3 key ingredients of an app engagement framework

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Helping users discover our apps is challenging and sometimes expensive – whether via advertising, word-of-mouth, search engine optimization or a combination. Once we get new users in the door, our next challenge is to keep them engaged while our app becomes part of their daily habit.

Building an App Engagement Framework

Successful, long-term app engagement requires doing three things well:

Building a great app. Mobile users are accustomed to apps that have excellent usability, fast performance and provide a compelling solution for a problem or a want they have. Apps that have poor design or laggy performance are quickly abandoned.

Making adoption frictionless. Once the user begins their journey with an app, getting value from it needs to be simple and painless. Any friction put in their way, such as onerous onboarding forms or painful payment processing systems, can cause users to abandon an app before they fully appreciate its value.

Prompting users to re-launch the app. It takes time to knit a new app into a user’s daily routine. They may not remember to re-open our app frequently at first, but we can gently prompt users to use our app so it will have a chance to reinforce its value to them.

In this article I’ll provide one example of each element in a retention framework:

  1. Building a great app by improving app usability via predictive text input
  2. Making adoption frictionless by integrating with password managers
  3. Prompting users to re-launch our app using Siri Shortcuts

By systematically improving each of the three framework objectives by making increment improvements like these, we can help users move along their journey from initial app awareness to daily habit.

Building a Great App – Mailing Address Autocomplete

Although mobile devices are designed with touch input in mind, most applications require user text entry at some point. Search terms, user credentials and comments often require text input. While predictive soft keyboards work well, they’re not a perfect replacement for a physical keyboard when it comes to entering a lot of text, and minimizing keyboard input remains a design goal for touch-screen mobile devices.

The best data entry solution for a mobile app is the one that requires little or no typing at all.

Making Address Entry Simple

Many apps require entry of address information, such as on billing, shipping or user profile entry screens. Addresses can present a high user workload. Addresses can easily require manual entry and validation of 5-6 fields of information. Typos are common, and the time investment for the user is relatively high.

Address autocompletion relies on the fact that postal services already know what every deliverable address is in their delivery area, and this information is often available for application development. If we incorporate this known data into the mobile data entry process, we can shift the data entry workload from the user to the device itself.

Autofill Objectives

  1. The user needs to enter a billing address into a user profile
  2. Minimize the amount of text entry the user needs to make with the software keyboard

The Solution

  1. Prompt for the country first using a pick list, using GPS location to determine the default country selection in the list.
  2. As the user types data in the “Street Address 1” field, use a web service to predict the remaining address fields (updating the prediction as the user types).
  3. Allow the user to select the correct address from a scrolling list sorted by most likely match.

Below is an example of what a screen design might look like in this scenario. Note that after the user selects an address from the predicted list (left), the remaining fields are autofilled by the app (right).

Address Autocorrect Example

Making Adoption Frictionless –Identity Integration

The importance of securing company and user information with strong identity and security systems can’t be understated; users need to feel their personal information is protected. For ethical and legal compliance reasons, app providers also need to protect user privacy--as well as the data our company holds in its databases.

Even so, managing, remembering and entering usernames and passwords can be a source of friction and interrupt smooth onboarding flow. Encountering a login screen at an inopportune moment can cause a user to close our app with no guarantee they’ll return later.

To reduce friction, a mobile app should integrate well with the password managers users already take advantage of, and whenever possible, use previously saved account credentials. There are several approaches to this technique—which can even be used together to achieve the best results.

Password Managers

Many users already use 3rd-party password managers, such as the popular consumer products 1Password and LastPass. When app users can use the password manager they already know and love, they feel right at home.

Not to be outdone by 3rd party solutions, device manufacturers provide 1st-party password managers too. Apple provides iCloud Key Chain (iOS), while Google provides its own Google Password Sync/Smart Lock (Android).

Storing New Credentials Created in the Mobile App

As a user enters credentials in a native mobile login form, both iOS and Android provide APIs to add these new credentials to a user’s device account and secure them with biometric authentication. If a user onboards by creating a new password, they may want to store the new password in their preferred password manager for later recall in our app.

iOS provides the Security framework to allow apps to store credentials in iCloud Keychain. Keychain stored credentials are synchronized to other Apple devices connected to the same iCloud account. Users can then access these credentials on subsequent app authentications – using device biometrics to authorize the app to retrieve credentials on their behalf.

