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Customer Interaction Power Acquisition

How Mobile Games Can Adapt to Rising User Acquisition Costs

Cost per installs (CPIs) for mobile apps hit an all time high during 2013 and all signs point to a continued cost increase each year. Unfortunately, the average revenue per user (ARPU) is not increasing at the same rate or even close to it. To understand what these numbers mean for app publishers here’s some quick math, adopted from Superdata, to depict what it means to have CPIs increase.

“Let’s say that you’ve just acquired a cohort of 100 brand new users at an average CPI of $2.25 USD. The average conversion rate (from a non-spending to a spending user) in October was 4.68 percent,” the company said. “Each of these players spends $21.45 (average revenue per paying user for mobile in the US). That gives you $100.39 in monthly earnings. With $225 in cost, you’ll need to make sure you keep those users engaged for at least two months before you start making a profit. And two months is an eon in mobile game time.”

If two months is an eon in mobile game time then the opportunity for mobile games to make a profit looks grim for the future. As  acquisition costs continue to rise year after year, customers will need to be engaged longer for the game to have a chance at making a profit. For mobile games (and other apps) there is only one conclusion:

Developers need to start to find a balance between paid acquisitions, and “earned” or “owned” organic acquisition.  Don’t simply dedicated your entire marketing or acquisition budget to paid ads or installs, but rather seek out ways to foster organic consumer behavior that will lead to referrals and fan media activity.

The goal of any customer acquisition campaign is not to simply acquire new customers, but acquire customers that actually spend money.  In an article from VentureBeat, Erlend Christofferson from Supercell and Jussi Laakkonen from Applifier both agreed that the ideal method of customer acquisition isn’t paid, but through word-of-mouth, customer engagement and community development.

We focus on creating engaged users. We believe an engaged user is more likely to tell his friends about our games, and more likely to monetize. - Erlend Christofferson, Supercell

The new way for games coverage, like everyone says, is a friend showing another friend a game. “Hey, you have to play this.” That’s the best way for a consumer to find a game. - Jussi Laakkonen, Applifier

Recently, I had the chance to talk with with Jon Kimmich, the founder and CEO of Software Illumaniti. We spoke about the rising costs of acquisition for mobile games and why it is critical for mobile game developers to employ other methods in lieu of paid acquisition. He had this to say:

Mitch Lasky (of Benchmark Capital) really hit the nail on the head when he said, ‘Developers will need to consider offering a high-quality community experience within their games.  At their best, games are single-purpose social networks’.  It’s one thing to build moment-to-moment gameplay engagement, but the most engaged and committed fans don’t stop there, they create commentary and content that extends and (in some cases) transcends the game or app experience, and as a developer you need to both nurture and provide means of expression in support of this activity.  To fail to do so is tantamount to leaving engagement (and money) “on the table.”

Even though paid acquisition seems like a necessary evil to compete with other mobile apps, taking steps to increase your organic downloads can be more valuable.

Facebook’s app advertising is often heralded as the best channel for paid  acquisition. In a recent report from Localytics, installs from Facebook hold a slight edge over organic installs in the total number of times an app is used over the first 60 days. However, that slight edge ends after the 4th use. Organic installs result in a higher percentage of 6+ uses over 60 days.

Organic and Paid Downloads

As described by Christofferson, highly engaged customers are the most likely to monetize and tell their friends. Based off the chart, organic downloads tend to bring in more highly engaged customers over time than Facebook.

So instead of increasing your budget for paid installs, it makes more sense to focus on your organic installs.

Organic App Downloads

1. Community Influencers

Take advantage of the influencers in your niche. According to the Ayzenberg Group, the most powerful form of digital marketing today is based on how we seek out information in the digital world. We look to the online experts who share our interests and heed their advice over any other form of marketing and corporate advertising.

Spend time finding and connecting with the online bloggers, social media stars, YouTube contributors, and other digital experts who fit your niche. Develop relationships with them and run campaigns utilizing their networks. These “new influencers” are proving extremely effective and yielding better results than previous online marketing tactics.

2. Interact With Your Customers

Turn your mobile app into a conversation platform and learn what drives your mobile customers to leave or return to your app. You can incorporate in-app communication tools to help provide in-app support, receive feedback, and interact with customers.

Creating a place where customers feel heard and listened to as part of the app experience increases customer engagement. Customers trust problems will get solved and feel better supported when they can talk directly to someone. The positive customer experiences that stem from the support, feedback, or other conversations you have with customers go a long way to powering those positive word-of-mouth exchanges that every app covets.

Lastly, providing one final frontier to capture information about bugs instead of learning about them on the app store is very meaningful. Negative reviews are powerful deterrents for new downloads. Having customers come talk to you directly instead of the app store decreases the likelihood of receiving low reviews.

Customer Acquisition Strategies for Mobile Games

Building a great game is by far and away the most critical component of having a successful mobile app, but in crowded app stores even great games need help to be noticed. Cultivating communities in-app and online are powerful acquisition methods that are more sustainable, relatively inexpensive, and gain customers with a higher lifetime value than paid channels.

