How to nail your mobile in-app messaging

Todd Olson, Founder and CEO at Pendo, offers five ways to enhance your app's performance via messaging
Todd Olson
App store

Submitting an expense report. Booking a taxi to the airport. Ordering a takeaway. In today’s world, these and countless other tasks happen digitally, in the mobile apps we use every day. It’s never been easier for customers to take care of so much via mobile digital experiences. But because of the ubiquity of mobile apps in our lives, consumer expectations have never been higher. 

For the companies that build and manage these mobile apps, that means the pressure to deliver seamless, easy, intuitive digital experiences has never been higher. When an app is confusing, clunky, and hard to use, it becomes easy for people to drop it and move on to an alternative. And during economic uncertainty, that’s an outcome businesses can’t risk.

Nothing will improve the customer experience more than building a great product. But there are additional steps businesses can take to improve customers’ mobile experiences, and it all starts with in-app communication. Instead of bombarding users with emails containing tips or app updates, why not get these messages to users in the app itself, as they’re using it? Here are five ways to leverage in-app communication to create happier customers.

1. Drive feature adoption through in-app announcements and support

By delivering guidance in the app that connects to what customers find valuable, companies not only help users become more engaged, they drive better business results in the process. Consider the launch of a new product or feature. In-app guides should be part of any effective launch strategy, because they’re so effective at driving engagement. 

If the new feature or product is a big one that you want to maximise customer awareness and adoption of, then consider using a guide popup to grab their attention. Companies can also leverage in-app messaging to then create a multi-step tour of the new product or feature that walks customers through all the ins and outs. 

If the new feature is something smaller scale, consider utilising “tooltips” to foster more subtle engagement. Tooltips are a form of in-app messaging that appears when users hover over a certain area or take a certain action in your product. 

2. Send urgent comms to users in real time

When facing an emergency or crisis, in-app guides are a vital tool in companies’ communications tool kit. Other tactics such as email, PR statements, and social media posts are important, but they all have one thing in common: they’re disseminated via external channels. In other words, realtime users of your app won’t necessarily see them.

So how can you be sure to reach customers in a timely, relevant way? Why rely on an email that could languish in your users’ inbox or a social media post they may not notice on a platform they may not use to communicate vital information? Businesses have it in their power to leverage in-app communication to reach users quickly and easily where and when it matters most–in the app itself. 

3. Get customers on the right version of your app

Many companies rely only on automatic updates to eventually force users to upgrade to the latest version of their app. But to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty, you should build reminders into the application that also explain to users why the most recent version of your app leaves them better off.

There are two main ways companies can use in-app messaging to get customers up to date. The first is to use pop-up style guides to regularly remind customers that a new version of the app is available. You can use the guide to highlight improvements or new features in the latest app version as a way to entice them to upgrade now. The second option is to build a guide to let users know when the version of the app they’re on will be sunsetted, and give them a timeline for when they need to update. No matter which version you choose, you can also leverage product analytics to target only those customers who have not yet upgraded, so that users who have already done so won’t get annoyed by a redundant message. 

4. Make in-app guides your marketing team’s best friend

At any given moment, chances are your business is working on new product and feature offerings and promotions that you want to communicate (and sell!) to customers. In-app guidance and notifications are a great way to do so, and not just because they reach users in the moment.

In this case, the best use of in-app communications is a targeted one. Using the right product experience tool, you can combine in-app messaging with product analytics and segment users by certain metadata or behavioural categories that you think makes a promotion particularly relevant, and then target them with it. This is precisely what companies like iRobot have done with personalised feature announcements, and it’s made their outreach far more effective. 

Using the same segmentation strategy, marketing teams can further build up their business’ brand. With analytics-powered segmentation, they can also target “super users” and other champion customers and encourage them to write positive reviews of their product in the App Store or on various product review sites.

5. Let customers onboard at their own pace, on their own terms

There’s no better way to onboard users than to guide them through steps in the app itself, as they’re using it. Depending on the nature of what you’re onboarding customers for, you could use several potential types of guides to best suit customer needs: It may be as simple as adding a “Need help?” button or banner to your app that will launch a guide when clicked and let users self-service only where they feel the need to. 

Alternatively, you may want to guide new users through key workflows in your app more comprehensively. One effective way is to use a combination of popups and interactive tooltips. You can also use lightboxes to showcase the most important features and functionality of your apps, for example by making the rest of the app screen dark when one particular feature is highlighted. To avoid overwhelming customers, keep your onboarding guides short and sweet, usually five steps or less. In in-app messaging as in many other areas of work and life, brevity is key. 

For tech companies–or indeed, any company whose customer experience has a meaningful digital component (so, all of them)--navigating the continued economic uncertainty successfully means building a strong, loyal, satisfied customer base. The right mobile in-app messaging strategy alone won’t secure that outcome, but it goes a long way toward putting it within reach. 

Written by
Todd Olson