Android provides a similar feature, and makes integration possible via its Smart Lock APIs, allowing an app to store user credentials created on the mobile device, allowing the app to retrieve the credentials on subsequent login activities.

Address Autocorrect Example

Accessing Existing Credentials

Many B2C apps (e.g. a ride sharing app), and virtually all B2B apps (e.g. a CRM app) are installed by users who may already have crated app credentials. A CRM user who installs a CRM app most likely has logged into a desktop web browser version of the app during the initial rollout and training period.

If users previously stored those credentials in a password manager—which is likely—we can ease their app onboarding process by allowing them access to those credentials within the app.

Leveraging Password Managers Within the App

Using 1st and 3rd-party password managers has become much easier in recent years, as both Apple and Google have added APIs and provided hooks for 3rd-party password managers. This direct integration means we don’t have to create specific integrations to every password manager users may use—the password manager publisher create needed integrations to iOS and Android.

Using password manager integration features for iOS and Android has a couple prerequisites for our apps:

  1. Users must enable password manager features in their device settings

  2. An app login form needs to tag which fields represent usernames and passwords at development time

Password Manager Screen on iOS

Prompting Users to Relaunch the App via Siri Shortcuts

Most of us have had the experience of discovering an awesome app, installing it, running it once, and forgetting about it for a while. Later we’re reminded about it, relaunch it--and remember why it’s so great. Hopefully, we eventually develop the habit of using it every day.

What if there was a way to gently remind users to return to the app? There are several approaches: local push notifications, e-mail reminders among them. In this section, I’ll discuss a newer and lesser known approach available on iOS: Siri Shortcuts.

What’s a Siri Shortcut?

Siri Shortcuts provide a way for users to add deep links to app features and content to their home screen—as well as enabling commands to be accessible to them by voice.

Siri Shortcut Examples

  1. A stock market app might enable shortcuts to view securities that a user repeatedly accesses. A Siri Shortcut might allow users to tap on a home screen icon to view the current price of IBM stock, or use a voice command, such as “Hey Siri, what’s the current price of IBM stock in the Awesome app?”

  2. A pizza app might enable a user to repeat a common order by saying “Hey Siri, order a pepperoni pizza from Atomic Pizza”

Siri Shortcut Home Screen on iOS

While users can create their own shortcuts, and even chain them together using the iOS Shortcuts interface, we can give iOS ideas to suggest to users by “donating” shortcuts to iOS. Siri can then present our suggestions to users, prompting them to revisit our app.

Let’s say a user visits our app and views the newsfeed section. We might “donate” a shortcut idea to iOS that this user frequently reads our news feed (user story 1 in the diagram below).

If the user later follows Siri’s idea to use this shortcut (user story 2), our app will be opened with the additional information that the user tapped a shortcut to the news feed. We can then open the newsfeed for them. The shortcut really is a deep link to our content—suggested by Siri.

iOS Siri Shortcut User Stories

By donating a Siri Shortcut, we’ve provided value to the user, and improved the likelihood of them developing the habit of using our app.

— We gave them a deep link to content in our app—taking them directly to the newsfeed in our app when they tap the shortcut, or launch it by voice.

— They were prompted outside our app that they enjoy this feature and maybe they’d like to revisit it.

— Siri’s predictive capabilities very likely prompted them to open the link at around the same time of day they accessed this content before. Since Siri's recommendation was contextual, the user is more likely to tap it when it's suggested.

Summary

To be successful at user engagement, we need to do an excellent job building great apps, making adoption frictionless, and ensuring users come back to the app while they develop long-term usage habits.

Establishing a framework that targets usability, reduces friction and gently reminds users about the value our app provides can help ensure users who try our app will stay with it for the long term.

I hope this article was helpful in defining a framework for prioritizing efforts to enhance app engagement and provided some practical examples of features that can improve user experience!


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