This article first appeared on devops.com.
Managing mobile customer feedback effectively could be the single most important success factor for your company and customers. Call it addiction or habit, but every passing day we encounter new data confirming the growth of mobile app usage and total hours spent interacting with them. In the 2015 U.S. Mobile App Report, the CoreMetrics team has shared some useful data metrics regarding digital media consumption growth and app usage. A couple of notable themes or trends are:
- Americans across all age groups spend increasing time on Mobile Apps
By mid year, the average american had spent approximately 68 hours/month on their mobile device. That number rises even further to over 90 hours/month among millenials.
- A whopping 50% of time is spent within a single App and about 90% on the top 5 Apps
Not only is the average time spent on mobile App usage increasing, it is concentrated in a few limited Apps. A staggering 50% of their time is spent working within a single App and that number tapers off rapidly as popularity, utility and quality decreases.
It is evident from this data, that as a Mobile App Developer you want customers to include your App on their home screen. That means not only having a compelling utility but ensuring that the App is of the highest quality. In the rest of the article I will illustrate how you can accomplish just that by incorporating mobile customer feedback loops in every stage of the development cycle and involving and engaging customers through your path to production. Along the way we will also look at various open source and commercial tools that enhance the ability to collect feedback at various stages of the continuous delivery pipeline.
Typical Continuous Delivery Pipeline
Most agile or lean software organizations have an automated continuous integration and delivery pipeline that helps manage the flow of release artifacts to production. While there might be nuanced variations across teams and enterprises the typical path to production for Apps or Services is represented through the steps shown.
It will be useful to review this pipeline as we explore options to incorporate feedback throughout the path to production.
Continuous Delivery – Collecting Mobile Customer Feedback
Not too long ago, most negative user feedback consisted solely of poor ratings, comments and rants on social media platforms. Without having context, metrics and data, most development teams were left guessing on how best to reproduce and determine extent of the issue. This usually resulted in issues and features getting prioritized in an ad hoc manner.
Today numerous open source and commercial tools are available that help solve the feedback problem. Most of them can be categorized in the following broad areas:
Despite recent reports that Facebook made it’s Android App crash to test user loyalty, most App crashes are not of the deliberate nature. There are a plethora of crash testing and reporting solutions, the most popular being Crashlytics (part of Twitter Fabric), Apteligent (formerly Crittercism), TestFlight (Apple) and HockeyApp (Microsoft). They each provide a client side SDK to capture and report crash reports and a server side service to to manage and analyze those reports.
- Phased Releases – Alpha, Beta, Staged Rollout
Android Application Developers can take advantage of the alpha, beta and staged rollout capabilities available as part of Google Play. For alpha and beta tests, production APK is not required. Developers can avail of different options to target specific groups for their alpha and beta tests. They can also avail of feedback channels available within the App to obtain feedback.Staged rollout allows a developer to progress from alpha and beta testing to production in a phased manner, constantly collecting feedback and metrics, comparing against baseline (if available) and progressing to 100% in production based on satisfactory results. Developers on the iOS platform can avail of beta testing capabilities provided by TestFlight and can invite upto 2000 beta testers via email to test the App pre-production.
- Direct In App Feedback
Gone are the days when email, messenger or App store comments provided the only semblance of feedback. Customers increasingly expect to communicate via the app, and provide feedback without leaving it. Meanwhile Mobile App Developers have better to tools to scale that feedback and manage it effectively to address bugs, prioritize features and get context – screen shots, system information, etc. – for specific feedback.HelpStack is an open source framework that makes in app customer feedback relatively easy. Report issues, attach screen shots, embed device information and more. Customer feedback can be reported via email or help desk integrations are available.
Apptentive, Crittercism, HelpShift, UserVoice, and Parature are some of the notable commercial solutions that enable In App Feedback.
- Metrics & Performance
When business analytics do not provide provide adequate answers, diving deeper into technical data might provide insights into what is going wrong. Two key mobile customer feedback metrics worth tracking is app uptime and performance. App uptime helps identify customers facing crashes while performance issues could be impacting engagement rates. Some of the tools mentioned in this article do provide an APM solution that enables monitoring of these key metrics.
- Experimentation & Analytics
A/B Testing or multivariate testing is a data driven experimentation approach to promoting app feature changes. While some of the above tools enabled you as a developer to better listen to your app community, A/B split testing allows you to validate your hypothesis and invest further in features and capabilities that demonstrate lift.
Apptimize, Optimizely and MixPanel are few of the available commercial products that offer multivariate testing capabilities that can be incorporated in some situations without code modification or App updates. They also provide abilities to compare test campaigns against baseline and promote features that demonstrate positive feedback.
Incorporating Mobile Customer Feedback In Continuous Delivery
Leveraging data driven tools throughout the continuous delivery pipeline increases the odds of a quality and high utility mobile app. Even in situations where it is not possible to expose apps prematurely, it is possible to dog food your app – a term referencing a team or company that actively utilizes it’s own product with the intent of testing it. For example, frequent builds tied to developer commits enable alpha build testers and other team members to download and test the App. Meanwhile beta builds can be downloaded by other members of the company. As release candidates emerge the beta community can be expanded to include members of the app community.
So take steps to incorporate mobile customer feedback loops at every step of the development cycle and garner a majority of the app users engagement time. Would love to hear how you and your teams are leveraging tools and techniques to build better apps and continuously listen to customer feedback.