Why is customer engagement important? 41 apps per smartphone

Peggy Albright

One of the fundamental challenges developers face every day is competition for consumer attention and loyalty. First, developers must get their apps discovered in an app store. Then, after customers download the apps, developers must compete for the customers' attention because most revenues are generated from advertising or purchases that take place within applications. If a consumer's attention wanders away from an app, those potential revenues are lost.

As if customers weren't already distracted by the new products that appear on the market every day, they are also distracted by the collections of apps they're installing on their devices, and these distractions are getting stronger.

Nielsen reported that the typical smartphone owner in 2012 has 41 apps on his or her device, 28 percent more than last year when the typical user had 32 apps. While the number of apps per device has increased significantly, the time the customers spend using their apps remains the same. Smartphone customers are spending about 39 minutes per day this year on their apps compared to 37 minutes in 2011. With 39 minutes per day to spend on 41 apps, the opportunity for any single product to gain meaningful attention from a customer is limited.   

In another study, the NPD Group surveyed parents who download apps for their children onto their smartphones, tablets or iPod Touch devices. The parents have an average of 12 children's apps on their devices. The children spend time five days a week using those 12 apps, with the average session lasting an hour.

These and other studies like them underscore the need to focus on creating engaging experiences that keep customers coming back again and again to their apps. Techniques used to cultivate customer engagement will vary depending on the type of app and the business model, but there's plenty of room for innovation in this area.

In a game, for example, engagement could involve advancing the user to a new level or using virtual currency to perform a task. Engagement can also mean taking regular advantage of a productivity tool, opening an app to check an embedded weather application or viewing or purchasing products. Engagement can also include regularly updating or upgrading apps with new capabilities or features, which can reinvigorate user interest and perhaps create buzz around an app.

The focus on engagement is relatively new in this business, and there is still much to be learned about it, but it will help developers better serve their customers, ultimately improve the quality of their apps and ideally make more money because it exposes users to more monetization opportunities.

The industry recognizes this and is already responding with techniques to help developers build engagement strategies. For example, companies have already started stepping in with analytical tools that help developers measure engagement, the effectiveness of various engagement strategies and the contribution these approaches can have on revenues.

All of this is good and necessary, given the rapid increase in app uptake on devices and the higher level of competition for user attention, and in general it also represents steps on the way to a more mature business environment for mobile apps. If developers haven't thought about developing engagement strategies before, now is the time to get started.--Peggy