Differentiating an App

Lotus Tech - 3 factors in differentiating an app

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Summary: Differentiating an app is important. Users love your app when it offers value, experience, and support.

After studying many shopping apps on Google Play in India, I remain convinced that there are just three factors that differentiate a consumer app:

  1. The value created for the customer.
  2. The experience that delivers the value.
  3. The support that delivers the experience.

Differentiating an App Through Value Creation

Lotus Tech - 3 factors in differentiating an app - value creation

Apps create value in many ways. Some reduce the time to do a task. Some help us remember. Others help us save money. And a select few even change the way we live. Uber and Amazon have achieved the cult status (and valuations) because they have brought in new ways of doing things.

Value creation is the most difficult part even to define, let alone to get it right. I would rather say it is like the sunrise. Even if you sit in the darkest corner of your home with your eyes closed, you know that the sun rose. When you get it right, you just know. And so does your team. Well, at least most of them.

When you want to create value, do something that is 10x times better than what is. Better still, create a new way of doing something that is fragmented otherwise. Such goals put you in a rarified field where the competition is zero. Even if you fail at achieving the 10x effect and can get only to 6x or 5x, you have still left your competition far behind.

Value creation helps you become the market leader and transcend price wars.

Building the Experience that Delivers the Value

Lotus Tech - 3 factors in differentiating an app - Experience

The experience of using the app delivers the value to the customer.

If you perceive an app as a story being told, value makes the story, and the experience makes the narration. The experience should reach the customer in her own words, at her level. Else it won’t reach her at all. In the world of app making, this translates into bringing the product to the user’s level of understanding and her universe and not the opposite.

App users ‘perceive’ the experience in many forms: the in-app content, the ease of signing up, logging in, doing a task, how it makes their lives better, and how well the app integrates the digital and physical worlds, and many more.

There are two parts to deliver the experience: the decision about what makes a great customer experience and the technology that brings the envisioned experience into reality. My shopping apps experience says that we are great in using technology but are yet to reach the same level of sophistication in envisioning the experience a customer should have.

The Support that Enriches the Experience

Lotus Tech - 3 factors in differentiating an app - Support

We cherish people who stay by our side when we are in trouble. Don’t we? Then, isn’t it desirable that we have a great customer service practice?

No matter how much research, care, and vision you pour into making an app, your users are bound to seek help. And the customer support is the first touch point for many customers once they use the app.

While businesses have valid reasons to minimise the customer support costs, a better approach is to invest decent time in product making to create a very robust product that requires few customer calls. And then create a support team that understands the product as much as the design team.

I was very concerned to find that for the popular apps, the ratio of 5-star rating to 1-star rating is approximately 4:1. In other words, a quarter of the reviews are rating the app as worthy of 1-star.  Even if you discount some ratings as fake or unwarranted, the situation is not something app makers can be happy about.

When I read through many of the reviews, I noticed 3 major challenges:

  1. The product design is faulty causing customer inconvenience leading to bad reviews. Some basic questions, such as “what if the shopkeeper or vendor does not update the inventory,” were never thought through by the app maker.
  2. The app maker doesn’t reply to the reviews on Google Play store. It is important that the app maker address all reviews appropriately, more so those comments that accompany 1-star rating. Replying to reviews gives the app maker an opportunity to thank for the good reviews and explain his case for the 1-star reviews. By replying, the app maker can work on retaining the customer and establish trust in the business.
  3. There are any number of app reviews from users complaining that customer support agents don’t understand the problem. Isn’t it our job to ensure that someone who understands the product well answers those calls? Shouldn’t we be making sure that we ensure that a certain amount of education is imparted to the support staff even before they attend the first call? Isn’t it in our interest to recruit staff who are empathetic? Aren’t we responsible for laying down policies and procedures to escalate those issues that the support staff can’t answer themselves?

Some of the lesser known apps have a much better review ratio of 15:1 (5-star to 1-star rating). The point that they are not popular probably indicates that the marketing dollars have a key role to play in an app’s popularity.


Did you notice that all the three factors are utterly human-centric?

— By Surya Prabha Vallae