For small businesses and big corporate companies alike, mobile is the latest frontier. Yet rather than simply developing a mobile-friendly version of your website or adding a cool e-commerce capability to the mobile user experience, more and more entrepreneurs are wisely delving into the mobile market by developing a smartphone app.
But not all apps are made equal — scroll through the iOS App Store and you’ll find countless offerings that are useless to users and a waste of money from companies. In fact, some apps actually make the businesses that produce them look worse to potential consumers than if they never put that app on virtual shelves.
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I asked a panel of successful young entrepreneurs the following question:
Designing a mobile app for your small business? Name one must-have feature to make for a positive user experience.
Here are their best answers.
1. Feedback system
The importance of having some way for users to provide feedback on your app is critical. Whether it is a button or a link to open an email doesn’t matter; the important part is that you give your users a quick way to report bugs, and provide suggestions or criticisms. Users will appreciate knowing that you are open to their feedback and that their input can shape the future of your app.
2. Usability first
A compelling mobile application must feature an interface that focuses on usability. The best way to do this is to follow the general application hierarchy of widely used apps like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. User experience bonus points are awarded if it is also beautiful and (pleasantly) surprising!
3. Can you customize?
Make sure that there is a clear way to adjust settings for your app: colors, font sizes and, mo st importantly, privacy settings if it happens to be a social app. The more opportunities the user has to tailor the app to her own taste, the less chance that you will get something wrong. And, if you do, it will simply be adjusted by the user.
4. Keep it simple
It gets tempting to throw in a million small, frivolous features into your mobile app because you think they’re “cool” or good-looking, but don’t. Figure out the few basic things users want and build those couple features, and nothing else. I’d rather use an app that let’s me d o what I want in 15 seconds than a convoluted UX that lets me do things I have no interest in actually doing.
5. Remember, it’s a phone
If you are a small business with a brick-and-mortar operation, I always recommend taking a step back and remembering the core function of a mobile device: It’s a phone. Including the ability for your customer to have an over-the-phone connection with you, while they’re interacting with your mobile application, can go a long way to delivering top-notch customer service.
6. Social media login
Start the user experience out right! Use Facebook Connect or another single sign on technology solution to allow your customers to use their social media logins to sign into the mobile app (and keep them signed in). And always give them a way to retrieve their user name/password or remind them which social network they used when setting up the app.
7. Maintain relevancy
The content in it must be something that is impossible to gain from your website. Stop building apps that are just big web browsers, and focus on pushing relevant information and delivering a richer experience that is beyond what your mobile website can do.
8. Ruthlessly eliminate clicks
If you must ask users to register, sign up, or fill out forms, be zealous about eliminating every possible click, or tap, from the design. Ask for less information. Conversion rates fall sharply when extra work is required to sign up. This is a mistake novice designers make over and over. You only have a short window to hook them, and if they have a bad experience, they won’t try again.
9. Don’t change!
When converting a traditionally browser-based system to a mobile app, make sure not to omit or hide any features, however ‘small’ they may seem. Nothing is worse than failing to find, on the mobile app, that one key feature that you always use on the browser version!
10. Include analytics
As a mobile app developer, one key component is to incorporate analytics into your mobile app. A small business must be able to track and identify their users experience and actions. Most users do not enjoy giving up their location, which is understandable. Tracking a users location is different to tracking and analyzing their expe rience. The data gathered will only help encourage better updates.
11. Offline capabilities
It’s frustrating to users when an app is entirely unusable just because they have a weak signal. Consider how you can build in content or interactivity that doesn’t rely on a wireless signal. It’ll make for a positive user experience while your users are on-the-go, online or off.
12. Go with gamification
Gamification allows users to be interactive and have fun while using the app. People will come back to an app again and again if it provides some kind of value, and short-term fun and competition are always winners.
13. Prioritize speed
It’s very important to make sure the app isn’t slow. People used to despise Facebook because of how slow the mobile app is. It is crucial that your app doesn’t make people wait around while it loads.
Image Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.