As you plan your acquisition strategy or look to tweak the one you already have, don’t ignore your app customers and fans in your niche online. It will take a little more time and effort than just paid advertising, but it will have the greater reward.

If you have any suggestions of other methods of customer acquisition that can help mobile game developers combat rising acquisition costs please share below in the comments.

Post by:

Ezra Siegel
Apptentive Mobile App Survey

5 Reasons Your Mobile App Needs In-App Surveys

Apptentive Mobile App SurveySurveys have proven to be incredibly powerful tools for market analysis and driving customer insight. Restaurants and auto shops have surveys asking “How did we do today?” and retail stores often have their cashiers ask “Did you find everything you were looking for?” These may seem like simple questions to the consumer, but to a business these questions are crucial for understanding how to improve.

For online businesses, surveys have quickly become the best way to get insight into a customer base to determine who their customers are, how their customer feel, and what their customers truly want. All of which is very useful information! Originally conducted with paper and pencil, surveys are now commonly found all over the internet, but rarely inside mobile apps. Mobile apps are like any other business and stand to benefit from surveying customer and potential customer bases.

5 Reasons Why Your Mobile App Needs to Use Surveys

1. Save Money

Mobile app development is expensive. Every new feature and functionality costs additional money. Playing guessing games about what to create next can be incredibly costly and end up sinking your app. Never assume you know what your customers want because you will often be surprised what they will write when given the chance. Using an in-app survey can cut costs and much of the guess work from mobile app development.

From the beginning, incorporate a survey in your minimum viable product to capture responses about what your developing and what your customers would like to see. It is never too late or too early to use surveys as a channel to better understand how your customers feel and think about your app.  Having these answers can help you save money as you create what your customers want instead of what you think they want.

2. Prioritize Features

Creating a mobile app can be extremely exciting, especially when you get caught up in the fervor of  ”we can build this, and that, and oh we can do this too.” However, trying to do too much too fast or in the wrong order can hamper the success of your app. Spending time on a feature that really isn’t all that great can waste valuable time and resources. It’s important to be able to prioritize your features and plan a product roadmap with confidence.

Enter surveys. Surveys are perfect for figuring out not only what your customers want, but also what is most important to them. Give your customers a voice to aid you in your product roadmap and you can be confident that you are spending time on the correct path to grow your mobile app business.

3. Who Are Your Customers?

A few simple questions can provide a treasure trove of insight on your customer base. Collecting demographic information such as age and gender is important data for future app development and can even aid you in choosing the correct ad agency or in getting the right partnership.

Demographic surveys can also include questions about customer likes and dislikes, problems they have, and address areas not directly related to your app. The more you can understand about who your customers are, the easier it will be able to create something that they love to use.

4. Specific Customer Feedback

All customer feedback is valuable, but sometimes you need feedback about a specific item. If you’ve released a new feature or entirely overhauled your app design you may want to learn what your customers think of the updates. Do they hate it?  And if so, why? You may be curious why customers stopped watching an instructional video halfway through or why they abandoned their purchase partway through the check-out process.

Using a mobile survey can give you insight into how your app is faring, whether it is a game, retail, or entertainment. Getting specific feedback can tell you how a feature was received and why customers are abandoning their carts. If a new update results in unhappy customers it’s essential to find out quickly to help avoid an onslaught of negative reviews in the app store. These reviews seldom go away even when the problem is fixed as people rarely update their reviews.

5. Engage Your Customers

The amount of people who provide feedback in-app or in the app stores is a very small percentage of your entire audience. Encouraging the rest of your audience to share their thoughts is important to get the full perspective of your customer base and not just the vocal customers. Surveys are a proactive tool that can help you reach and get responses from a larger portion of your customer base.

Surveys tell your customers that you are dedicated to improving your app and provides them with specific questions to answer which is often easier for most people than creating their own feedback.

In-App Surveys for your Mobile App

Apptentive Android SurveyAs businesses increasingly use mobile apps to drive their futures, native optimized mobile surveys will be incredibly important for engaging and understanding a mobile customer base.

As with any app feature, it takes time and money to developer surveys that fit seamlessly into your mobile app. Apptentive’s in-app surveys are developed for native apps, optimized for mobile devices, and allow you to target segments of your customer base.

Whether you use a service or create your own, surveys are a powerful tool to drive your business and beat your competition. The app that is first to build what their customers want, knows who their customers are, and understands what their customers think is the app that will come out on top.

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Post by:

Ezra Siegel
blue bird feature request

The Power of the Follow-Up Message

Want to know one of the easiest ways to turn your customers into evangelists? The answer may already be sitting in your inbox. If you’re an app developer, then you are probably well aware of how important customer feedback is in shaping your product. Anyone familiar with the lean methodology of building a startup company also knows that collecting feedback is essential to the measurement cycle. While much is said about the importance of feedback as a tool for building better products, little is said about its importance in setting the tone of community engagement. Customer feedback is one of the most effective tools you have at your disposal to not only inform product decisions, but also to turn the inquiring customer into an evangelist. What’s the secret sauce? Follow up with them.

canary appDuring the last week of September, my company launched Canary to the App Store, a calendar app for iPhone that simplifies scheduling meetings and calendar management for Google Calendar users. In less than a week, we secured 3 press features in Business Insider, TechCrunch, and LifeHacker. With the press came a flurry of feature requests that no one on the team anticipated — people asking everything from why we didn’t integrate into iCal (a common question) to when we planned on adding a landscape view. In addition, the launch of iOS 7 was just around the corner and we knew an upgrade was inevitable. I immediately went to work fielding questions and compiling the feedback to prioritize what to build next.

