elsewhere (or for them to tell the world about their poor experience). But getting it right isn’t just a question of going down to your nearest app development company and getting them to build you something pretty in a couple of weeks. However good the user interface is, this is merely part of a larger jigsaw, all of which needs to be in place for the experience to be a good one.
How to get mobile right
Mobile relies on a complex blend of capabilities and technologies to succeed. We’ll now look at the main areas you’ll need to address if you’re to create a market-leading customer experience.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all business case for mobile, nor can the same technology approach be used in all situations”
The first thing to remember is that there’s no one-size-fits-all business case for mobile, nor can the same technology approach be used in all situations. Every organisation is different, and will want its mobile offering to focus on specific areas.
By extension, the metrics used to measure success will need to be thought about carefully: simple statistics are unlikely to reveal the true value that mobile is bringing.
The seven critical success factors
1. Get the customer experience right
This is the most important area to get right – and it’s about more than just the user interface (UI). Shrinking down your website – however wonderful it may be – is unlikely to translate into a great mobile experience, because people have different goals when using a mobile device compared to on a computer.
A mobile banking customer is likely to want to check their balance or make a fast transfer between their accounts while they’re out and about. The same person on the full website may want to search their statements to find a specific transaction. Different device, different context, different location, different goals. The mobile experience needs to be built from the ground up with this in mind.
Another factor that influences customer experience is how your mobile offering performs with a slow or non-existent network connection. A high-quality experience requires your mobile offering to handle such situations elegantly.
To get this right, you need to do your user research, by way of focus groups and persona profiling, to define user goals and user journeys. From this knowledge, you can design an experience, which will need to be tested and refined with real users, using techniques such as user testing and A/B testing, as well as heuristic evaluation.
You’ll typically need several rounds of testing to get the experience right, and remember that as platforms and expectations evolve, you should review your experience to make sure it still addresses users’ needs.
2. Tackle the proliferation of device types
Delivering a high-quality experience is particularly difficult when you’re not sure what kind of device it will be consumed on. There’s an almost infinite number of combinations of screen size, orientation, hardware spec, operating system (OS) and carrier network.
“You’ll need to know the sorts of devices and OSes your target market, customers or employees are using, and build something that gives the majority a high-quality experience”
It’s a huge challenge to design an experience that will work well across the board, so you’ll need to know the sorts of devices and OSes your target market, customers or employees are using, and build something that gives the majority a high-quality experience. When making the decision about which devices and OSes to support, bear in mind that the more you try to do, the greater the cost of development, testing, support and maintenance will be.
Mobile platforms are fast-evolving things, and you’ll need to keep pace with new hardware and operating systems as they become available – it doesn’t look good if your app stops working as soon as an update to iOS or Android is released.
Device-wise, you need to strike a balance between cost and putting mobile services in front of as many people as possible.
3. Create a context-rich experience
Mobile devices are packed full of sensors and connectivity tools that can enrich the customer experience: you’ve typically got a GPS, Wi-Fi triangulation, clock, accelerometer, camera and a gyroscope. Information from some or all of these needs to be brought together intelligently – and combined with information from other systems – to create a context-rich experience that enables the user to achieve what they need to do at a given moment in an intuitive way.
For example, a phone can use its location sensors to know when a customer is in a shop, and then look up relevant information from a variety of services, such as special offers and price comparisons with other stores.
The flip side of this is to think about the implications of using data or services from third parties. What if your mobile service is reliant on data from a partner, and that partner is unable to provide it? What if the data supplied by your partner is of low quality, or wrong? Could you face legal issues for providing incorrect information?
4. Embed the right analytics
Mobile provides an opportunity to capture and analyse many more user interactions. You can use these insights to segment your users more effectively, understand their behaviours and preferences, and then develop new products and services to cross-sell and upsell. You can also use the insights you gain to pinpoint sub-optimal processes, improve the overall customer experience and prove return on investment.
Achieving these benefits relies on your mobile service incorporating rich analytics from the start. This is much easier and cheaper than adding this capability later.
5. Build in reliability and resilience
Part of a first-class customer experience is reliability. And because mobile doesn’t live in isolation, it isn’t just your app or mobile site that needs to be robust. Mobile services will require information from other systems, so these too must be resilient: they not only need to deliver the right information at the right time to mobile, but must continue to perform well in their primary duties as well.
“Mobile is likely to place enormous additional load on your infrastructure, because it makes your services available at new times and in new places”
Mobile is likely to place enormous additional load on your infrastructure, because it makes your services available at new times and in new places. You must plan for this, and remember that the demand pattern for mobile will look very different from the ones your website sees. One option that can help you overcome these demand spikes is to use cloud hosting, which can be configured to link securely to your core systems.
6. Integrate with other systems
As touched on above, mobile services will need to link to other systems, many of which will not have been designed for the demands mobile will place on them. For example, you may want your mobile service to provide up-to-the-minute information about someone’s account. This information may be stored in a system that is only updated once a day, meaning that you’ll need to rethink and re-engineer the system if your mobile goals are to become a reality.
You also want to avoid the situation where a user is left waiting for the service to load because the behind-the-scenes systems aren’t able to deliver the required information in time. You’ll need to make intelligent use of caching and set up an appropriate, multi-tier architecture that handles interactions between user-facing front-ends and the back-ends.
7. …and don’t forget security
The final area you need to give careful consideration to is security, which is an incredibly complex topic. To provide the high-quality service your customers want, you’ll be exposing more of your systems and services to potential miscreants. Furthermore, you have little or no control over the devices your services are being used on, which could be jailbroken/rooted, and be harbouring malware such as keyloggers or man-in-the-mobile apps.
Think about what data is stored on the device and what the implications could be for the user and your organisation if it fell into the wrong hands. Consider what is sent between the device and your servers: what damage could someone harvesting this through a rogue Wi-Fi network or other man-in-the-middle attack do with the data?
Don’t forget simpler forms of attack either: someone watching over your customer’s shoulder while they type in their login details, for example. Then there’s the tricky area of social engineering, as well as possible cross-channel methods of getting around security barriers.
These examples illustrate the importance of looking at security holistically: the processes and procedures you put in place need to be carefully planned and thought-out across all channels that customers and employees interact through.
The tricky thing about security is that it can detract from the overall customer experience. Requiring several passwords and multi-factor authentication may give you rock-solid security, but have a negative impact on the customer experience. Paradoxically, too many hurdles can even reduce your security, because people may write down passwords if there are too many to remember. This highlights a real issue that will take time to get just right.
Remember that it may be possible to redesign your business processes to enable you to remove security hurdles in an acceptable way. Key to getting this right is to understand your organisation’s overall attitude to risk, as well as your regulatory requirements around sensitive data, including the Data Protection Act.
Overcoming these challenges
These seven areas are complex and daunting to overcome, particularly when you start needing to combine them. To do so successfully, the entire delivery approach for mobile needs to change fundamentally from how it has worked for other delivery channels. We’ll look at this in greater depth in our next blog.
Richard Shreeve is Consultancy Director at IPL, and has helped numerous big-name firms develop successful delivery strategies. You can stay up to date with IPL by following them on Twitter at @IPLdotcom.