When is your Customer Journey ready for a Mobile App? – Tapptic Interview

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ADS: “Hello, I am Alexandre, I am 32 years old. I am now currently the Managing Director of Tapptic, the first mobile agency in Belgium and one of the top agencies in Europe for mobile app projects.

Before that I was a professional field hockey player for the Belgian national team, and now I’m fully dedicated to digital.”

AB: I remember well, you went to the Olympics!

ADS: “Yes, twice! I was there in 2008 and 2012.”

AB: I have a question I hear asked a lot:

When do you know that your customer needs an app?

ADS: “First, I would ask, do they need a digital interaction system – that is the first thing to discuss… and then when we talk about digital there are different touchpoints [such as social media]… So the question is, what do you do on the web? What do you do on social? And do you need an extension of that on mobile? It can be web-based technology, so it can be a version of your website that is very well organised for a good experience on mobile, and then – if you have a very strong product or service to deliver, it’s probably the time for you to shift to a mobile app.”

Alexandre adds that, whilst around six years ago there was a shift towards apps, where everyone wanted one, that has since declined. This is due to the difficulty in bringing people on board, continuously engaging users and retaining customers long-term. Now, the companies who have apps tend to be those with a large existing client base, such as public transport in Belgium, TEC,  RTBF, RTL, Voo, Brussels Airlines – where the product or service they provide needs to go mobile and they need an app that performs.

AB: You give very solid examples, we all understand that those companies already have a solid database of customers.

When do you know your Customer Journey is ready for a Mobile App? 

ADS: “We work a lot on customer journeys and personas, and the way we need to address them – of course it’s not perfect – if someone says that the customer journey is 100% perfect and covers all the needs and personas, it’s probably not true… however, it’s a good way to rationalise it.”

He felt working this way could get you approximately 80% of the way there. Then, based on that, you can address which digital channel you will use.

ADS: “…sometimes not even digital… sometimes it’s someone going to a post office which is not digital but it might be interesting to address this across the whole experience. And at some point, if you see that the mobile interactions are very deep and something that you would use on a daily basis via mobile, then comes the question ‘web is probably not performing enough to address this’ so definitely a mobile app is a way to keep the engagement and for some companies, it’s even more than that because – thinking of the banking sector – you might change your bank if the mobile bank that you use is doing this, and this and this, you might move your whole portfolio over.”

In summary, Alexandre recommends considering the touchpoints, analysing if mobile is important, then – if it is – looking at how best to address that. Some companies do not need an app as web-based works well for them, whilst some need this and an app as well. In either case, it is crucial to focus on delivering quality. 

AB: This gives you a competitive advantage – your customer can change from one bank to another, from one app to another, just for a user experience.

One of Alexandre’s top tips when it comes to inspiring your user experience is to look to other industries – “change did not come from the sector itself” he notes, giving examples of companies like Revolut – fintech – and Apple as proponents of change. These types of brands are leading trends across industries so don’t be afraid to look outside your own industry for good ideas you can translate. 

AB: There are a lot of surprises when investigating the mobile offering. Specifically, when your client says they need an app –

How to define if we need a Mobile App or a Web App?

What are the main ingredients?

ADS: “[The minimum we need is] at least to have a view of how big the project is and exactly what [the client needs]… we have different types of demands.”

“Some clients come with an RFP so it’s a request for a proposal with 300 pages, everything is crystal clear, we have questions about technical choices and so on, but it’s basically very well defined, and our answer to that is the way that we see the project, the way that we see the concept, the UX, the UI, the way that we see the technological choices and, of course, the budget – because it’s always a matter of budget as well. 

So that is for the client that is very mature and has a very clear idea; this type of client has already spent days on customer experience, user experience, personas, journeys, and they come with something that is quite well detailed.” 

Then there is the second, completely opposite type of client… “we have clients saying “we need an app” or “we need to rethink our app but the answers are not there yet. We need you to help us on going through this path of knowing exactly what we would need at the end and then start the production side of it.” So let’s take a step back, let’s understand, let’s analyse, let me explain to you what are the technological possibilities today – the opportunities that you have – and sometimes it’s very detailed because, at some point, if you think about connected devices, and IOT (Internet of Thing), the way we think about it, with bluetooth or wifi, or both, which is a basic choice, can completely change the user experience at the end.”

Alexandre notes that it can sometimes take up to 200 days to get to the concept stage, so it can be a long term that involves developing a thorough understanding your customer’s business needs, objectives, their users and what they need, which current apps their users already have on their smartphones, who are their competitors, what are people in other industries doing. Investigating all these angles brings up potential opportunities for exploration and provides a clear view of what to do. From there, a prototype can be built, exposed to potential customers, or current customers, and tested.

ADS: “This is the way we do prototyping and user testing… before going into production”. He explains how just a few years ago this was not the case and products would have gone straight to market without what is now the crucial phase of user testing and getting their feedback. 

“…When we go to production, it’s almost very clear that we did not miss a big thing or that there is no opportunity not addressed, or things where you think ‘we should have thought about that’… once we go to production it’s very smooth because we know exactly what we need to do.” This seamless and pre-emptive approach also works well for his clients, as they avoid mistakes further down the line.