We soon realized that the iCal situation had to be addressed with a quick solution (one that couldn’t involve engineering at the time due to the scope of the challenge), so we created a guide for syncing iCal to Google on our blog. The tipping point came when I received a particularly abrasive email from a user who was extremely upset that he couldn’t get his iCal events on Canary. I apologized and sent him the link to the post. No response. Then a few days later I decided to follow up with him asking if everything had worked out. Suddenly, the previously frustrated user had transformed into an extremely thankful one. He had been completely won over by our willingness to follow up and was appreciative enough to try out our tips, successfully becoming an ardent supporter of our app!

I immediately realized that this incident provided a very valuable opportunity for us and decided to see how I could replicate its success with the ongoing conversations we were having about features with our other users. I began by grouping them across email and social media based on the similarities in their feature requests. Once we prioritized what would be ready for the next release, I went back to the users who had made the requests and let them know what to expect in the upcoming launch. Then, on the day of the next release, I let them know that the feature they had requested was now available for download. The responses to my emails and tweets were amazing. Almost every user responded and every single one of those responses was extremely gracious and appreciative of having their voices heard in the development process. Sending a follow-­up email turned what is often a unidirectional, static interaction into one that conveyed attention to detail, and an actual interest in discourse. After two successful release cycles, I’ve realized that following up with your customers during the feedback process is effective for a number of reasons:

1. It’s the perfect way to close the feedback loop with your customers — especially in a public forum.

People will always be armchair developers. There’s no stopping that. However, it’s important to recognize the good ideas and suggestions that make your product better and provide closure for the initial concern or idea that initiated the discussion. Following up about a bug fix or a new feature is a sign of your willingness to get to a resolution and it demonstrates that you value your customers’ opinions to everyone who witnesses that interaction.

2. It gives people a sense of ownership over your product’s growth.

When people feel that their voices are not only being heard, but are actually a part of the conversations that influence product decisions, they will feel a much deeper connection to everything that your team produces. They are more likely to tweet about you, feature you in their blogs, and recommend you to their friends and family.

3. It makes your customers more willing to do things for you.

Need to administer a survey? Want a customer’s perspective on a new feature? Need beta testers? Reach out to those people with whom you’ve followed up. They are more likely to answer your questions, engage with your content, and test new things after you’ve already established a relationship with them that says, “I’m actually listening.”

This type of communication has had a powerful impact on our company’s culture, arguably more than the content that we’ve produced. More importantly, evidence of it on our social media channels, our App Store reviews, and the speed at which we’ve been able to improve Canary lets potential users know that we’re a team willing to listen and collaborate. Think about how you’re connecting with your customers through feedback and how you can make those relationships more valuable to the community that you’re building. It’s worked for us!

About the author:
Ralph Bouquet is the co­founder of Canary, a calendar app for iPhone that lets Google Calendar users simplify how they schedule meetings and manage their calendars. Canary is available for free on the App Store.

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Guest Blogger
Mobile Shopping

Don’t Lose Your Customers With Poor Mobile Customer Service

Mobile Shopping

Customers want the best deals and do not have second thoughts about switching to new companies to get what they want. They’re even quicker to switch if given a poor experience or by being frustrated with customer support. In a global survey conducted by Accenture, over 91% of respondents expressed frustration with mobile customer support. The study illustrated many expectations that customers have for their mobile experience:

  • 56% expect more options for obtaining service and support by phone, online and at store locations via mobile devices.
  • 50% find it frustrating having a company’s online channels for customer service and support not be optimized for mobile phones or tablets.
  • 47% during the actual buying phase find it frustrating not being able to access the information, make purchase or make payment using a mobile device at the time and place they want.
  • 45% would have been prevented from switching companies if they offered them better service and support via mobile device.
  • 38% of consumers globally who use online sources to learn about the company’s products and services, access the sites at least half of the time through their mobile device.

*Source: MobileShopTalk

There is ample opportunity here for the companies that devote resources to providing support optimized for mobile devices to capitalize on customers looking for a positive mobile experience. Acquiring more customers seems to be a common theme for companies, especially during the holidays, but I advocate for focusing on your current customers.

Newly acquired holiday shoppers spend 15%-50% less than repeat customers and are worth less overall to your company. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend the majority of your budget on acquiring customers when they spend less and are more prone to leaving. Instead, focus on improving your mobile experience with a heavy focus on mobile support. Word gets out when companies take their customer support seriously. Take a look at Amazon, Zappos, or Nordstrom and you can see how great support can affect a customer base. And if you’re still caught up on acquiring new customers, creating an amazing service or product that people talk about is one of the best acquisition strategies there is. Make your current customers happy and news ones will come.

