Do mobile apps need to rethink support?

With web apps, every time we run into an issue, we just reach out to the company behind the app over email or some kind of a support channel. But does the same apply to mobile apps as well? If you look at your own usage, you are most likely to say — “No, if I am not able to figure out something with an app, I just move to on the next app. There are tons of them out there.”

We wanted to see if our own understanding is in line with consumers at large, so we decided to go a quick study on this using Google Consumer Surveys. Targeting the US population between 18–60 years of age, we found users who have used at least 4 apps in the last month and did a quick study with them. Since we were able to get only 54 people answering some of the questions in the survey, we think this is more of general indicator than a definite direction but the findings are interesting nonetheless.

Out of 874 people who were asked if they have ever had to reach out to the developer behind an app they used in the last month, 741 said no. But 133 said yes — that’s 15% of the users. And 45 people, about 5% of people reached out over 5 times in one single month.

Also, there could have been users who wanted to reach out to the app developer but were just not able to find a way to get in touch.

Users who used between 4–10 apps in the last month were most likely to contact the developer once whereas users who used more than 10 apps, unsurprisingly, were the ones reaching out more than 5 times.

When asked what made them reach out to the app developer, reporting a bug turns out to the biggest reason at about 56% followed by praising the app at a distant second (25%).

Interestingly, people who reached out only once were most likely to report a bug (17 out of 31 bug reports). Of course, as human psychology dictates, the number of people who reach out to complaint (or point out a typo) is always more than the number of people who want to lavish praise.

Now it’s time to figure how did the users reach out to the respective app developers. Much to our surprise, users reported using in-context options like a support link within the app or in-app chat a lot more (72% combined) than we expected.

In the apps we use, emails still seem to be the most dominant way to talk to app developers, but since it’s outside the app, it typically breaks our flow as well.

Users who reached out only once are most likely to use support link in menu (14 out of 24 users who used the option) or email (12 out of 16 users). The users who reached out more than 5 times are most likely to use in-app chat (7 out of 18 users).

The support link in the menu was used most predominantly to report a bug at 17 out of 31 reach-outs.

Interesting learnings so far. But do all these users who reach out get a response at all? And how happy are they with the overall experience?

First things first. 37% of users got a reply within a day or lesser. But 22% of users get a response only after 3 days, which is very long for today’s I-want-it-now world, and a further 28% don’t get a response at all.

The funny thing with reporting a bug is it either gets you a really quick response or no response at all. Is it a case of developers making a note of the bug and but not acknowledging it? Feature requests or support queries around the services the app offers have some of the most poor response rates.

Also email seems to get the fastest response while both support link in the menu and in-app chat getting either delayed responses or no response at all. Is it the case of email being built into the developer’s everyday workflow whereas the other channels are not?

So it looks like over 50% of app users should report having a poor overall experience (22% of them getting a reply only after 3 days and 28% getting no replies at all). Is that really the case?

It is actually quite different from what we thought. The number of people having had a poor experience is half the number we assumed at 24%. But the number of people who had a good experience isn’t particularly high at 39%. For an app to be an efficient growth engine by itself, that number needs to be much higher, doesn’t it?

As expected, the people who got faster responses found the experience to be much better than the one who got slow responses or no response at all.

The users speak up

Finally we asked the users an open-ended question: if there’s one thing you could improve about the experience, what would it be?

Very much in line with what the numbers earlier pointed to. Here are some of the actual responses:

  • a little more detail on what they were going to do to fix problem
  • ideally there should be a feedback form where i can provide feedback without having to reach out via email
  • in app
  • make it easier to contact
  • make it easy to do in the app don’t make me have to research
  • read acknowledgement of communique

What do you think?

Do you think it’s time as an app developer, you started placing heavier emphasis on communicating with your users and helping them get the most out of your app? Do you think it could retain them for longer and get them to spread the word for you? Or is it too much to ask for when you are probably already constrained for time?

Let’s continue the discussion on our community for mobile growth for indie developers and startups — Mobile Mob.

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