Your Apps need to be like a Smart Savvy Secretary.

In the olden days…important and busy people had personal assistants to help and take care of mundane tasks. Many of these assistants were smart, they understood their bosses really well and took over the burden of doing all the tasks that were not worth their boss’s time and energy.

In today’s world everybody is busy and important (or at least we would like to believe so) and instead of personal assistants we now have Apps. The only problem is most of these apps rather than being smart and savvy, behave more like those inefficient assistants who keep bothering us for every single thing.

Most apps today, do a good job of giving us valuable information and notifying and alerting us of important updates, but they don’t really go beyond that.

I think, one of the ways of conceiving features for your app that would truly delight customers is by asking this simple question.

“What would a smart personal assistant have done in this situation?”In many cases the points below would come up as answers to that question.

Letting the user Finish the Task vs Starting it.

People in the UX community are obsessed with CTAs or ‘Call To Actions’. All of us worry about how many people are clicking the button to start the task of signing up; but only few of us actually track to see how many users completed the task that started with the CTA.

In my opinion in the days to come CTA should actually stand for ‘Call To Affirm’ where the App has already done most of the ground work and the user is only required to Affirm or complete the task by clicking on the button. If you look at it ideally that’s how it would have been when you had a smart assistant around. The assistant would have everything ready for you and all you had to do is review and sign.

A couple of years back getting an online Insurance quote was a time consuming and frustrating exercise. One would have to fill in about 4 pages, entering personal details, details of the vehicle, make, model, and a bunch of other details. Progressive.com disrupted this entire process. Based on your zip code and address, the Online Quote app would be able to automatically pull up a list of all your vehicles from the Motor Vehicle Bureau and pre fill most of your 4 pager form with data from sources like your driving claims and credits histories. So all that was left for you to do was verify the data pre filled, and hit the button.

Getting Things Done

Most apps shy away from doing any task on behalf of the user mainly due to the risks involved. But many a times it’s worth taking that risk.

Gmail with it’s Primary Inbox took a bold step in filtering out our mails, and that has been a true delight for us.If you think of it, with the Priority inbox Gmail, it played the perfect role of a smart assistant, who ran through hundreds of your mails filtered out the important ones, kept those on the table in front of you, and moved all those mailers and put them on a side shelf.

ITTT (short for If This Then That) is another simple tool that allows you to set rules like for example if “I like a photo on Instagram, save it to my Dropbox” or “Whenever a Meeting is added to my calendar, then create a Meetings note in Evernote”. Once you set the rules of what to do, IFTTT will go about getting the job done without bothering you again and again.

An Interesting eCommerce site in the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) space is called farmfreshtoyou.com who supply fresh organic produce at your doorstep on a weekly or bi-monthly basis. What the application does rather smartly is, at the time of sign up it simply asks users to select products they DO NOT ever want in their delivery bag. The application then creates a unique menu order for each user based on their settings and pushes the order into their shopping cart a couple of days before the delivery. All the user needs to do is review the order, customize if necessary and simply approve it. Everything else is taken care of by the application. The fact that somebody else is planning and selecting what fruits and vegetables are right for the user, has worked out really well for farmfreshtoyou and their customers.

Curating Information

Most apps are kind of already doing this some way or the other.

Newsreader apps like Prismatic will take into account your interests and also your location to determine what articles to show you that are most relevant.

A couple of location aware apps like Walmart’s Mobile app and FieldTrip do a good job of understanding where you are and what you are probably looking to do there and then proactively provide you with information that is most meaningful to you.

Thinking two steps ahead

When talking about smart savvy assistants, I think the three apps in the mobile space that come very close to being that ‘Dream Assistants you’ve ever wanted would be Tempo Easilydo and Google Now. These apps behave like the assistant who is thinking two steps ahead of you and knows exactly what you need next.

For example, how many times have you fretted trying to jot down the conference id or passcode, seconds before your conference call. These apps allow you to join a conference with a single tap/click. The apps will do all the work of dialing into the conference and putting in the pass code etc.

These apps prompt you, as to when is the right time to leave for your meeting, based on the distance and traffic conditions. They also search and show the LinkedIn profiles of attendees who are going to be joining that meeting.

Summary

Building such smart apps shouldn’t be restricted to personal assistant apps or mobile apps, even web apps and eCommerce applications can play the role of that smart assistant.

In my opinion, the most successful apps would be those that in some way or the other mimic the role of the smart assistant in whatever they do. Of course there would be some risks and privacy concerns with the fact that the app knows so much about you and is doing things on your behalf, but these have also been true with the personal assistant and we’ve lived with, it for years now.

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