Being Mobile During the Holiday Season

Customer service and support is clearly important to mobile customers and unhappy customers have no second thoughts about moving on. This should be thought of an opportunity for companies, not a problem. Providing an amazing mobile customer experience is not difficult and it doesn’t need a creative mastermind to come up with something new. Here are a couple of suggestions on how to provide mobile customer support that will retain your customers:

  • Be available for your customers wherever they are. This is a staple of customer support and it’s surprising how many companies simply don’t have an in-app solution for communicating with their customers. It should be a priority to make it incredibly easy for your customers to reach you, wherever they are. This is one of the most apparent problems with mobile support, or lack there of inside an app.
  • A human response. Customers want to feel taken care of. A response from a Justin or Katie is a better experience than “the team” or a “noreply” address. We strive for personalization and having a person who is there just for you generates a stronger feeling that the company is working to make your experience positive.
  • Be honest and communicative. A problem with many customer support approaches is the lack of setting expectations for customers. It’s essential to let customers know it may take a week to solve the problem, and not that a fix is coming soon. Be forthcoming about mistakes instead of covering them up. If something will not or can not be changed take the time to explain why. This goes a long way to creating trust with your customers.

There are many other suggestions for giving awesome customer service that you can apply to your mobile support. With the holiday season looming, great support could be the advantage you need over your competitors. Of course, creating an overall positive experience for customers starts with creating a great mobile product. If you’re interested in other ways to make your app more successful, I wrote a post with simple mobile app success tips to employ to make your app a better experience for the holidays and year round.

This year, holiday shoppers are 50%-150% more likely to make purchases from mobile devices. The mobile experience is fast, easy, and comfortable and when there is a problem consumers are looking for timely support. There is still a lack of support for mobile, but customers DO realize and appreciate when companies make an effort to provide helpful assistance.

The current frustration in the mobile market is leaving opportunities for any company up to the challenge of being thoughtful about how they communicate with their customers. There is still time before the holiday rush to add a mobile solution that can help retain your repeat customers. If the holiday season is important (or even if it’s not), take the time to make the customer experience as flawless as possible, even when problems arise.

Have you made an changes to your mobile app to anticipate the holiday rush? Any suggestions to fellow readers on how to succeed during the holidays? Please share in the comments below.

Post by:

Ezra Siegel
iPhone Localization

Localization and Mobile Apps: The Start of a Beautiful Friendship

LocalizationIf you’re able to read this sentence, chances are English is your native or second language. It is a common misconception that English takes priority over other languages, especially in the online and tech world. This is of course not true.

What we forget is that we live in a world amongst 7 billion people, which is said to increase up to 10.9B by 2050. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2012 the population of the U.S. is 313.9 million. So if you think about the fraction of the U.S. versus the world it’s essentially an ant on an ant farm.

As of 2010, there are an estimated 445 million Chinese, 154 million Spanish and 99 million Japanese language users online. It is estimated that fast-increasing language users, such as Chinese, will fully dominate and replace English as the top online language users within a matter of time. What does this entail for app developers and brands?

Well, in order to reach a higher audience for your app, you must localize it or risk being left out in the cold. English has not always been taught as a second language so we must keep our prior generations in mind, as well, when increasing a broader market for online applications. If the user doesn’t understand what your application does, chances of them downloading it are slim to none.

An article in the MIT Technology Review states, “Mobile computers are spreading faster than any other consumer technology in history.” In January 2013, Facebook reported that for the first time the majority audience was coming from mobile devices rather than personal laptops. Mobile technology is currently our leading source and therefore we must see the importance of localization and translation for mobile apps.

Many successful companies have made their apps available on a global scale, but more often than not, it has come at a steep price. Usually professional translation services can cost big bucks, sometimes as much as $.20 or $.30 per word. Traditionally, this would lead to only big companies or individuals who can afford this extra expenditure to offer multi-lingual content.

As a relatively new alternative, machine translators have since helped to provide free translations for everyone. However, for anyone who has used Google Translate, Bing Translator, or any number of the free machine translators available online, they know the results are rarely, if ever, accurate. While some might say, “something is better than nothing,” the truth is that having poorly translated content can actually have the inverse effect on your company. Many people will be turned off by the bad grammar or unintelligible content, and may actually think your company or app is poor quality and not worth downloading, regardless of the functionality or game play. That’s a big price to pay for merely trying to expand your market.

For these reasons, there has been a large push in the translation and localization field to come up with even more alternatives to help solve the language gap issue. As a member of Ackuna, a recently launched translation service, we find that the best solution for us is utilizing crowdsourcing to power localization to another level. Ackuna markets toward app developers as well as companies wishing to translate their web content. Instead of relying on inaccurate machine translations, Ackuna utilizes crowdsourcing amongst their online members to translate the content. The service is completely free and the process is a lot more accurate than any machine translation out on the market. Think of it as a translation machine powered entirely by humans.

