How to Increase Customer Engagement Using Apps

How to Increase Customer Engagement Using Apps

Apps are a powerful business tool. They build your brand, help you reach new customers and deliver game-changing digital experiences directly to mobile devices. With a talented team of app developers behind you (that’s us, by the way), you can create apps that benefit your businesses in an almost endless array of ways.

Today, we’ll focus on one specific benefit. Using apps to drive customer engagement is one of the most overlooked aspects of app design, development and implementation. In this article, we examine what makes mobile apps such a great engagement tool and how our developers leverage these benefits to ensure customers keep interacting with your brand.

What makes mobile apps such a powerful engagement tool?

smartphone homescreen showing app icons - what makes mobile apps such a powerful engagement tool?

Here at The Distance, we started developing apps way back in 2009, so we have a pretty good idea what makes them such a powerful tool for engaging new and existing customers. We tend to break the benefits into five key areas when explaining the value of apps to customers. They are:

  1. High user time – OFCOM research shows that smartphone owners spend an average of 4 hours and 48 minutes everyday using mobile apps (BBC News). Remarkably, that’s a third of their waking hours. Higher user times mean more time spent with your brand.
  1. Smoother UX – Generally, compared to other digital channels, such as websites, mobile apps offer a far superior user experience (UX). This is because apps are more malleable and open to creative design than other channels. Our designers and developers know how to create dreamy user experiences and those experiences ensure customers stick with your brand.
  1. Convenience – One of the main hurdles mobile apps must overcome is the initial download. It takes more encouragement to get a user to download an app than to open a browser and visit a website. However, once you clear that hurdle and they download the software, apps are super convenient. This convenience gives you an edge. Once a user downloads an app, they are more likely to choose it over a competitor’s service.
  1. Data analysis – Modern marketing and product design are built on data. We target specific groups of customers, tailor features to user needs and design marketing channels based on the data we collect. And there’s no better source of customer data than mobile apps. 
  1. Better access to high-quality leads – Users only download an app if they’re already interested in your products and services. This makes them high-quality leads. Apps focus these high-quality leads in a channel that enables easy and regular communication, giving you unprecedented access to valuable potential customers.

Having examined why mobile apps are an excellent customer engagement resource, let’s turn to the specifics of how we use them to improve engagement. Based on more than a decade of app-building experience, these are our top tips for driving greater engagement with your apps.

Integrate features that ensure the customer returns

As we mentioned above, mobile apps are a high-use channel. Users spend considerable time with their mobile phones and are always just a tap away from opening your app and engaging with your brand. As developers, we must take advantage of this to drive greater engagement. 

The easiest way of achieving this is by integrating features that encourage repeat use. This can take several forms. It could be publishing new content daily, rewarding users who open the app regularly or putting out special offers that are only available via the app for a short period. 

Features that offer customers value and encourage regular use will help increase engagement and build behavioural habits that benefit your business. Active users are the foundation of all successful apps, so we consider every way we can optimise your app to build a loyal user base.

Make use of data collected through your app

woman using smartphone and laptop - make use of data collected through your app

To take advantage of data collected through your app, developers need to think about how we harvest, process and analyse it. Essentially, we’re trying to build apps that help you better understand your customers and adapt your services, products and channels to their needs.

Generally, we split data into two broad groups:

  1. App usage data – this is data that tells you how users interact with your app. We typically use it to refine app performance and enhance the user experience. It can inform when and how often you send push notifications or whether we should drop a particular feature from your app. In this sense, app usage data has a big impact on how effective the other methods included in this guide will be.
  1. Customer data – this is data relating to the customer. It includes information like location, gender, contact details and personal preferences. It is useful when segmenting customers and you can apply it across your entire marketing operation. Though it’s collected via the app, you can still use it to tailor email and social media outreach. It’s also valuable information for personalising services (more on that later) and creating buyer personas.

Utilise push notifications to re-engage customers

Push notifications are a big deal. Though they can be tricky to get right, they are one of mobile apps’ many secret weapons. By allowing you to push communications to a user’s home screen, you make it far more likely the customer will read, acknowledge and act on the message. 

Push notifications are a fantastic way of re-engaging customers and getting them back using an app. Although Android has now enabled push notifications from websites, iOS has not. This means the vast majority of push notifications are sent via mobile apps. And they have a significant impact.

Research conducted by Invesp shows that push notifications increase app engagement by 88%. When push notifications are enabled, 65% of users return to an app within 30% days. Additionally, you’re approximately four times more likely to retain a user with push notifications enabled than a user who disables them.

However, push notifications’ success depends on how you use them. Sending too many often results in a user deleting your app or disabling push notifications, while sending them at the wrong time reduces the likelihood of a user clicking through. Though it does vary slightly between industries, the accepted wisdom is it is best to send notifications at lunchtime and in the evening. Essentially, outside of traditional work hours. 

