I’m young(ish). I’m a renter. I’m constantly on my phone. In theory, I am the ideal user of my apartment’s new tenant experience app. But I hate it. Less than a week after downloading it, I removed it from my phone, but not before I did some research and wrote about the entire experience. With seemingly more tenant experience apps than users, I wanted to understand why ideal potential users like myself aren’t adopting the technology like many expect we would.
In the world of apps, you live or die by your daily average users (DAU), a count of how many unique users are actively using an app on a daily basis. In the world of app development, the term is incessant. Deals are made or broken based on DAU numbers. Apps like Facebook boast nearly 2 billion DAU. No reasonable person expects a TEx app to approach DAU numbers anywhere near major popular apps because, in an ideal world, tenants don’t need to interact with their building much if everything is running smoothly. Monthly active users (MAU) is a more apt metric. If a TEx app is useful, you can expect tenants to use it at least once a month to book an amenity, submit a service request or at the very least, pay rent. Yet MAU numbers are mysteriously missing from the conversation around TEx apps. The ugly truth is the apps may be better at raising capital than they are at raising user counts.
Creating a successful app is harder than opening a successful restaurant. A Gartner study found the mobile app success rate was just 00.01. For every 1 app that is successful, 9,999 will fail. That’s an incredibly grim statistic. Why do apps fail? The most common reason is that the app developer did not understand the market. I suspect that is what is happening with many tenant experience apps. Asset managers have gotten laser-focused on the potential benefits of TEx apps but they failed to consider ways to actually make the app something people want to use. On their websites, TEx apps boast about having 30-50 percent of occupants using the app in some buildings. I’m not sure those are numbers to be proud of. If the majority of tenants are not using the app in the best cases, it is hard to see it unlocking many benefits. Plus, just because someone is using the app doesn‘t mean they’re enjoying it, sometimes the app is the only way to do things. Being forced to use clunky technology won’t help retention. Some apps are simply bribing users with discounts. Logging in to claim a discount hardly counts as an active user.
By definition, TEx apps need tenants to use them for them to experience the app. Few are. From the outset, the deck is stacked against TEx apps. On average, over 70 percent of users stop using a mobile app within three days of download. Good apps may hold on to users for a full week. Only truly great apps are worthy of repeated use. In my experience, there are still few loved TEx apps. Out of courtesy, I won’t disclose which specific app my complex is using, but browsing the app store, you quickly start to see a pattern among all the apps. For TEx apps, whether classified under business, productivity, or lifestyle, reviews on the App Store are not kind. “Useless” is a common refrain. Complaints about constantly being logged out, the app not working, glitches, freezing and other basic functionality issues make up a sizable portion of written reviews. If I’m considering downloading your TEx app, I’m already skeptical before I even click install.
The app my complex rolled out is not an app at all. It is a portal that takes you to the website via an in-app browser, making the app entirely useless at best and actively inconvenient at worst. Simply logging in is a chore. First, you enter your email, then you get routed to the in-app browser to enter your email again, plus your password. Once logged in there, it takes you to your specific complex page, where you guessed it, you log in again. Back to the homepage in the in-app browser, where you log in again before finally taking you back to the actual app where you complete your now painful login process. By the end of signing up, I’ve logged in no less than five separate times just to get started. That’s five obstacles. Five moments when a user can decide the hassle isn’t worth it. If I want to use my phone’s functionality to enable biometric ID login, that’s two additional logins. I wonder how many people give up on the app before they even finish getting logged in.
The app is also glitchy, in large part because it’s using an in-app browser for most functions. When paying rent, the charges are laid out all over the place with no regard for graphic design. You’re greeted by a warning about a huge amount owed, the entirety of your remaining rent, which you are prompted to pay in advance. When it comes to messaging, there’s no clear way to separate tenant names from staff. Not that it would matter, clearly messages sent to the staff are going to the same type of off-site answering service you get via phone or email. The message board is an online Festivus of grievances I actively avoid so as to preserve what little sanity I have left.
I’m left asking what the point of this app is, how much they paid for this app, and who thought it was actually a good idea. I don’t work for the apartment complex, I have little understanding of the value it offers for on-site staff. For me as a tenant, it offers no value. I already get emails when I have a package, I’m already logged in on my computer browser to submit maintenance requests and pay rent. The amenities in the buildings are rarely booked. The concierge can help me handle the rest.
I should also say: I love my apartment. I just signed a lease extension last week. It’s the best place I’ve lived since I moved out of my parent’s place. I was happy living without a TEx app, I’ll be just as happy living here completely ignoring its existence.
I want to say this is a limited issue, that my particular management launched a faulty app. My gut tells me the issue is far more widespread. I’m a socially active young professional. Most of my friends live in apartments and most work in office buildings. In casual conversations with them, we’ve all come to a similar conclusion regarding our different TEx apps. The apps are not easy to use, they are glitchy, slow, and offer no functionality you can’t find elsewhere. Combined with the reviews you find on the App Store and Google Play, TEx apps clearly have more work to do.
I can’t build apps, I can hardly use them. All I can do is offer my humble perspective on what I want from a TEx app as a renter. It must work flawlessly. Wasting my time with glitches, slow loading, and repeated logins will drive me away quickly. I want to be able to communicate directly with on-site staff faster than an email. I want maintenance to notify me when they’re on their way and when their work is done. I don’t want to be forced to use it, I want to want to use it. That means designing an aesthetically pleasing, seamless app experience that creates value in my life.
I want to be able to message my fellow tenants by apartment number, not name. The app must be easier than other methods I’m already using. Pulling up an app on my phone and logging in to access an amenity is not easier or better than bringing my key fob. Getting a package notification from an app is not easier than checking my email. Submitting a maintenance request via app is not easier than filling out the form online. Practically every bit of functionality currently available can be achieved through a mobile-friendly site accessible through any browser that’s easier to use.
To create a TEx app people want to use, designers should think long and hard about the value proposition. Right now, most TEx apps are simply reinventing the wheel. Tex apps will not make spaces more profitable, they will not streamline operations nor create an additional stream of revenue if no one wants to use them. Without monthly active users, the benefits of the app are aspirational more than operational. There is real potential here, but the apps have to be better. As much thought must be given towards what the apps offer tenants as what they offer landlords. Don’t make an app people have to use, make an app too good to miss. That will not be easy but it will be necessary.