Bottom line is that the online world is quickly becoming more globalized. The fewer language options you provide, the fewer downloads. However, what you use to translate your content matters greatly. If you have the extra money to spend on a professional translation company, by all means you should do so. Quality translation is an investment, just like any other marketing venture. However, there are new alternatives being developed which are worth exploring if money is a significant factor.

About the Author: 
Irina Usharenko is a marketing intern at Ackuna. Irina is expected to graduate this
year with a B.A. in Marketing Management from Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business. She plays a quartzy game of scrabble and has a passion for innovative technology.

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Guest Blogger
Mobile Customers

Do You Know Your Mobile Customers?

Customers

Jason Fried, the founder of 37signals, posed the question “Do You Really Know Your Customers?” For most of us with digital businesses the answer is no. We would not recognize them on the street, nor have a casual conversation with one of them as a small storeowner would. However, customers are our lifeblood whether we interact with them or not. Fried urges us to ask ourselves, “How much better can we be if we know our customers for real, not just as data points?” 

I’d have to say MUCH BETTER. Listening to your customers, valuing them, and really spending time to get to know them is the way we are supposed provide service. We should all be more proactive in understanding how we can really help our customers. There are useful tools such as Google Analytics, Flurry, and MixPanel that can give you robust data on the behavior of your customers. These tools are helpful, but there is so much more to know about your customers that these tools cannot tell you.

Whether you have an app you consider successful or not, do you wonder if it could be done better? Companies that have been extremely successful may shrug their shoulders and consider that they are doing enough. Not knowing customers is an all too often scenario in today’s digital world. Digital technology has changed the way we communicate and has made it so that in most circumstances not having a relationship with a company whose product you use all the time is normal.

I believe there is a huge amount of value for both businesses and customer to develop relationships and get to know one another. With this in mind, here are 5 reasons why we should talk to our mobile customers to get to know them.

1. When you talk to your customers, they talk back.

Customer feedback is one of the most essential resources for any company with a mobile app, and the best way to get it is by asking. Feedback serves as a tool to help prioritize features for roadmaps, improve your product, and understand how your customers are using the app. With feedback, companies can make quicker decisions faster and with more confidence that their customers will be happy with the changes.

Not all feedback is positive, but that negative feedback provides even better opportunities to learn and improve. If you develop relationships with your customers they will talk to you when there is a problem instead of you learning a week later about the issue. You can then fix it quickly so other customers don’t experience the same issue.

In general, feedback is the basis of conversation between you and your customers. Listen to what they say and you will have a better idea of what they want and how to improve your app.

Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers. –Ross Perot

2. Talking is the best form of customer support

Part of talking with your customers is to give them a good experience. The simple process of listening and responding to customers can go a long way, especially because in today’s app ecosystem most people are under the impression that apps don’t care about customer support. Having simple conversations can go a long way to providing a positive experience that customers want to share with their friends and family.

At 360iDev, Joe Cieplinksi gave a great presentation on “Customer Support: Building Apps for the Long Haul.” He points out numerous reviews and messages they received where customers were pleasantly surprised because the team behind the app cared to respond. We need to change these expectations as a whole, but support is a great channel for communication, learning, and that customer “wow.”

One customer well taken care of could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising. -Jim Rohn

3. Happy customers make you feel good

How often do you hear from customers who love your product? If you’re in a customer-facing role you may here it often, but as a developer it may be rare that you receive praise for your hard work or are even aware that people appreciate your efforts.

I recommend everyone in a company to interact with customers at some point. Having the experience of interacting with your customers can make you feel good, motivate you to continue working hard, and even provide inspiration on what to do next. Meeting the people who you help everyday can be as good for you as it is for them.

Don’t underestimate how important your own happiness is.

Revolve your world around the customer and more customers will revolve around you. -Heather Williams

4. Unhappy customers create an amazing opportunity

Did you know that most unhappy customers never say anything at all? That means you should cherish the ones that do all the more. There shouldn’t be anyone more important to talk to and get to know than an unhappy customer.

If you’ve ever wondered why people stop using your app or never use a certain feature, these are the best people to talk to so take a moment to have a conversation and find out. Unhappy customers can be your greatest evangelists when you listen to what’s wrong and work to solve it.

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. – Bill Gates

5. Trust is built through relationships

People who talk to you trust you more.” We believe in this quote at Apptentive and always have channels open for our customers to talk to us. We enjoy spending our time talking with customers, understanding their pain points, and what we can do to solve them in the most simple, effective ways possible.

Building a relationship should be at the core of how every company focuses on its customers. Customers are the most important person in a company, and developing relationships are essential to building a customer base that trusts you.

Every company’s greatest assets are its customers, because without customers there is no company. – Michael LeBoeuf

Do you know your mobile customers? No? Well, it’s time that changed. If we take the time to talk to our customers we can learn a lot, and in the end you may appreciate it more than they do. Start taking efforts to make digital technology a positive channel for interacting with your customers rather than a wall. It’s hard to know exactly how much better we could all be if we knew our customers but it definitely wouldn’t hurt anything if we tried.

Do you think it is important to know your customers as more than just data points? What are some of the best examples of companies making an effort to know their mobile customers in the digital world?

