Four ways to make your farming app engaging

So you’ve decided to build a mobile app for your rural customers or users. You have spent time on the overall value proposition, deciding how your app will deliver enough value to your users that they will spend the requisite time – and money – to use your service. No doubt you’re also modelling the likely market penetration and adoption curves, because you want to make sure you can get a return for all the investment in software development, testing, and marketing.

You know that up to 20% of mobile apps are downloaded, used once, and then never touched again (perhaps uninstalled when the user runs out of space). How can you avoid your app ending up in that category? Better than that, can you provide an experience sufficiently valuable and engaging that users tell their friends?

Deliver value early

When I’m watching a friend use their app, or downloading an app for the first time, there are two key questions:

  • Will I be able to use this app?
  • Is it going to do something useful and valuable for me?

Many of us reading this will back ourselves to be able to “use” most apps. We’re familiar with the conventions of our phones and how to get out if an app appears “stuck”. Your users may not be so confident, so the bar for usability is much higher.

Usability is great, but not sufficient. The app must deliver the value that it promised in the app store, and your users need to see at least a good taste of this.

I was travelling in Melbourne recently and downloaded the Uber app. Within the first few minutes I could see how many cars were nearby and how quickly they might arrive, and I could get pricing for a trip. Immediate value! Note that value didn’t have to include taking a ride (though I eventually did): information that supports planning or decision-making counts too.

How would this translate in your app? Primary sector applications around crops and livestock often require collecting a large quantity of information before the app can provide results or predictions, so a user might not get results on first use.

Just collecting information doesn’t necessary return early value, so it’s worth considering how you could give your users an early win.

Simplify the on-boarding journey

First use of an app brings another challenge: connecting the app to the customer’s existing account, creating a new account, or even starting a trial. All but the most trivial apps rely on server resources, and usually on identifying these to the user, which means that challenging journey through usernames, passwords, and maybe even address and credit card details. We know that web users still abandon online shopping carts, and on-boarding brings all these challenges onto the mobile device.

It might even be worse: if your app is a companion app for an Internet of Things device or smart agricultural hardware, you might need to bring device discovery, activation, and configuration into the mix as well.

All this means you will need to focus very carefully on that initial on-boarding journey.

Can you simplify the sign-up process, use existing credentials, or defer some of your questions?

If the user is trialling your service, perhaps you just need a couple of pieces of information to identify them. You can collect more complete data when they have seen the value and convert to a full subscription. You might also consider optionally accepting other means of identity: Facebook and Google+ identity come to mind. Integrating these is clearly a bigger task for your software developers, but might make the sign-up process much easier for users (there’s a reason why many games use these forms of identity!).

Can you build a reliable, automated device discovery and registration support into your hardware, so that part of the journey becomes “almost magical”? 

When I purchased the little Chromecast dongle for my home television I resigned myself to the typical process for setting up new hardware. Instead, the Chromecast app discovered the device (using ad-hoc Wi-Fi and mDNS or DIAL protocols) and then walked me through connecting the device to our local network. It worked, almost like magic.

Use relevant notifications

Making use of an application is like any new habit or behaviour change. Even with the best of intentions, it is easy to get side-tracked away or just return to normal behaviour. A mobile app can draw the user’s attention back with careful use of notifications.

Notifications (or Push Notifications if they have originated on a server somewhere) are an elegant way to prompt a mobile user with relevant information at the right time and place. When used sparingly and correctly, a notification provides your user with personalised, valuable information in a timely manner.

  • Personalised – the notification should be relevant to something your user is doing, has done, or is trying to achieve. A number of tools provide notifications and additional information about items in our calendar. In the agricultural area, equivalents could be relevant information about the classes of stock or crops used by an individual farmer, or reminders about a task they had planned to do while at the current location on the farm.
  • Valuable – users will quickly turn off notifications that are generic or irritating. Ensure that your notifications provide relevant, helpful information or useful actions. Notifications about an upcoming meeting that provide me with travel time or information about attendees are valuable, for instance.
  • Timely – some notifications will be relevant to what I’m doing (Uber telling me a ride is 2 minutes away, or Air New Zealand telling me my flight is late or my coffee is ready). Other notifications will be triggered by someone else – a message from a friend or a comment on a discussion I am watching. Time is important here because it gives me opportunity to react. Contrast this with an application that feels it’s appropriate to send a push notification at the same hour every day (in US time, so that it hits me about 2am in New Zealand).

Listen to feedback

One final note on making your app engaging: make it easy for users to give you feedback.

While in Christchurch a few months ago, I downloaded an app for a taxi company. It worked pretty well, but it was not so good at getting the pick-up location right (often chose the address next door, and if I manually entered the address sometimes it would drop back to the GPS address). As the app was quite useful, I wanted to let them know about this little glitch. But how? No contact or feedback function in the app, and no functioning web site. Eventually I tried the email address in the app store – and it bounced.

Make it easy for users to tell you how they are feeling, and you will receive two benefits:

  • Users will be able to get the frustration of a problem or glitch “off their chest”, even if you can’t fix it immediately. Often telling someone about a problem is enough to move on. Don’t make the ratings page in the app store the place where people report bugs (and then uninstall).
  • You will learn the amazing things your users are actually trying to do with your app: often very different to what you envisaged. Statistics and logging are interesting and useful, but nothing beats a conversation with users.

In the early days the Xero web application asked a question after you logged out for the day. “How are you feeling about Xero?” It simply gave three options (smiley, straight, and sad faces) and a feedback box. We need to consider similar, simple ways for users to give us a little feedback without lots of effort on their part, if we are to learn and improve the usability and engagement of our apps.

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