Using app notifications for marketing could kill your app

I’ve noticed a recent trend in which app development companies misunderstand the purpose of app notifications and try to use them as a marketing tool.

App notifications are a means for your app to communicate timely information to your user that your *user* thinks is important and that is part of the service provided by your app. For example, the Mail app uses notifications to show that a new email message has arrived. Uber uses notifications to show that your car has arrived. Starbucks uses notifications to show an update to your account balance.

Never ever make the mistake of thinking that a notification is in any way similar to your email list. A single marketing notification could, in fact, shut down your company. Imagine this sequence:
* User’s at lunch talking with a friend
* Her iPhone pings
* Expecting something important (to her), she pulls her phone out of her purse
* A notification says “Schedule a ride with Lyft!”
* Seeing the WTF look on her friend’s face, her friend asks “what’s up”?
* Lyft’s soon-to-be-ex user says “stupid notification from Lyft saying I can schedule a ride with them. Duh, that’s why I installed the app.”
* Soon-to-be-Lyft-user’s friend says “huh, I use Uber. They don’t spam.”
* Ex-Lyft user turns off notifications for Lyft to prevent notification spam. Or, just deletes the app and installs Uber.

A non-useful notification is likely to get users to turn notifications completely off for your app. I just did this for “Curbside”, who decided to notify me that I could place an order through them (duh, that’s why I installed the app), and for Lyft, because it notified me randomly that I could book a ride in their app (albeit in a different context, and gender, than in the story above).

Even if your app sends useful notifications (both Curbside and Lyft rely heavily on them as part of their services), a single marketing notification can get your app notifications turned off. That, of course, means that 1) if the user does use your app again, they’ll miss important notifications, and 2) they may have complaints because they didn’t receive a required notification (eg their order is ready or their driver is outside). More likely though, if they have to choose between notification spam or using another app, they just won’t use your app. If your business relies on that app, that marketing notification may have just shut down your company.

Think very very carefully about the notifications you send, and make sure they’re only a necessary part of the service your app provides. If your marketing team is bugging you to add notifications “to increase app engagement”, send them to this article. 😉

Comcast’s misleading advertising

“Wireless Gateways are provided to customers who order Performance, Blast!® or Extreme Internet service”

Yes, but you have to pay for the cable modem. Or you can buy a cable modem, but of course you’ll only be able to use it on Comcast.

Sigh, now I know why people use AT&T U-Verse. Time to see if I can get Google or FIOS.

Comcast's misleading upsell
Comcast’s misleading upsell

LifeLock – a bit clueless?

I tried opening my LifeLock (previously Lemon) wallet today, and got an error saying it was “retrying to register the app”, and instructed me to contact LifeLock Wallet support.

Here’s their reply. Spoiler: Evidently they don’t understand that the *data* is what’s important, not their app.

[UPDATE 6/6/2014] LifeLock compensated me for the estimated value of the gift cards in my wallet. Also, good alternatives appear to be Vallet and Card Mate. However, I won’t trust important data to an app that can disappear again – I recommend something more platform-agnostic (like photos in a dropbox folder).

———————————————————————————
Henry | May 22, 2014 | 18:47 -0700
———————————————————————————

Hi Grant,

Thank you for emailing the LifeLock Wallet Mobile App support team.

You are receiving the error when opening LifeLock Wallet on your device because of the proactive removal of the app on the Apple App Store, Google Play and the Amazon App Store.

We have determined the app is not fully compliant with payment card industry (PCI) security standards, and we are taking immediate steps to correct this and ensure the ongoing safety of your personal information.

It is important for you to know that we have no reason to believe your personal information, including credit card numbers and other data, has been compromised as a result of the PCI compliance issue.

As we move forward to bring the app into the highest levels of PCI compliance, we are deleting your stored personal data from our LifeLock servers. This does not affect your ability to use your credit cards or other information you have uploaded to LifeLock Wallet.

We are working to return a fully PCI compliant LifeLock Wallet to you soon. Until then, we are removing the app from all app stores, including the Apple App Store, Google Play and the Amazon App Store.

We know that being without this application for a while is asking a lot of you. We apologize for the inconvenience. At the same time, we want you to know that we are taking all of these steps because we take your security and privacy very seriously.

When LifeLock Wallet is available again, rest assured that you can download it, provide your personal information and use it again with confidence—knowing that it’s backed by an industry leader that is committed to doing the right thing.

If you have questions, please call 1-800-LIFELOCK.

Sincerely,
Henry

Best practices: handling a line of customers

Maybe it’s just years of computer experience, but I’m always surprised that only a few places handle lines correctly. Even McDonald’s, one of the most efficient food places, doesn’t do it well (although I guess their approach is to try to eliminate the line, which is admirable).

Fry’s electronics, on the other hand, does it beautifully:

  • Have a single line
  • Have multiple registers (or tellers, or customs agents, TSA scanners, etc). I’ll call them “processors” from now on, as they perform whatever process people are lining up for.
  • The person at the front of the line goes to the next available processor.
  • Don’t split the line at any point: there should never be a line for any given processor. The line should be for the entire group of processors.  The reason for this is that if a single customer takes a long time and hold up a processor, it doesn’t hold up the rest of the line, or a small segment of a line.  If you let a small line occur for each processor, a slow customer will hold up that line – unnecessarily.  Don’t split the line.

This approach is fast, fair, simple to implement and simple for customers to understand.  It also lets your customer get out (and pay) faster, decreases processing costs, and gives you an opportunity to form the line with walls of candy and other impulse buys like Rite Aid and Fry’s do.

Places that do it well (if not fast):

  • DMV (scary, huh – uses a ticket system to generate a line, at least in Santa Clara)
  • Social Security Administration (also uses a ticket system, in Mountain View at least)
  • Santa Clara County Recorder (ticket system)
  • Fry’s Electronics
  • Most airport ticket/baggage check lines
  • Rite Aid (usually via a makeshift line)

Places that fail:

  • Grocery Stores – almost always, and horribly
  • Target
  • Walmart
  • Many customs lines (they fail by splitting the lines near the end)
  • Many airport security lines (they split the line at some point near the end)
  • Some fast food restaurants (e.g. McDonald’s)
  • Most airport security lines, although you need a little line for each conveyer/scanner by necessity due to the length of the screening process.

Apple, why did you kill my Siri?

Do you think Siri is cool? Then you probably didn’t use the original app, and you probably also never heard of the 60’s program “Eliza”.

I used to be able to ask Siri for actual information, and get real answers. I could ask it to reserve a table for two at Beausejour at 8 o’clock, and it would place the reservation. I could ask it what good movies were playing nearby, and it would show a list of movies ranked high (on rotten tomatoes) that were playing near me with a list of theaters. I could even tap to buy tickets.

But no more. Siri’s become stupid. Like tragic car crash stupid. The kids in school make fun of it (literally). And that’s all it’s good for. If I ask it to make a reservation at a restaurant at 8pm, it’ll respond with “there’s a restaurant named Beausejour near you”. Great, I already knew that. Ask it for movies and it’ll just display a list of theaters. Ask it almost anything else and it’ll say “I don’t understand”. It’s not good at scheduling, texting, or calling; not better than just tapping and typing at least.

Why does it take hackers to try to revive what used to be a great app?

I miss Siri.