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Understanding the customer journey on a mobile app

Customers' journeys can vary based on the channels they use to interact with brands. For mobile apps, points of purchase, UX and easy onboarding are critical.

The customer journey on mobile applications can vary widely, as it can be unique to or complement other channels.

As a result, organizations have many ways to craft a mobile app's customer journey map. Retailers could see how an app can complement ad campaigns, physical shopping experiences and customer retention across touchpoints. App developers could identify bottlenecks in the onboarding process and engage with different user personas or analyze the customer journey to remediate bugs and unclear communication in mobile experiences.

How mobile apps affect CX

Mobile apps enable organizations to engage with users whenever and wherever. They can use location data as part of the app experience or to recommend more relevant offers. For instance, mobile apps can steer people in physical stores toward competitive products and services.

However, mobile experiences can suffer across interactions. Carlton Retland, principal solutions engineer at Applause, a digital testing platform provider, said customer journey analysis can help identify and fix problems, such as functional bugs and unclear communication.

Functional bugs include problems like buttons that don't respond or take consumers to the wrong place and searches that return incorrect results. Examples include instances when a customer attempts to purchase an item but cannot select a specific color, or when customers don't receive a link or code to reset their passwords.

If someone places an order online for in-store pickup, the store should clearly communicate when and where the order will be ready. Customer journey mapping can ensure communication such as the order confirmation, push notifications and SMS messages are sent to let the customer know where to get the order upon arrival. 

If the process is flawed or has friction points, the consumer may likely abandon the cart without ever making a purchase.
Carlton RetlandPrincipal solutions engineer, Applause

As brands plan their mobile apps' customer journeys, they should evaluate their business type and the role the mobile app will play in CX.

Retail journey map phases

Physical and digital retailers may explore how mobile CX can build customer loyalty across virtual and physical channels. Frank Riva, vice president of marketing at 1010data, broke the mobile customer journey for retail into three main parts: pre-purchase, point of purchase and post-purchase.

Pre-purchase. In this phase, consumers can search from any location to compare products in real time and know alternatives within minutes. "There is also the opportunity to make location-based or SMS-and text-based offers that are unique to mobile devices and offer a level of immediacy and personalization that non-mobile options cannot," Riva said.

Point of purchase. Mobile devices empower consumers to buy products wherever they are physically. For example, a customer can check for the best price in a brick-and-mortar store and quickly decide whether to purchase in the store or online.

Post-purchase. Mobile app benefits include personalization and immediacy. For instance, apps can scan in-store codes to view more information. There, brands can offer a customized promotion to that individual based on buying history. Also, SMS communication is unique to mobile and offers a level of intimacy and immediacy that other channels can't replicate, Riva said.

A chart that explores different phases of customer journey maps
The retail journey map reflects the most common phases of customer journeys: before, during and after purchases.

Product-centered journey map phases

Organizations that create businesses and services delivered primarily through mobile apps may take a more product-centered approach.

Jason Pesek, head of product for core and driver experiences at Motive, said his company's product suite aims to improve driving safety and trucking and car fleet efficiency. Pesek has found it helpful to break the customer journey map into app discovery, download, onboarding and usage phases.

App discovery. To start, brands want people to discover their apps. "It's all about increasing the top of the funnel through native app store search, online ads, PR and other activities," Pesek said. If the app doesn't resonate well with target users, brands may need to tweak their messaging until customers start to download the app.

App download. This phase comes after a user decides to download the app, open it and create an account. If the app looks clunky from the pictures or many users don't adopt it, then other people are less likely to trust and download it.

Onboarding. Once users sign up, they enter the onboarding process. This phase is critical, as it can be the difference between someone becoming a consistent app user and someone who uninstalls it the same day. The app must be intuitive enough to show users what to expect and how to complete core actions but is not too annoying. If done right, users should see all they can do in the app and use it. If not, they may use the app sparingly or uninstall it entirely, Pesek said.

App usage. At this point, the app should show enough ongoing value that customers continuously return. Common problems at this stage include the app taking up too much phone storage and poor performance leading to user frustration, according to Pesek. 

Mobile experience journey map phases

A strictly mobile approach can help brands that want to improve experiences across apps and other web-based channels. Applause's Retland suggested brands break this customer journey into three phases: account sign-up and login, UX, and transaction and payments.

Sign-up and login. The sign-up process is crucial, and it includes the steps required to create an account and successfully log in. The process should be intuitive and easy to understand. If customers become frustrated with confusing instructions, have to perform too many steps or the app doesn't work as expected, they might give up, Retland said.

UX. The UX phase explores app usability in real-world situations. In this phase, brands should explore different types of engagement across personas. They should look for practical ways to segment users into different audiences based on age, gender, location or other relevant demographics.

Transaction and payment. In this phase, brands must understand the various hiccups and handoffs between different payment approaches and delivery channels. For instance, consumers may prefer multiple payment methods across devices and locations. "If the process is flawed or has friction points, the consumer may likely abandon the cart without ever making a purchase," Retland said.

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