We also recommend sending just one push notification a week. Send more, and you drastically increase the probability of users disabling notifications or deleting the app. Finally, personalising push notifications is a great way of improving engagement rates. Netflix is a fantastic example of this. It regularly sends out effective push notifications featuring show recommendations based on your viewing history or reminders that a new season is due to start.

Trigger emails when the user takes certain in-app actions

phone screen showing email notifications - trigger emails when the user takes certain in-app actions

As app developers, we want to create apps that encourage engagement across all channels, not just the app itself. One of the ways we achieve this is by linking email communications to particular actions in the app. Consider Strava, the fitness app. When someone adds you as a friend, comments on your activity or gives you kudos, Strava sends you an email telling you what happened. 

Emails are an effective way of reminding users to engage with the app, as communication occurs via a second channel and is no longer restricted to the app. You are now communicating on two fronts. By broadening communications to encompass more channels, you increase the customer’s exposure to your brand and app. Increased exposure to your brand encourages familiarity and makes customers more receptive to it. Eventually, a customer prefers your brand simply because it is familiar. This is known as the Mere-Exposure Effect or the Familiarity Principle.

We can integrate various types of email outreach into your app, ensuring you can engage and re-engage users in diverse ways. These include:

  • Activation/sign up emails 
  • Event invite/notification emails (e.g. in-app sales)
  • Educational emails (e.g. guides on how to use certain features) 
  • Customer feedback surveys

Keep users in-app when shopping for products

Capitalising on convenience is also key when we design apps. Statistics show that 46% of users are less likely to shop around for other options when they’re using a company’s app (ITProPortal). That means apps help reduce competition and accelerate your sales funnel. By reducing the likelihood of customers looking for alternatives or running price comparisons, we move them a step closer to completing their purchase.

However, this depends on our ability to keep the customer in the app. We achieve this by creating seamless in-app experiences that minimise obstacles to purchase. This includes limiting the use of links that navigate the user out of the app and ensuring the app can handle every aspect of the purchase process. 

This is all part of creating a smooth and enjoyable user experience. The aim is to retain customers in the app when possible and only move them away from the app if necessary. In those cases, the app should link directly to one of your other channels and the resources they need to complete their journey. 

For instance, if you need to link a user to a resource on your website, the link must provide an immediate answer. If you link to your website homepage and force the user to seek out the information themselves, you put obstacles in the way of purchase. You also provide the user with an opportunity to check out the competition or look at alternative products.

Personalise the mobile experience

woman in art studio using smartphone - personalise the mobile experience

Today, users demand and expect personalised experiences. Google research demonstrates that 63% of smartphone users are more likely to purchase from companies whose mobile apps show them relevant product recommendations. 

An earlier Accenture survey suggested that 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands that recognise customers, remember previous actions and provide tailored offers and recommendations. Finally, a Twilio Segment report highlighted that 44% of consumers will take their business elsewhere if you don’t offer them a personalised experience.

These statistics illustrate just how central personalisation has become to satisfactory digital experiences. Customers expect tailored product recommendations, content and discounts. If they don’t receive them, they will look elsewhere. The nature of apps makes them the perfect channel through which to deliver these personalised experiences. 

Mobile apps often allow for a certain amount of aesthetic personalisation, too. Users can set up the app to reflect their own needs, adjusting their preferences and choosing between different shells to create an app that feels more individual and in keeping with their own personal tastes.

Adopt an omnichannel approach

Our last expert tip concerns omnichannel design. The omnichannel approach prioritises the unimpeded movement of data, customers and employees across channels and tries to eliminate organisational silos that prevent free movement. This reflects the way modern consumers often start the customer journey on one device and continue it on another, sometimes jumping between four or five devices before completing a task.

Apps are one (admittedly, very important) element in a much larger digital ecosystem. The interplay between those channels and how we facilitate connections between touchpoints is just as key as what the channels can do on their own. Though they may sometimes seem like it, apps aren’t stand-alone products. We must incorporate them into the wider customer service system. 

A customer can begin their journey in an app but there is a good chance they will finish it elsewhere. As experienced app designers, it’s our job to ensure the app facilitates the continuation of that journey in other channels. How this manifests in practical terms depends on what other channels clients utilise and how they want to shape and influence the customer journey. However, we are well versed in enabling seamless transitions between channels, minimising disruption and eradicating obstacles that may prevent a customer from making a purchase.

What next?

At The Distance, we’re app specialists. We understand the vital role apps play in encouraging customer engagement and use that knowledge to develop apps that build your brand and keep customers coming back. We also recognise that apps are one aspect of the customer service system and we need to design them to drive engagement across the entire business. As a result, we take a holistic approach to app development, maximising benefits to your business.

If you want to know more about how we can help increase engagement by developing a world-class mobile app, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We would love to hear from you.

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