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Apr 13, 2022
With 85% of Americans owning a smartphone, a solid mobile experience has gone from a “nice to have,” to a “need to have” part of the customer journey. And within an ever-growing field of customer experience apps, more and more brands are getting into the game, but few are winning consistently. Even among brands who managed to drive downloads when brand-specific apps first hit, building consistent usage over time has been a challenge.
In a recent study SMG conducted to understand consumer app preferences, 83% of customers indicated they have at least one fast food restaurant app installed on their phone, with 36% reporting having more than five. But just because these applications exist, it doesn’t mean they’re meeting customers’ needs. What brands need to focus on first is how these apps deliver more value and a better experience to customers while simultaneously serving the company valuable data about areas they need to improve.
Here are the best practices drawn from data around what customers want from a brand-specific mobile app and how customer engagement can help companies improve the customer experience and drive financial benefits.
Avoid common pitfalls in expanding a digital presence
Private clubs. Membership-only privileges. FOMO. People love to be part of the “in” group.
The same concept can apply to brand-specific customer experience apps. In late 2021, both McDonald’s and Burger King offered app-specific special promotions, with McDonald’s offering a special Mariah Carey-themed menu and Burger King offering throwback birthday prices for the Whopper available only for digital app users.
The result, in part, was a 20% increase in app downloads for McDonald’s and a nearly 200% increase for Burger King.
Exclusives like this drive interest, and it’s a strategy that works with consumers. Almost 40% of customers in our study indicated they downloaded a fast-food restaurant app to take advantage of a special deal or promotion.
The data is clear: Customers engage with apps that give them access. It’s not enough to merely put an app out there, no matter how well it is built. Customers need a reason to hit that “Download” button.
While a lot of customers in our study indicated they downloaded fast-food apps for exclusive deals and promotions, at 48% the #1 reason was to earn loyalty rewards or “points.” In fact, gamification, the use of in-app games or game-like tools, has been on the rise for years, driving engagement for brands in industries from restaurant to athletic apparel.
Loyalty rewards and earning points that can be redeemed for future promotions not only gives customers the feeling the brand is giving them a little back for their loyalty, but also provides incentive for returning. Again, this is a feature customers respond well to, with 23% of survey respondents indicating “Loyalty rewards programs” was the thing people liked most about their fast-food restaurant app.
Give your customers a way to track their loyalty and incentive for returning, and they will repay the effort in kind.
Consumers aren’t just using their phones to research and make purchases—they’re also using them to provide feedback on their experiences. Today, 65% of surveys are taken on a mobile device—up from 50% last year.
This is good news: collecting more in-the-moment feedback while experiences are still fresh in the customer’s mind is the best way to get accurate feedback. This shortened lag time—between the actual visit and when front-line teams can see the data with real-time reporting—helps brands get timely insights that lead to quick action.
But before you can get to actionable insights, you have to ask the right questions. To create a mobile-optimized survey that’s also user-friendly, we recommend a few extra best practices:
Now we get the key feature of any fast-food restaurant app: How well it actually does its job of collecting orders and helping customers get their food. Fortunately, with 87% of customers indicating their experience is the same, better, or much better than ordering in-person, most customers report being generally satisfied with their experiences with fast-food restaurant apps.
That’s not to say everything is perfect. SMG research shows even before the pandemic, companies’ mobile offerings haven’t always kept up with evolving customer expectations. We’ve seen some telling trends through our analysis of more than 1 billion customer comments, and our research not only shows an increase in mobile mentions over the past several years, but a decline in Overall Satisfaction scores when mobile was mentioned.
Where customers reported experiencing issues, two of the top three problems were with the app itself: no options for customization (26%), and what they wanted wasn’t available (22%). Restaurants can also look to close the loop on customer issues by being sure the customer experience app is designed to be part of the curbside or delivery experience, as well.
SMG research shows only 8% of companies say they provide a “very integrated” customer experience—but nearly 3 of 4 consumers are using multiple channels during their shopping journey. When customers experience disjointed channels, they see a disconnected brand. Make sure your digital channels are facilitating their needs rather than adding to their frustrations. And what’s the easiest way to do that? Assume the customers visiting your website or app are the same ones in your locations—and they want to experience the same brand.
At the end of the day, the customer experience app is an extension of your storefront and an integral part of the experience for those that use it. Be sure you are constantly monitoring usage and data to ensure your app is meeting needs and providing a great experience as expectations evolve, not driving customers away.
Having an app doesn’t matter if nobody wants to use it.
Developing an app customers will download is a challenge, but it’s only half the battle. The real barometer of success for a native app is how often customers actually use it. The average app user has 36 apps installed on their mobile device. However, only 25% of those apps are used on a daily basis, and a quarter of downloaded apps are never used at all. In fact, studies estimate mobile users spend 84% of their time in just five of their favorite apps.
Brands often make assumptions about the customer journey rather than defining that journey through actual customer behavior. Remember: it’s the consumers who determine how they’ll interact with your brand and what they expect across channels. That’s why it’s imperative to understand the user experience through the eyes of the customer.
Uncovering what customers are experiencing in an automated and scalable way isn’t enough. You also need additional context to address the why behind their feedback.
For example, FullStory’s research revealed 83% of respondents said a “good” digital experience simply means being able to “quickly accomplish what I came to do.” This is valuable information to have, but the crucial next step is understanding what a quick and efficient experience means to customers.
Session replay is one way brands can quickly uncover customer needs and provide them with a speedy, efficient digital experience—helping you definitively answer the question, “What’s really happening on my site or app?”
Another way to streamline the feedback-to-insight process is through AI-native text analytics. Qualitative feedback provides invaluable insights behind quantitative data and answers questions you didn’t think to ask. With advanced features like sentiment and topic trends, regions impacted, and operational risk alerts, you’ll have the tools you need to turn open-ended feedback into digital improvements that lead to business-changing insights.
Monitoring data will be able to tell you what customers are reacting to and what keeps them engaged. Developing and rolling out an effective app can take up a significant amount of resources, so apps that don’t drive business outcomes can be a costly endeavor. While an effective app experience may help retain loyal customers and drive return visits, you have to fit it into your larger omnichannel customer strategy and be willing to refine your approach accordingly.
If you’re able to do these things right, you can reap the future-facing benefit of customer experience apps, data that will help move you forward. With the right CX program the data from your app, you can not only can help improve the customer experience and drive profits through return businesses but refine practices in ways you might not have considered through AI-driven analysis of data.
You want to be able to meet customer needs where they are. The data you are afforded through customer experience apps can help determine traffic flow and relative customer satisfaction, helping you proactively adjust staffing levels and address logistical concerns like ordering practices down to the individual location level.
While it’s impossible to prepare for everything, brands should keep customer benefits top-of-mind as they look to evolve digital strategies that effectively serve customers and deliver the important related data necessary to inform the future.
To learn more about what customers expect from their mobile experience and where to direct your efforts, download this digital transformation best practice guide. You’ll find 5 common pitfalls to avoid and 3 trends to adopt now.