Apr 21, 2013

Designing Mobile Customer Experience: It's not Just About Your Service

If you are designing a consumer mobile app for your company, focus on solving a 'major annoyance' hindering your customer's experience, even if it's not within the scope of your product or service.

Every company wants to engage with consumers through social media and mobile. Then why do very few mobile apps get used by consumers more than once?

It's true that most people don't want to engage with companies beyond offers and coupons, unless the brand is 'brag-worthy'. Moreover, most company mobile apps are squarely focused on pushing their products & services and often provide limited value to consumers.

I was reminded of this product management challenge today when I used the Great Clips Online Check-in app for a haircut. I realized I use the app far more frequently than many other shopping apps (including major retailer's) that have been opened only once or twice on my iPhone.

Why? The app has a simple and compelling value proposition: 'This app saves  you time!' All the app does is to show you the Great Clips locations nearby with the current wait times. In one tap, you can check into the store of your choice that puts you at the top of the queue. That's it! When you walk into the store, you immediately get the service.

The app is more interesting in what it does not do. It does not prompt me to share 'I just had a great haircut at Great Clips' on Facebook or Twitter. It does not 'help me design the best hairstyle for me'. It does not push haircare products. It does not even offer any coupons or loyalty program. (though it might make sense to do that at some point!)

What can product managers and designers learn about a customer experience mobile app from this almost trivial app from a 'no-frills' store chain?

Understand the Customer Experience and Address a 'Major Annoyance': Your customer's experience starts before they ever get to your store or buy your product. In this example, it starts the moment someone wonders whether he should get a haircut that day and how long he would have to wait.

Once consumers find the hair styling experience & service acceptable, the 'major annoyance' is not in the service itself (unless a stylist badly screws up your hair!) It's having to wait around on a Sunday morning. By designing the value proposition around this 'annoyance', the app provides concrete utility that motivates a customer to use the app repeatedly.

Another example might be the game day experience of a sports fan in a stadium. All sports teams try to engage with their fans by mobile apps with offers, coupons, fan games etc. However, in user research, our product management team found that the 'major annoyances' in a football game are getting in and out of the parking lot and the long lines at the restrooms, since everyone wants to go there only when the other team has the ball! That explains why Disneyland ride waiting time apps by third parties are probably more popular than the official Disneyland apps.

Mobile apps force you to design for the most important thing you need to solve. Reducing any 'cognitive overhead' (great article from TechCrunch) is necessary, but it's still not sufficient. A mobile product manager needs to understand your customers' entire experience beyond your product or service. If your app can be designed to solve an annoying problem anywhere in that journey, it might be the trigger for customers to start using the app frequently that can ultimately drive loyalty, repeat purchase, and even social media advocacy.