AB: Now you are more into prototyping, testing solutions to be sure you don’t miss any opportunity, is it something easy for your less mature clients to accept because you talk about time and budget but I know this is something sensitive for every business, so how do you convince your client to accept those changes in your organisation?

ADS: “…Some clients they just say “yes, of course you can spend 100 days because we don’t know what to do, so that’s definitely something we expect for you to do”, that’s one type of client; the other type of client is “yes but we know, we didn’t do it like that in the past so we’d prefer to go directly to…” it’s a question of maturity.”

Alexandre explained that it is vital the client understands the importance of investing in prototyping and user testing – even just doing the minimum in this respect, but still doing something – from the outset of the project. 

“…[We] try to pinpoint the volume of work we need to at least avoid the biggest mistake we could have during the project… [then] we say to the client: “please, even if we don’t take six focus groups, we don’t do six lots of user testing on the prototype, at least let’s go do the minimum because it will let us erase the stupid mistakes we could bring into the project later on”.

Today, I would say 50% of the projects [involve] at least with the minimum mission of understanding the needs, the business objectives and the technological traits.” 

AB: So that’s a good evolution, and the key is really in the risk assessment you provide to your clients so they can see what are the advantages of that when it sounds like extra cost. 

ADS: “It sounded before like extra cost but now it’s being viewed as a project cost… again it’s a question about if we mitigate the risk in advance, it’s probably a cost that we won’t have at the end …” He advises that the potential cost for adding in missing functionality at a later date can be around 30% more than if it had been picked up during testing. “So we know it’s an investment…we have to educate the client but it’s always a case of at least doing the minimum to ensure the biggest mistake could be avoided.”

AB: I understand, I’m with you on that. I spend a lot of time interviewing and exploring the customer journey and the customer experience as a whole, and it will save some time for sure and some money on the project overall so I’m very happy to see that there’s a great revolution in your services on this because I’m a true believer that it’s the key.

Now, imagine that we are considering all the app building, the experiences, the habit – businesses will of course work the acquisition and retention strategy around an app, which is also very key. The acquisition is very tricky for an app, and I think companies realise how tricky is acquisition compared to just driving traffic or having email acquisition or something; lead creation is something totally different to app acquisition. Can you elaborate a little on this?

Alexandre outlines two defined situations here – one where there is an existing customer base and one where there is not.

ADS: “…if you are a telco or a bank, you already have clients so it’s an acquisition, we need to bring them to the app, because it will improve the service they currently have. And the communication if you do it this way is going faster… they have their login, password and then it’s all happening, so it’s not like you have to show them how it works.” This is more about engagement, whereas for those with no existing customers it’s about acquisition.

“…For them it’s more complicated… it’s probably best to make a lot of noise around it.” He suggests using the digital touchpoints around it – social media, the web, mobile ads and using acquisition-specific tools, though admits this can require a lot of marketing investment to ensure people see, download the app and use it continuously. 

“And then the matrix from the churn from the acquisition starts being very analysed because, even if you gather one million users, how many are still there after 7 days? So, again, that’s why we saw a lot of companies just dropping their apps – because it was too complex for them to acquire a huge volume…” 

Alexandre points out that, due to the large costs involved in mobile businesses – including acquisition and retention – even major apps like Uber struggle to make a profit. This is another reason many companies have dropped their apps, he says. 

AB: That’s where you understand the importance of the customer journey. You need to understand the journey from acquisition to retention to ensure a good elaboration of the app.
What I see a lot in business it’s they start with an acquisition strategy and then a retention strategy. But when it comes to an app… both strategies need to be clear right?

ADS: “Yes and KPIs that you set need to be very clear as well because you might have a big acquisition and then good retention and a rate of investment that is very low… So it’s 3 different steps in the process that need to be very deeply analysed.” 

This includes looking at aspects such as retention when your app is not used every day, and devising strategies for inviting or reminding people to use your app, which Alexandre discussed using examples based on the German shopping app Zalando and the postal carte app. 

Listen to our full conversation on my People&Digital podcast to hear how companies analyze each step of these reminders and push notifications, studying the wording and customer journey, testing each time to find which type is the most effective and will convert to a purchase.

You will also hear the interesting example of how the Uber app and UberEats use various factors to collaborate on a personalised engagement strategy, targeting users in a way that is very contextual. As Alexandre says, “…in these types of companies that are big players, there are many, many people focusing on that. And retention, acquisition, for them it’s massive – it’s staying alive or being dead. It’s very important on how to activate, re-activate, re-engage, and so on.”

AB: They are experts on the customer journey.

ADS: “Yes, if we take the KPI that you have for something like Waze, they know the moment you enter your address as a favorite there is a 50% raise in the retention of the user. It’s not a question of ‘Do you use Waze?’ It’s a question of ‘How can I be sure that you will put your home address inside Waze?’. Because they know from analysing facts that the focus should not be on presenting ‘because we are the best’, it should be how in the user experience they make sure you put your home address in because they know that that’s the trigger that will really improve the retention of the system. 

