AltWWDC in Review – How to Focus on the Customer
Last 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.
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:
- Spend a ton of time building your game.
- Submit to Apple and hope for the best. If it’s rejected, tweak as needed to comply with Apple.
- Blast out press releases to everyone imaginable.
- Cross your fingers, wish upon a shooting star, or rub your bald friend’s head for luck for Apple to feature your game.
- 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.
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.
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:
- Say “Thank You”
- Apologize for the inconvenience
- 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.
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.
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.