Building for brilliance: Tips for creating outstanding digital experiences to win user hearts and minds

“We live in a time where mobile apps are not utilities; rather, they are almost part of us.”

This was a pearl of wisdom dropped by one of our digital factory teams recently that I think really highlights the challenge that businesses face in developing compelling, competitive apps. Fundamentally, for an app to succeed, it must act as an extension of the user, augmenting their lives, solving their problems in new ways, and delivering such a seamlessly brilliant experience that they turn to it the next time and the next time until it becomes valued as an essential part of their lives. This kind of user engagement is commercial gold and is what companies in sectors as diverse as finance, healthcare, retail, and education are seeking as they compete to gain customer loyalty and streamline business processes. So why is experience so critical in today’s market and how can businesses get into the “experience mindset” to deliver brilliant digital experiences every time?

Generation “Experience”

By 2025, millennials will make up 75 percent of the active working population, with Gen Z hot on their heels. These true digital natives have matured in an always-on, instant access mobile culture. Not for them queuing at the post office or the bank, or indeed, queuing anywhere. Whether in a role as consumers, or as employees, they demand that apps live up to their high expectations before they become long-term members of their digital application ecosystems.

They build that ecosystem based on companies that offer the service that fits in with their omnichannel lives, enabling them to multitask life-changing decisions such as getting a mortgage with the mundanity of grocery shopping. And if one brand can handle both, even better.

So, we’ve seen brands like Tesco leverage their equity in all senses by branching out into banking and a profusion of other areas. Customers and employees are looking for brilliant experiences and loyalty is quickly transferred to the app that can deliver “wow” moments. This makes creating slick, smart, and creative apps mission-critical to businesses that want to compete for digital mindshare and break into the trusted application ecosystem of the user.

Tips from the digital factory floor

An app that fails to meet the user’s expectations is just that: a failure. Organisations risk wasting valuable investment and development time if they can’t get into the experience mindset that creates apps that truly are an extension of the user.

Tip #1: Understand your user stories and how you plan to change them

So, how do you get into that mindset? It’s a good question and one that UK FinTech disruptor BlueZest faced when shaking up the mortgage industry. They understood the frustration of customers who, having spent 10 minutes completing a home loan application, typically have to wait up to 18 days to find out if it has been successful. BlueZest knew that AI, big data, and automation could dramatically shorten the loan agreement process; they just needed to bring them all together seamlessly so that the customer sees only the outcome – a confirmed mortgage offer in under one hour. BlueZest used their understanding of a typical customer story and developed an app that would entirely eliminate the pain point – in this case, waiting time.

That is the very definition of a brilliant digital experience – an app that understands the user story and changes it for the better. It is ground-breaking, reputation-making and industry-shaking and developing the app itself took just five months with a digital factory consisting of three full-time and one part-time developers using the OutSystems platform.  

Tip #2: A mobile mindset is critical

Although we develop apps in solid network environments with full connectivity, the real world just isn’t like that. An app that is truly appreciated by a user will get spun up in any situation, and it needs to deliver value no matter how bad the connection or even when there’s no connection at all. To quote our developer Miguel Vincente: “If we can’t provide [users] with a fully functional app at any time or at least a clever and fun way to interact with the app while offline or experiencing network limitations, we aren’t delivering well. And that’s why I think that more than ever, user experience experts and mobile developers must be aware of how important offline synchronisation and network management are in achieving the best technical solution without compromising a great user experience.”

Put simply, the experience needs to deliver, even when the network doesn’t. That’s why testing in all kinds of less-than-ideal scenarios and prioritising mobile design and functionality at every stage are key. It’s the only way the app will win its way into the user ecosystem. 

Tip #3: Don’t rush – and be prepared to go back to the drawing board

When we’re talking about app development, the usual tale is of speed: rushing headlong to get apps out the door under pressure from business units or competitors. However, when trying to deliver a brilliant experience, it is well worth regularly taking the time to step back and check that you’re still heading in the right direction. That’s the beauty of rapid application development – it actually frees up time to make sure that the app is delivering on criteria such as usability, creativity, and those “wow” moments. Because technical debt is lower with RAD too, there’s less fear of going back to the drawing board if it turns out that circumstances or priorities have changed.

In today’s world, customer experience is a key battlefield for businesses trying to win hearts and minds. Earning a place in the user’s app ecosystem is the ultimate prize, so the pressure is on to deliver experiences so brilliant that they unquestionably enhance the user’s life. Understanding user stories and how they can be changed, delivering a seamless mobile experience and taking time to create an intuitive, innovative product are all cornerstones of delivering brilliant digital experiences that permit the app to become “part of us.”

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