Not even worth one star: Reacting constructively to App Store reviews

Instant rage

I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it. We’ve reacted with rage to some frustrating failure in an app, and left a negative, one star review. It’s a different experience though, when you are on the receiving end of these kinds of reviews. Trying to not immediately respond to the review with that same flash of anger takes experience, detachment, and maturity.

The user doesn’t understand the intricacies of your app. They don’t know of the hours you spent, not even sure if what you were trying to do was possible. Hundreds of evenings and weekends locked in a battle between what you imagined should be possible to program, and reality. All they know is that the app would not work properly, and guess what? It’s your fault.

I’m sure that some people get a feeling of release, letting go of the anger by leaving a one star review… it will hurt the developer, and makes the person leaving the review feel a little less upset. And you know what? They are right, as an app developer, when you receive a one-star review it does hurt, it does make you feel bad, and if you’re not careful, you’ll respond to the review in kind.

It’s not about the money

It is tempting to think that people that reacting with vitriol to a $1.99 app, are kind of getting things out of perspective. It’s only two bucks after all: the price of a cup of coffee. If you are on the US minimum wage, US$7.25/hour, two dollars is a lot of money.

But no matter what the app costs, it is not about the money. Nobody likes to feel like they have been cheated, and that is how people feel, rightly or wrongly, when they have an issue with an app, and it doesn’t behave as they expect. Cost is irrelevant. Nobody likes to feel like they have been taken for a fool.

You know what? They might be right

I try to keep an open mind to the possibility that sometimes they are reporting genuine issues. I cringe when I remember that time I unwittingly targeted people with small hands and bad eyesight: A code displayed to login to Amazon wasn’t visible if you had a small watch with the font size set to large. D’oh.

Then there are the people that genuinely need my app. The visually impaired or people with mobility issues. I did appallingly bad job in the first version of the app in supporting people who are visually impaired. It is kind of obvious with hindsight that I should have realised that an Alexa implementation for Watches, phones, tablets and computers might be useful for the visually impaired.

Responding

No matter whether the person has found a bug in the app, or if they simply don’t understand how software works, my approach to app store reviews is to try to be polite, kind, and empathise with the person, especially if it is clear that they are clueless and blaming you unfairly.

I’ve found that the passionately negative person, if reacted to with sympathy and genuine willingness to help can become your most passionate advocate and you can flip a person from hating to really supporting your app if you show them that you are listening, and that you are willing to work with them to try and address their issues.

Don’t respond immediately if you “know” how stupid, and idiotic, and clueless the person leaving the review is. Take a step back, move away from they keyboard, try and understand from the other person’s perspective. Try and understand where they are coming from, and leave a helpful response, assuming they best possible interpretation of their review.

Remember the many positive reviews you’ve received … try to not just focus on the negative. Don’t forget that you are doing this for the fun of it, don’t let them bring you down. Don’t spread the hate … try and understand.

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