It’s time to expand your idea of the mobile experience.
On weekdays, my alarm goes off at 5:50am. Like many people, I don’t have an alarm clock—my smartphone wakes me up. (It also reminds me when it’s bedtime to ensure I get a full eight hours of sleep.) Bleary-eyed, I turn off my alarm and quickly scroll through my personal and work emails. Most days, I check Slack and Instagram before getting out of bed.
I listen to music as I get ready for work. It’s usually something mellow (Leon Bridges’ “River” anybody?) played on (you guessed it) my phone. On my commute, I keep the tunes going or listen to a favorite podcast while jumping back and forth between apps: BBC News, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Marco Polo ...
And that’s just my mornings before 7:00am.
Earlier this year, eMarketer released a report forecasting that the average U.S. adult would spend 2 hours, 55 minutes on a smartphone in 2019. That’s nearly three hours each day of active usage on smartphones alone on average; the numbers only go up when you focus on younger generations.
But the significance of mobile isn’t just a factor of total time spent on a mobile device. It’s about the constant-ness of it all. People unlock their mobile devices nearly 60 times per day. For an ever-increasing number of us, “mobile” is the place we go countless moments every day—because we need to know, we need to solve, we need to shop ... because we can. Because we’re always connected. Always.
Really, the term “mobile” is too limited. It communicates being in a state of connectedness while you’re ... well ... mobile. That’s why a more apt term at this point is “always.”
It’s within the context of “always” that mobile exists.
My smartphone is always with me. For better or worse, it’s an integral part of my life—an extension of me. It knows my face and my thumbprint. It connects me to my community, to the news and events I’m interested in, to the brands I care about, to the world. That connection is both expansive and intimate.
And it’s not just me. According to research from Pew Research Center, almost ⅓ of mobile internet users in the U.S. report being online “almost constantly.” A coworker recently quipped, “I sometimes refer to my phone as my prosthetic brain.”
If mobile tech feels like an extension of the self, it follows that people are very selective about the brands and apps they allow into that space. People fill that space with things that are relevant and resonant to them, that make their lives easier, that add value to their day-to-day. This mobile ecosystem (“prosthetic brain” if you prefer) is carefully curated.
What Does This Mean For Brands?
It means that the ability to connect with customers today and tomorrow—driving customer loyalty and customer lifetime value—is inextricably linked to the ability to build and deliver an ideal mobile experience.
Becoming a part of your customers’ intimate mobile ecosystem is a privilege that must be earned. It requires reaching customers at the ideal moment for them and providing value with great products and a perfect, resonant mobile experience.
It starts with fostering a shared mindset that considers the full customer journey and prioritizes customer empathy at every touch point. Then moving from mindset to action.
Remember that while you as a product owner might be focused on mobile, your customers and users are simply experiencing another interaction with your brand. They expect that interaction to pick up where the last one left off. At the very least, they expect it to help them along their journey. They certainly do not expect it to impede their journey—which is often the case.
For Example ...
A few days ago, a friend of mine tried to redeem a coupon code for a grocery delivery app. She’d been handed a card in the street featuring an exciting offer: $100 in free groceries for first-time customers. The card had a URL and basic instructions. I’m paraphrasing but it was something like ... Go to this URL and follow the instructions to redeem your groceries.
My friend went to the URL and, to her chagrin, landed in a far-from-intuitive experience. After 10 minutes and multiple attempts—by my friend, her roommate, and myself—to navigate the sign up process and apply the coupon code, she threw her phone down and exclaimed, “Screw this. So not worth it.”
Only moments before, my friend was ready to become a customer. She was keen, even. An infuriating mobile experience not only cost this company an app download and a future customer, it also left a bitter taste in her mouth. To make matters worse, it soured her roommate and me on the brand, too. That’s three potential customers lost forever in one fell swoop.
In an attempt to gain new customers with a sexy promotion, this company lost sight of the fact that a bad mobile experience—like a bad apple—can ruin everything. The good news? This is an entirely avoidable situation.
By taking stock of your target customer’s most important needs at each touch point, you can ensure that your mobile experience is solving the right problems, providing useful answers, and serving the most impactful purpose.