And for that you need people to understand the business, to make sure that they try, try again – we go back to prototyping.”

Alexandre explained how an app customer retention strategy would now include trying out different versions of the same push notifications then – at the larger companies – having teams of experts analyze them and the resulting actions to see which worked best. “…It’s a current job that Uber are doing on a daily basis not, say, once every three weeks. It’s a constant organisational topic.”

AB: Yeah, it’s a running project to understand what people are doing on the app and outside the app to be contextual, so actually it’s not just about acquisition or retention traditional strategy, you need to develop a running adoption strategy around your own app to make sure the customer is well understood, then create some triggers, some cues that makes the experience flow.

ADS: “[we saw this trend for personalization coming a few years ago]…it’s started to be implemented and it’s how to make the app more customised to each user. Because we are in a world where it’s me, myself and I… If we open our Netflix app at the same time, we have two different experiences. Same app, two completely different experiences. That’s the way people start being used to having this type of service, so when they open another app, it’s like “why am I still on this homepage? I should see where my bus is or have a notification, or see where my car is”… it’s understanding what you need and how we can improve your user experience by understanding what you need a little bit better.”

Next, Alexandre discussed the fantastic level of personalization offered by Royal Carribean Cruises before and during their passengers’ customer journeys and how this, along with their KPIs, should be something all companies aim for as their target for the next two to three years. He included examples of small ways the company uses to engage customers without huge outlay or input. Again, you can hear all about this in detail on my People&Digital podcast.

I agree. They are very small details sometimes, they didn’t rethink the whole app… you don’t have to feel overwhelmed because you want to bring some new personalisation or some extra experiences, maybe out of your app, because it can start with the very smallest of your customers’ behaviors.

Alexandre is a firm believer that the devil is in the detail and these details are what make the difference. 

ADS: “On Spotify we see there is a specific way to discover because they analyse what we listen to and then the more you use it, the better it starts to improve and the recommendations get better and you do not need to browse because Spotify is recommending to me things that I would actually like.”

AB: It gets accurate actually, and relevant. And with all these companies stepping into mobile, I’m sure you’ve already spotted a lot of different mistakes that have happened when they come to you or when it’s time to take the decisions.

What are the main CX mistakes businesses make when it comes to app development?

ADS: “There are not many but there are common mistakes or at least common challenges that we need to think about in advance.”

He broke down his top three most commonly made mistakes, noting that it’s not quite as simple as handing an agency a short brief and agreed budget…:

  • Going to early with something you had in mind without stopping to properly examine the idea and check if it is actually what you need;
  • Not taking the time to ensure you are using the most appropriate technology to develop your app;
  • Bad UX, typically screens constantly loading and not knowing if you’ve paid or not – UX and UI are of vital importance when it comes to m-commerce.

AB: I imagine, as a company, you create the business requirements – contractors, stuff like this – then you go step-by-step to define the project.

ADS: “It depends again on the level of maturity… to go beyond that, it’s very often related to how is the client team organised, who is involved…If we have in front of us a very professional team with enough resources, enough time, the projects go very well, we have very good experiences.” 

AB: So it’s very important regarding the ambition of your project if you want to develop an app, to have the right profile within your team to help the collaboration with the agency, like yours.

ADS: “…there is more dedication to the mobile project on the client side, which is then making it more professional – the projects are more complex than before because today we see a lot of different things that need to be taken into account… The clients understand and put people there who are very skilful, it’s very often for the web and the app that you have the same project manager on the site, sometimes you have someone dedicated to the app which makes the collaboration way easier because today it’s a daily basis communication between teams. So you cannot say “oh no I’m not available until Thursday because I have this meeting and this meeting…” – it’s the way you see the project, the client just puts a team in front of our team and you just make a bigger team together.”

AB: You don’t delegate this kind of project to an agency, you commit to a collaboration with them.

ADS: “Today it’s a day-to-day commitment, we bring our expert team, the client is bringing his team and It’s a question about how to bring all the experts together and deliver something with quality.“

AB: There is no such thing as a monthly status meeting! 

I don’t know if you have any ..

Last pieces of advice for anyone who’s feeling inspired to start a mobile app?

ADS: “…Before going too fast, just take a bit of time to analyse and think about if the value proposition that you will bring is already going in the right direction. Take a bit of time to think about what you would want to bring to your customers, in which way, with which services or products, before going to requirements and sending it and asking us to try to bring something very nice, because the client is owning their industry and business – whilst we are focusing on technology. 

So, really, the advice is take time to think – we can help during this time but you can do it yourself – but you really need to think about the value you want to bring because the better this is done, the better project you will have at the end.”

I hope you all found our chat as interesting and informative as I did! Thank you once again to Alexandre De Saedeleer, Managing Director of Tapptic mobile agency. 

Don’t forget, you can listen to our full conversation on my People&Digital podcast, and if you’d like to contact either of us with your thoughts on this conversation, or with any challenges you’d like to run past us, you can contact us using the links below.


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Amélie Beerens


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