Post by:

Ezra Siegel
App Store Rankings

Ratings to Affect Apple App Store Rankings

The rumor is that Apple is tweaking the app store algorithm to include ratings. According to app marketing firm Fiksu, starting in July there has been a noticeable shift up the ranking charts for apps averaging 4 stars and higher while apps that are rated 3 stars or less are dropping.

App Store Rankings

There are also reports that Apple is experimenting with engagement as another factor for rankings. According to a post from TechCrunch, new user engagement (i.e. time spent per session, number of sessions per week, etc.) is increasingly affecting category rankings.

Engagement Affecting App Ranking

All in all, Apple seems to be experimenting with creating an app store ecosystem that places quality apps at the top instead of just the apps that get downloaded the most. Including ratings in the ranking algorithm places Apple down the path for rewarding apps based on quality by gauging engagement and retention levels.

We are all aware that there are services available for gaming the download system and we must assume there will be instances of buying ratings as well. One argument is that adding ratings into the algorithm will damage the ecosystem further as apps with mid to low-level budgets will get pushed further into obscurity as ratings increase for apps that have the budget.

It may well be the case that apps will buy ratings to try and move up the rankings, but I am sure (I hope) that Apple will invest time and effort into catching apps that use black-hat tactics to increase their ratings. Even with the potential for apps to try and game the charts, including ratings into the algorithm is a necessary step forward to having the best quality apps reach the top charts.

With ratings (and engagement) becoming  factors that will affect Apple App Store rankings, here are 5 tips to get better ratings for your mobile app.

5 Tips for Better App Ratings

 

 

  1. Learn which customers love your app and which ones do not. If you ask every customer to rate your app how many ratings will end up negative? Negative reviews will no longer just dissuade new customers from downloading your app, but also lower your rankings. With Apptentive you can talk to unhappy customers to gather feedback about what could be improved while guiding happy customers to the app store.
  2. Ask for ratings at the right time and in the right place. There is a right time and place for everything and this holds true when asking for ratings. As a general rule, don’t ask for a rating the first time a customer uses an app. Let them experience the app before being prompted. Also, try to avoid prompting customers while they are busy interacting with the app. For example, prompt a customer after they finish the checkout process and not when they add an item to the cart.
  3. Give your customers a voice. By making it easy for your customers to contact you in-app, frustrated customers will vent to you about your app instead of leaving a negative review in the app store. This gives you the opportunity to solve a problem, create a happy customer, and then ask politely for a rating.
  4. Respond with respect. Always respond with “thank you” to any message received from one of your customers. Whether a customer complains about a problem or suggests a feature for the hundredth time, responding respectfully and courteously can disarm an upset customer. This gives you the opportunity to providing amazing service and “wow” the customer with your support and attention to their problem. Giving them a great experience can often lead to a positive review later on.
  5. Ask after each new version release. With the current reports surrounding the changes in the Apple App Store there is a belief that ratings of the most recent version of an app will harbor the most weight. New ratings and reviews from your loyal community could become very valuable if this new system is put in place. If so, be sure to ask your community for ratings after each release, but remember to not over do it or spam your customer base.

How do you feel about ratings being included in the Apple App Store ranking algorithm? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below.

Post by:

Ezra Siegel
iOS7Updates

Automatic App Updates on iOS 7 Will Hurt App Retention

Automatic app updates are one of the many new Apple App Store changes being introduced in Apple’s new operating system iOS 7.

For the consumers who hate the red badges it’s your lucky day. With automatic updates you will never see the pesky red badge on the App Store icon again.

For companies with mobile apps, these automatic app updates are a mixed bag. From the positive perspective, you no longer need to worry about whether or not customers have updated to the latest version of their app. No more complaints or bad reviews about bugs that have been fixed in a newer available version.

Automatic Updates iOS 7

Apps now automatically update each day.

As great as it is to have your software update automatically, it comes at a costly price. The automatic updates take away one of the only touch points that companies have with their entire mobile customer base.

Communication

Since the beginning of the Apple App Store, communicating with mobile customers has been difficult. In the Apple App Store you are not able to respond to reviews, negative or positive. In a marketplace where customer communication and customer support are paramount to success, not having access to your customers is incredibly detrimental.

Even with the barrier that is inherit in the Apple App Store, companies were able to, until now, have a micro connection with their customers through manual app updates. A badge would alert the customer that an app had a newer version available to be installed. Navigating to the app store you actively saw what app(s) were going to be updated. Even if it was only for a second you thought about that particular app, and for many people that would lead them back for at least one more session.

Since Apple doesn’t otherwise provide developers with a way to communicate directly with their customers that indirect mechanism [manual updates] served an important role - Matt Henderson

You are still able to see the updates with iOS 7 if you navigate to the app store to look, but after using iOS 7 for  a couple months now, I have never looked. It just doesn’t occur to me to look after being consistently reminded for the past 5 years, and I strongly believe most customers will behave the same.

These updates provided valuable notifications that an app had been updated. It showed the customer that the app was being improved, that there was a team somewhere spending time and effort into improving the experience.

But why is this a problem?