Let’s look at an example of a company that is prioritizing the customer journey and creating delight with its mobile app.
Viewing Mobile Through the Lens of Your Complete Customer Journey
One of my coworkers is a mom with three young kids. She works full-time and each minute is a precious commodity. This coworker is a huge fan of the Kroger mobile app. Kroger—the second largest supermarket chain in the United States—clearly prioritizes the mobile experience. And they do so in the context of the broader customer experience. Here’s what I mean.
My coworker explained that there are three primary reasons why she loves the Kroger app so much:
First: It provides a service that solves a very real pain. She can quickly order the groceries she needs and pick them up at her closest store without ever having to get out of her car. Assuming busy moms are a target customer for Kroger, they are using the mobile app to soothe a legitimate pain point: Namely that there often aren’t enough hours in the day.
Second: It includes helpful features like Start My Cart. “I can build a cart in three minutes. Start My Cart surfaces the items I buy over and over, like bananas and almond milk, stuff my family eats every week, and I can add those items to my cart super quickly. I can also add coupons directly to products as I’m building my cart,” she explained, walking me through the app with a big smile on her face.
Third: Constant improvement and useful customization. “I know Kroger is constantly iterating on this app. I’m in it at least once a week and I almost always notice a change or additional feature—sometimes useful, sometimes less so, but they’re definitely evolving it all the time,” she said. “And it’s clear that they’re using my data to add value to my life. For example, I regularly get an envelope of coupons in the mail for products that I buy all of the time and I actually use them. I love it. It’s so relevant.”
"As ecommerce retailers begin to offer flexible shopping experiences across a variety of channels, users’ expectations for convenience in online shopping are increasing ... A facet of convenience is helping customers reorder regularly purchased items with little effort or offering capabilities to schedule recurring orders, so they never have to worry about running out of a product they often use.
— The New Ecommerce User Experience: Changes in Users’ Expectations by Nielsen Norman Group
Now I’m not sharing this coworker’s experience just to give kudos to Kroger (though they’re doing a great job). I’m sharing it to demonstrate how you can create loyal customers—customers who grin ear to ear when they talk about your brand—when you consider their full experience.
Your customers are human beings—they’re people—with lives and challenges of their own. Your mobile experience is an area where you can make a difference in their lives. Are you taking full advantage of this opportunity?
If you can’t answer that question with a resounding “YES” you should (re)turn to one of the tried-est and truest tools in any product owner’s toolbelt: The customer journey map.
Map Your Customer Journey. Seriously. Do It.
Customer journey maps answer questions like who the customer is, what jobs they get done with your product, what pain points they experience, and how exactly they use your product. Exhaustively answering these questions (and others) can go a long way to helping marketing, sales, product development, and support teams identify with the ups and downs of being a customer. 
Keep in mind that shoppers use eight different channels to engage with brands across the shopping journey on average.  Any one of these touches might occur when a shopper is in a mobile context. You need to understand your customers’ complete journey—from discovery to purchase, from purchase to repeat purchase, from repeat purchase to lifetime customer. Knowing where mobile fits into that journey is essential to provide the best experience.
Customer journey mapping is not a new concept. And while it can be intensive, it is utterly necessary. Whether you’re building your first map or iterating on an existing version, you’ll want to consider both the customer journey (how customers experience your brand) and the customer management journey (how your organization operationalizes customer interactions).
To do a proper journey map, you’ll need to gather both quantitative and qualitative customer research and you’ll need input from customer-facing stakeholders. Many organizations rely on outside consultants to help them through this process. At a high-level, building a customer journey map should include the following steps:
- Define data-driven target personas. Like my coworker—the busy mom! Who are your target groups and what evidence do you have to back up that choice? What jobs are they trying to get done at a high level?
- Define your customers’ behavior stages. There are many heuristic models for this, but it should follow some variation of Discover > Research > Choose > Purchase.
- Align customer goals with each stage. This step is often the most work. What do customers want to achieve as they move through each behavioral stage? Try to take a walk in your customer’s shoes.
