Mobile dominance over Desktop
Mobile usage continues to dominate over the desktop usage with the proliferation of mobile platforms and apps. It’s no longer an option to go mobile but rather it is a necessity to be mobile-friendly to survive in today’s ‘wireless’ friendly business world. Below graph shows how critical it is to factor in your mobile marketing strategy in your overall marketing strategy. As mobile technology has taken over for desktops when it comes to users’ browsing habits, it has become essential for businesses to have a mobile app that adds value to its customers.
Importance of building a user friendly mobile app
As important as it is to design and implement a mobile app for your marketing, equally or perhaps more important is to design a mobile app which is versatile and user friendly. And the rationale behind that notion is obvious – it could be more damaging to a brand to come out with a poorly conceived and built app than to have no mobile app at all. Launching a poorly designed mobile app that lacks in functionality and navigational ease will potentially send users right back to the app store to search for a similar app, most likely from a competitor.
Interview with a SME (Subject Matter Expert)
To gain some insight into how to avoid designing an app which becomes a liability instead of an asset, the Social Barrel team recently talked to Steve McKean. Steve is the co-founder and creator of BILLSHARK, a mobile app available on Android and iOS, that provides guidance to consumers on how to reduce their monthly bills. Steve shared his team’s mobile development success stories and also talked in detail about the best mobile development practices which helped him in remaining ahead of the ‘mobile’ curve.
Below is a summary of how Steve & team went about developing BILLSHARK mobile app.
The 7 Steps you need to follow for a successful mobile app development
Overall Customer Experience
- First step was to realize and reinforce the idea that overall customer experience is the driving force behind BILLSHARK mobile app development. The idea was to focus on ‘how to address customer’s problem’ and then developing a mobile app that would help solve that problem and not the other way around.
- The key is to always have a clear big picture in the background of every developmental aspect. So, if the big picture is providing a great customer experience, then the mobile app you are building is going to be a piece of that big picture, unless your business is ONLY going to run via the mobile app. Bottomline, ‘Customer Experience’ should be the core of your mobile app development just as it should be any other type of development.
Defining your Critical Components
Once your overall goal such as providing customers a great overall experience is defined, define the critical components that will help you achieve your overall goal. In the BILLSHARK mobile app development, Steve & team defined below 2 components as part of their overall goal:
- Assessing customer problem i.e. helping people lower their bills via negotiating with billers such as utility & mobile phone bills.
- Which mobile development platform needs to be used to build an app providing a great customer experience? This also includes selection and leveraging of the relevant 3rd party tools and systems. Below tools and systems were used in the development of BILLSHARK mobile app development.
- The next step is to build a sound messaging architecture. It involves doing a lot of research on who your customers are or would be and eventually creating customer personas i.e. who they are, how they communicate (including which language needs to be used to interact with the customers), and how they would like to be engaged.
- Once you have defined your customers’ personas, the next logical step is to create detailed wireframes that will model how your customers will interact with the system. Wireframing is a great tool to visually represent how the back-end CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools fit in the big picture to provide a customer friendly experience.
- An important aspect regarding modelling your business process flows is using subject matter experts from the business area that you are dealing with. That certainly helps in better understanding your customer needs. Specifically, since wireframes are a must have tool for mobile development, a subject matter expert can help develop comprehensive wireframes. In case of BILLSHARK, since Steve has worked at AT & T for number of years, his knowledge around mobile business in general and monthly mobile bills in particular, provided a great advantage to his team.
Highly functional ‘Prototype’ & Test Run
- Once your wireframes are done, building a highly functional prototype is the next step. The prototype should show functioning of components such as language, logos, graphs, error messages, and visuals so as to simulate your app’s core use cases such as testing the complete customer sign-up process. For BILLSHARK, the test team ran multiple trials to see how quickly a customer could get through the sign-up process since efficiently using customer’s time was one of the top most priorities.
System Integration (including API Integration)
- Once a test run of your app is complete, system integration comes into play. All the front, middle, and back end pieces (including the APIs integration) are put together via system integration to test how the app works end to end as a whole unit. A critical aspect of system integration is to test the cross-platform impacts such as how effectively your app is synced with your website for customer sign-up as customers will potentially be signing up via your mobile app as well as your website.
- A word of caution regarding APIs integration – it is absolutely important to consider how your API’s will function during your peak user load spikes as well as from a long term perspective as your user base gets bigger. In words of Steve, “It’s easy to overlook just integrating an API and not thinking about how your API will respond to varying scales or levels of activity. Will you crash it, will it work fast enough? Will the latency increase when you have more and more users. I would caution app-makers to pay a lot of attention to the APIs they integrate with and think about the future.”
- Steve recommends using Zoho CRM for API integration as Zoho CRM helps in integrating CRM modules with third-party applications such as, accounting, ERP, e-commerce, self-service portals, and similar apps.
- Tools such as ‘Segment’ can help with effective system integration as they allow the simultaneous activation and tracking of multiple enterprise apps.
Website Performance Test
- To enable an optimized customer experience through fast loading of requested web pages, Steve recommends using CloudFare, a cloud based company providing provides content delivery network, Internet Security services, and distributed domain name server services. As per Steve, your DNS (Domain Name System) could be a bottleneck to your mobile app’s performance and especially if you are building native HTML5 apps, you need to pay close attention to your DNS.”.
UAT (User Acceptance Testing)
- The final step before you launch your mobile app is to conduct a comprehensive user acceptance testing. Via user acceptance testing, you are able to simulate how the end user i.e. customer, will use the application as if he or she is using the application post launch. So, user testing provides the essential feedback by the users and also an opportunity to discover and fix any bugs.
- For BILLSHARK, www.usertesting.com was used for beta testing for 8 weeks. Additionally, a big group of test users comprising of BILLSHARK associates was also used as part of user acceptance testing which helped fix a lot of bugs and issues.
- To streamline user testing, ‘Error Reception’ platform was utilized. ‘Error Reception’ logs, tracks, and prioritizes testing errors resulting into saving a lot of testing time and effort.
So BILLSHARK mobile app was successfully developed and launched for the Android as well as iOS platform using above steps and guidelines. The app is now fully functional and receiving positive customer feedback and available via BILLSHARK website or via App Store as well as Google Play.
There were challenges and great lessons learned during BILLSHARK app development but the launch of a successful product shows that if proper steps are followed, mobile app development can be fun as well as a great experience. We sincerely hope that Social Barrel’s audience will be able to leverage useful information for their next app development venture from the BILLSHARK experience