Retention

Retention is one of the most difficult problems facing every mobile app. 60% of apps are deleted only ONE MONTH after being downloaded. At 6 months, 90% of apps get deleted, and only 4% of customers will be using an app they installed a year ago.

Churn rates are incredibly high and taking away a notification that serves as a reminder will only increase these numbers.

The best way to improve retention is through communication.

Losing a key mechanism to reminding your audience that your app exists somewhere on their phone will have two outcomes.

  1. Nothing will be done and customer retention will plummet even further.
  2. Customer communication will become a higher priority for app developers. If you’re looking for a great way to communicate with your customers, inside your app, take a look at this post about Message Center.

Many companies do not place much importance on communication and developing customer relationships, but it can’t be ignored. Without automatic updates you need to be more proactive in connecting with your mobile customers than ever before.

We are a few short months away from having the majority of the iOS population on iOS 7. If you haven’t thought about how to better communicate with your app customers now is the time to begin.

For those out there facing this new dilemma, do you have plans to find a new touch point with your customers? If not, why not? Share your thoughts below.


Post by:

Ezra Siegel
altwwdc

AltWWDC in Review – How to Focus on the Customer

AltWWDCLast week I had an amazing time attending and volunteering at AltWWDC in San Francisco. For those who don’t know, AltWWDC is an alternative conference that occurs simultaneously to Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference. The conference had an array of world class speakers who are all leaders in the mobile and tech development field.

With the addition of a co-working space, instructional lab sessions, and panels, AltWWDC is a wonderful conference open to all and I highly recommend everybody to experience it next year. You know it’s good when plenty of individuals with WWDC badges choose to spend their time at AltWWDC instead. Ultimately, it is an unbelievable community that fosters growth and innovation and every developer can gain knowledge and friends by being part of it.

The talks and panels at AltWWDC covered everything from design, app marketing, mobile games, to plenty of development tips such as how to make your app run fast, Cocos2D,  an in depth look at how the Vesper app was created, and more. What struck me as interesting was that almost every talk and panel had an underlying focus on the customer. Throughout the diverse talks, the notion of connecting, listening, and understanding your customer was present even if it wasn’t directly being spoken about.

Within this mobile, connected, and flowing world companies are trying to replicate the mom and pop style of community and personal interaction with their customers. Focusing on your customers can seem like an obvious statement, but it is harder to do than you think. That is why you hear so many influential speakers mentioning it in their talks.

Marketing

Eli Hodapp, the editor in chief of TouchArcade, gave a talk titled “Traditional Marketing Sucks, Let’s Get Weird.” The talk broke down how many mobile app developers approach releasing a mobile game onto the app store. It usually goes something like this:

  1. Spend a ton of time building your game.
  2. Submit to Apple and hope for the best. If it’s rejected, tweak as needed to comply with Apple.
  3. Blast out press releases to everyone imaginable.
  4. Cross your fingers, wish upon a shooting star, or rub your bald friend’s head for luck for Apple to feature your game.
  5. Make loads of money.

This get rich quick mentality is, in Eli’s words, “toxic.” For the top games in the app store there is so much more that went into the creation of these games than code. Eli’s top piece of advice to mobile game developers was to invest in creating a community or being part of a community. Traditional PR marketing can’t hold a candle to the power of a community. Make the press irrelevant by starting your own community and make your own press through your community.

Obvious paths to building a community can be through Facebook and Twitter, but don’t forget about sites such as TouchArcade, iOSGaming on Reddit, or even sites not directly related to gaming like MacRumours. Engage with and build your community by constantly posting concept art, new features, and showing aspects of the app as it is built. You will be building personal connections with every interaction, every conversation, and driving excitement for your app.

“Real connections with the people who use your app are more effective than any kind of marketing you can ever do.”Eli Hodapp

Make your app, whether it is a game or not, a part of a community by  responding to your own threads as well as commenting on others. You may not realize this but every personal interaction, a reply to a question, a sharing of an idea, or confiding in a loyal fan is a memorable experience that you have created for that person. You will be building a community that is loyal to you, your app, and anything you release in the future. You have people that will champion your app, tell your friends, and even start forums about your app on other sites. Traditional marketing can suck, but building a community shouldn’t be weird. It should be the every app’s first marketing goal.

Source: Eli Hodapp, TouchArcade

Source: Eli Hodapp, TouchArcade

Listening

Lex Friedman, a senior writer a Macworld, gave a talk called “Learning from Apple’s Mistakes.” Apple has obviously made mistakes, just look at the release of Apple Maps, MobileMe, and the Cube to name a few. However, after the release of Apple Maps, Tim Cook wrote a letter apologizing for falling short on Apple’s commitment to providing the best experience for Apple customers. He even went as far to name alternative applications for Apple customers to use, including Google Maps, in the letter. However, not everyone is like Apple and I don’t recommend providing your customers with an alternative solution, but writing a letter to take ownership and acknowledge the frustration that Apple customers were feeling was a great solution.

It can be hard to compare Apple with your own company or independent moonlight activities but everyone should strive to acknowledge and listen to their customers. Lex referenced many examples where Apple made mistakes and the result of those mistakes, but in the end what every developer could actionably take away from the talk was the type of relationship they should have with their customers.