- Plot the touchpoints. Where and when do customers engage with your brand? This step can be difficult if you don’t have a central database that combines information across your digital and offline touchpoints.
- Visualize your map. A spreadsheet will do in a pinch. The ultimate goal should be a visualization that can be shared and operationalized across your organization.
There are many resources that support customer journey mapping from simple to sophisticated. Here are a few of our favorites at FullStory:
- UX consultant Harry Brignull shared how to run a user journey mapping workshop in which he maps the experience of a user trying to record, edit, and share a video in the mid-2000s.
- Atlassian’s customer journey mapping playbook provides a solid foundation for leading a journey mapping exercise.
- This comprehensive post from CXL outlines six user journey mapping examples with insight from different UX pro’s.
Keep in mind that a customer journey map is just one tool. Executive level priorities, your technology foundation, and your company’s organizational structure are all factors in your ability to provide a seamless customer experience from offline to digital to mobile.
Reminder: Stay Focused on Customer Empathy.
As a product owner you should adopt an empathic lens at all times. Customer empathy is particularly important when you are building and optimizing your mobile experience. The mobile context presents unique challenges to providing customers with certainty, clarity and assurance—all things people crave.
According to Dr. David Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of the book Your Brain at Work, in the face of uncertainty our brains must “use dramatically more resources, involving the more energy-intensive prefrontal cortex, to process moment-to-moment experience.” When your shoppers feel uncertain, they slow down, hesitate, disengage, and abandon. 
Cognitive strain is already heightened when people are in a mobile context: They are likely doing multiple other things, they are trying to find the information they need on a smaller screen, they are trying to navigate without a mouse and trying to search without a keyboard ...
This context makes it critical that your organization make choices that foster certainty when it comes to mobile—making this choice again and again requires a commitment to empathy.
"Empathy is one of those buzzwords that sound really good, but very few companies actually understand what it means, much less practice it. Essentially, customer empathy is the ability to identify a customer’s emotional need, understand the reasons behind that need, and respond to it effectively and appropriately. And it’s pretty rare. According to PwC, only 38% of U.S. consumers say the employees they interact with understand their needs."
— 6 ways to build a customer-centric culture via Harvard Business Review
Your team should continuously ask: What are our shoppers trying to do? What are their objectives when they enter the mobile experience? What is important to them? What resonates with them? Answering these questions and ensuring empathy is top-of-mind will allow you to take your mobile experience from functional to delightful.
You can’t answer these questions without connecting to and conversing with customers. Your mobile and product design teams should spend time interviewing customers, reading customer messages, and observing customers as they try to navigate your mobile website or app. This exposure will help your team begin to understand what customers want and need from your mobile experience, as well as their current pains and frustrations.
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Full Steam Ahead: Staying Atop the Mobile Experience Curve
The current and future state of mobile is a state of permanent connectedness. This means endless opportunities to reach your target audience and earn a coveted spot in their mobile ecosystem. It also means the people you’re trying to reach will be constantly bombarded by companies vying for their attention. Expectations driven up, tolerance for friction-filled experiences driven down.
With 5G on the horizon—which promises speeds up to 20 times faster than 4G—entirely new, formerly impossible ways to reach customers will become reality. Sophisticated technologies like AR and VR will go mobile. Our devices will become even more connected, communicating back and forth and generating more specific data about our preferences and habits. Apps that we haven’t yet imagined will come into being.
You’ll see history repeat itself: Marketers, product managers, designers, will scramble to capitalize on the next big thing, often at the expense of customer experience.
The companies that succeed will continue to prioritize customer needs over the ‘next big thing’. Of course, customer-centricity should not come at the expense of innovation, technological or otherwise. Rather your organization should use customer empathy as a North Star, guiding you as you determine which optimizations, additions, and innovations to pursue to provide a mobile experience that is valuable, respectful, and self-aware.
So what does the future look like? Mobile experience design for the people.
Customer Journey Maps, Session Replay and the Power of Empathy" via the FullStory blog ↩︎
"SCARF:" Your One Word, Brain-Based Model for Motivation via the FullStory blog ↩︎