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How to make sure your company’s app is up to scratch

(Image credit: Image Credit: Syda Productions / Shutterstock)

Many companies will now be considering developing their own app for the very first time, as Covid-19 makes physical meetings with customers and clients difficult, if not impossible. Unfortunately, this also means that many businesses will be diving head-first into the world of app development without having much experience of digital solutions outside of their own company’s website.

Small or medium-sized businesses that have previously relied on in-person interaction to drive business might overestimate the resources and time required to develop an app. But with over 78 percent of people in the UK now owning a smartphone (rising to over 95 percent among 16-24 year-olds), the potential benefits of delivering products and services through mobile applications should not be overlooked.

During the new reality of social distancing, people have increasingly turned to their phones to facilitate their everyday needs. If we zone in on the food sector for example, apps like OpenTable reported a 4 percent increase in usage between March and April 2020 as users explored the new restaurant collection and delivery services entering the market. Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s SmartShop app saw an increase in its user base from 44 percent in February to 65 percent in April.

These early figures suggest that customer behavior will be affected in the long-term as people realize the ease of engaging with a business entirely through digital means. There is a strong opportunity here for companies to take advantage of the shift to digital and improve their online offering.

To encourage such innovation and dispel reservations that decision makers may have surrounding apps, below I will attempt to dispel three of the biggest misconceptions that I believe hold companies back from fully exploring the potential a bespoke app can bring to their business.

Simplicity is key

Someone without a background in UI may endeavor to create what they believe is ‘the greatest app ever designed’. It’s tempting to replicate everything that you know works for other apps in your own digital solutions, in an attempt to try and achieve the same levels of success that, say, social media companies enjoy for your own business; regardless of what sector your company is actually in.

The US payment App Venmo famously tried to accomplish just this by incorporating a social media platform inside their payment app. Understandably, this was generally seen as a failure – not just because income and finances are somewhat sensitive topics that people don’t want to post about online – but because the feature strayed too far off the core functionality of the app.

To learn from these mistakes, business leaders deciding to develop an app for their company should quickly identify what their app’s core functionalities should be and stick to them religiously. Take the time to understand what is instrumental to the functionality of your app (the ‘must have’ features), and separate them from the ‘nice to have’ features – those, which could make the user experience more enjoyable, but are not strictly necessary in order to deliver the app’s core offering.

Having a strong product vision and sense of direction will ensure that the core functions are not overshadowed as the app grows. Over-cluttering the app with unnecessary features risks alienating customers who are simply seeking the same level of simplicity that they enjoyed in person before the age of lockdown.

Solutions already at your fingertips

While it may sound obvious to some, the technology involved in any given app never needs to be created from the ground up. Readymade solutions that perform exceptionally well are plentiful and can save any given company’s developers hundreds of hours which can instead be spent polishing the app’s core functionalities.

Gmaps, Bing Maps, Apple Maps, Stripe, and even PayPal are all examples of technologies which can be seamlessly incorporated into any app to provide delivery updates or payment functionalities with only the minimal amount of extra work needed from your developers.

Before unveiling your final product, it may be worthwhile to start with an MVP (minimum viable product), which will allow you to test the functionality of the app and better understand the user experience. Not only is this a way of testing market demand for the app, but it will also enable you to gather feedback in the shortest amount of time possible.

When you are building something completely new, every aspect of the build becomes more complicated and, by extension, development becomes more time-consuming generally. Integrating existing solutions into your app and conducting a test-run before launch will tell you whether the readymade resources are fit for purpose and will meet the needs of your users. If the feedback suggests that they are, this will save you time and money developing the core features, and give you room to focus on tailoring the customer experience.

For those who are exploring the world of app development for the first time, it’s exceptionally important to take advice from experienced developers as to which solutions will serve their customer’s needs best. There is a litany of technology companies in the UK that can offer anything from creating the entire app to simply providing an advisory role throughout the app’s development journey. For companies that need to quickly create a digital storefront to continue acquiring customers in this era of social distancing, reaching out to such experts may lessen the burden of designing an attractive and high-quality app.

Regular maintenance required

Again, this may sound basic, but an app requires constant, endless updates if it is to be as successful and useful as possible. This as important in the initial stages as it is after launch.

A robust, high-quality app should not encounter many problems with bugs or glitches, however it is still something worth bearing in mind: indeed, even the world’s most popular and established apps like Instagram and Twitter occasionally experience technical issues that need to be ironed out.

To minimize the risk of bugs cropping up, apps will need to go through a stringent round (and ideally, multiple rounds) of testing. It might be helpful to think of the ‘beta test’ phase as a soft launch for the app, whereby the product can get real-life exposure in the hands of early users. This quality assurance (QA) testing is a process of ensuring that your product is of the highest possible quality before it becomes available to the end-users.

Ideally, manual tests should be performed by highly skilled and experienced testers – again, a 3rd party company can help here. An extra pair of eyes is always helpful, as specialists will be able to spot issues that the developer may not have noticed. After all, you wouldn’t expect an author to proof his own work.

Once any outstanding issues are flagged and addressed, you can be confident that your app will work seamlessly once it launches to market.

After launch, collecting regular, in-app feedback will enable you to gauge just how much value your users are really deriving from your app, what features they enjoy, and where there is room for improvement.

As such, regular updates and user feedback should be planned out from the very beginning of development. Many developers will use activity-based feedback to collect this type of data and will also regularly ask their users to rate their overall experience. Enabling customers to describe any issues they had in detail is vitally important for ensuring that no-one goes through a company’s app with a lesser opinion of the company than they held previously.

Maintaining good oversight over people’s experiences with the app will also allow you to plan for the future. What aspects of the app are highly valued by users, which functions could they do without, and how can their overall experience be optimized? These are all important questions to drive the long-term vision for your product.

I hope that the points laid out above serve as a useful guide for decision makers that are contemplating commissioning an app for their business. Many will be rushing to establish a digital storefront as they witness declines in customer footfall on the high street. Cynics may think that, as a result of this, we will all now be cursed with ill-thought-through hastily developed mobile applications that become the only way to engage with the companies and brands we know and love. I, on the other hand, am hopeful that if enough companies endeavor to get their goods onto peoples’ smartphones and are clever about the way that they do it, we will all enjoy new levels of accessibility and convenience that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

Ritam Gandhi, Founder and Director, Studio Graphene