Honest and open communication with your customers is incredibly important.”Lex Friedman

There will be times where you receive large amounts of feedback from customers, angry and happy, about what you should change or improve. Whether the customer is right or wrong, they deserved to be listened to. Try a reply of “Thank you for your suggestions. At this time we do not have time to change this feature, but thank you for bringing it to our attention.” You’d be surprised at how a simple response can satisfy a customer, even if that response tells them that nothing will be done. Here is a great article that Lex wrote that shows when Apple heeded or ignored customer outcries on their products.

Communication

Josh Michaels, an independent developer most famously known for Ow My Balls!, gave a great talk titled “Tales from Indie Tech Support.” In the talk he regaled us with stories, both painful and hilarious, from his experiences interacting with his customers. The talk gave a fresh perspective on how important customer support is. A single developer, who has hundreds of tasks to do in order to be successful, will take the time out of his day to respond to every bit of feedback no matter if it is praise or harsh criticism. Josh created a recipe for responding to feedback, even if it is an inconsiderate, rude, or condescending message.

How to respond to feedback:

  1. Say “Thank You”
  2. Apologize for the inconvenience
  3. Ask how you can help

It might look something like this “Hi, Thank you. I am sorry about the inconvenience. Is there anything I can do to help fix the problem?” Sometimes simple and to the point is best. Josh has seen remarkable conversations begin with this response. Commonly customers are surprised to even get a response, let alone someone asking what they can do to remedy the issue. Once you open the conversation with an angry customer there are numerous ways to turn them into a loud, happy, and loyal fan.

One of Josh’s tactics is to offer them a refund or even provide a free version of a future product. The goal is  to continue the conversation to learn what could be improved or what was wrong. These conversations give allow Josh to develop a relationship with those customers, most importantly the ones who are unhappy. By refunding the money, but not giving up on them, more often than not he creates a loyal fan from an unhappy one, eager to know when about his next product release. One element of Josh’s talk that stuck out to me was the importance of being accessible. If it isn’t easy for customers to reach you, they won’t, and you will not have a chance to turn a dissatisfied customer into an evangelist.

“You need to make yourself easily accessible, don’t HIDE from your customers.”Josh Michaels

Making yourself available through your app is a feature that is often overlooked. It isn’t difficult to do and should be just as important, if not more, than being able to turn the sound on and off. The first step of providing great support is by being available through your app because that is where your customers are.

Design

There are more ways than just building communities, listening, and being accessible to your customers that can have an impact. Charles Perry, owner of Leaf Hut Software, gave an enlightening talk on universal design. There are millions of people in the world with some form of disability and products like the iPhone and iPad can have a profound effect on changing those people’s lives. For the blind, deaf, or physically disabled, apps open up a whole new way to experience and interact with the world. Charles’s talk “Designing Apps for Everyone” really illuminated the power that every developer has in changing lives.

In a talk called “Marketing You Won’t Hate” given by Jean MacDonald, a developer extraordinaire and founder of AppCamp 4 Girls, she gave a vital piece advice to us all.

“What’s easiest for your isn’t always the way to go. Think about it from the customer’s perspective.” - Jean MacDonald

This piece of advice goes far beyond marketers and directly into what Charles meant when he spoke about universal design. Developing for everybody requires you to think about it from the customer’s perspective. That is not to say that your app has to have universal design functions that will allow someone who is blind to use it. It lends to the concept that each app can be a powerful tool for someone and it is the responsibility of the developer to invest extra time and effort to make the app as best as possible for the customer, disabled or not.

Even the small stuff can impress your customers and give them a better user experience leading the customer to those surprising “delightful” moments. Ben Johnson, a senior product engineer at Raizlabs, gave a wonderful presentation on “Gratuitous Animations.” Gratuitous they might be, but certain animations can add and create a better user experience. These animations can be incredibly helpful at creating an engaging experience on a small screen and even teach the customer something new or how to use the application. Take a look at Ben’s slides to see how subtle animations can improve the user experience and but remember not to go over the top with the animations.

Source: Ben Johnson, Raizlabs

Source: Ben Johnson, Raizlabs

This review of my experience at AltWWDC was to express thanks and to show developers how they can focus on the customer in myriad of ways.  You can build a community and leverage personal relationships to help market and improve your app. You can take unhappy customers and turn them into loyal fans with a little time and effort. Efforts that often go far further than you could imagine. You can place the customer perspective at the forefront of your mind and make an application that provides what they need, and even change someone’s life. You can focus on the smaller aspects of your app to provide an overall better experience and delight the customer.

Focusing on the customer benefits developers as much as it does the customer. When you pour your heart and soul into an app you want people to love it. So think about the little things, join a community, listen to your customers, understand the customer perspective, make yourself accessible, and you will create something larger than an app. You will be creating a wonderful experience, a new relationship, and perhaps brighten someones day.

Many of the talks slides are available through each speaker page and you can watch some of the presentations online. Did you attend AltWWDC? Please share any comments about AltWWDC or how customers are playing a larger role in our products.


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Post by:

Ezra Siegel