Once your product is live in the App Store, you may believe the hard work is over. However, you're just getting started. Users will have questions that require a customer support process. Some will leave glowing reviews on social media. And some users will leave plenty of disgruntled feedback in the App Store. Once this starts happening, you will need to institute formalized customer support and manage App Store reviews.
The majority of users will read App Store reviews before downloading a new app. Therefore, you will quickly need to establish a process to manage App Store reviews to keep things positive. An App Store review management process includes monitoring new reviews, scheduling software development tasks to address feedback, and responding to users who leave you feedback.
Prioritize Defects Over New Features
Defective features—what people call "bugs"—that you intend to fix should be addressed before adding new features. Failure to do so will increase your project's technical debt. Technical debt is the software maintenance burden your team faces when supporting your app. For example, you might add a way to accept in-app payments for your very first upsell opportunity within an app.
An Example of Technical Debt
Let's say you have a drum track app and you want users to pay for a premium drum sound pack. It's the only premium sound pack your team has, and the only one you think you'll ever have. You write code for payments around that single sound pack. Later, your boss comes around and says "let's add more premium sound packs!" Well, if you didn't plan on supporting payments for multiple sound packs, you suddenly have a big problem. All of that payment code will have to be refactored!
That's a contrived example, but I hope you get my point. You won't always know where your app is going in the future, so developers can't always predict what the code needs to handle later. You can ask all day if they're making the system "modular" and "future-proof," and they might even say they are doing so. However, the truth is they don't know and neither do you. Not due to malice or incompetence, but because you are in the middle of developing a product and incorporating user feedback. The entire direction of your software may change over time.
That, in a nutshell, is one way technical debt accrues. You don't know what the future holds, so you rightly build a product that is good enough for today. Things will change tomorrow, and you'll need to work off that debt.
Minimizing Technical Debt
So, why is this important? Triaging bug reports to minimize technical debt will help you manage App Store reviews more effectively. You will have less negative feedback and fewer total bug reports to triage. However, technical debt comes in many other forms. Corner-cutting decisions, tightly coupled code, and so on. Over time, all of these short-term decisions and reported defects build up. This build-up results in slower development cycles. When you're fighting a mountain of bugs, trying to incorporate new features, and repurposing existing features in ways they weren't originally built to handle, you create a less maintainable mountain of junk. That junk is difficult to support, difficult to change, and difficult to explain. It's also hard to recognize when you're going to hit a wall. If left unaddressed, you'll just wake up one day to find that any simple code change is estimated to take a week instead of an hour.
The best way to decrease your technical debt—prevent it from multiplying as time goes on—is to address the bugs you know about. Start there and then worry about adding in new features. If you don't prioritize defects over new features, you will add more defective features on top of a shaky foundation. By bolstering the features you already have, continuously refactoring code as you go, you will decrease your technical debt and keep new feature development fast and reliable.
Triage Bug Reports
However, I am not saying you must fix all defects. As I wrote above, you should prioritize the defects that you intend to fix. Some defects are not worth the effort. They may be peculiar edge cases only 0.01% of users ever see. Those types of defects will not give you the same ROI as defects that impact 10% of users. Similarly, you may determine that no reported defects are worth your time, and that the ROI on new feature work is significantly higher than that of outstanding defects. Even in that scenario, you must address defects somehow. This may mean temporarily shutting off defective features if bugs are severe enough to impact an untenably high percentage of your user base.
But the decision isn't always so clear-cut. Perhaps fixing a defective feature is not that valuable on its own, but is part of your critical path. If users must enter their birthday to gain access to age-regulated content, you must ensure they can successfully enter their birthday. The birthday itself may not be important to you converting or upselling users, but it is a necessary feature that can not be ignored. When triaging bug reports, you must ask yourself what the business must support and what it can live without.
Stated more clearly: when you ignore a bug report, you are choosing not to invest in that defective feature any more. No matter how good your intentions, it is highly unlikely you or your team will take the time to "fix things later" or "focus on bug fixing after this next big release." It will not happen. Other things will come up. So stop pretending you'll do it later. If it's worth doing, do it now.
Improve Your Product
Once you've triaged the work ahead of you, it's time to make improvements. Work down your prioritized list of defects and new features. Remember to release early and often, iteratively improving your product. As you adopt this process of continuous improvement, the cycle time from new idea to release will decrease. Also, you should encounter fewer bug reports if you release more frequently. Bug reports decrease because you are deploying changes and responding to updates all of the time, versus waiting weeks at a time to publish an update to defective features. As soon as your product is better, get it out there so you can solicit new reviews on your new and improved app.
Remember to continue utilizing your customer support process to manage App Store reviews for these new releases as well. Just because you've improved the user experience based on past feedback does not mean that you are out of things to improve. It's critical to your product's long-term success that you continuously manage App Store reviews, identify opportunities to improve the product, and execute on those opportunities.
Respond to User Feedback
Now that you have addressed the problems reported by your users, it's time to respond to them. In a previous post I described a template for responding to problems. This template—including an example response to a user who experienced an app crash—outlines all of the things to include in your response. Remember to thank your user for their feedback, acknowledge that their problem is legitimate, validate their feelings, and give them a resolution. Also, I recommend giving them something for their trouble, such as a credit toward their account or free swag.
Responding to feedback opens the door to re-engaging unhappy users. This can improve your chances of turning a detractor into a promoter, someone that will tell others about their great experience. Excellent customer service quickly differentiates you from most of your competition.
Notify Users When You Improve Things
Be sure to notify users when you make their lives better. If you have a significant improvement to your product, post about it on your website and social media. If your improvements are specific to a subset of users, be sure to target them specifically—perhaps even individually—to notify them of the change. Most users will appreciate that you took time out of your day to remember what was important to them. This is an important aspect of customer service, as it gives you the opportunity to re-engage unhappy users and give them a reason to be happy with your product. If you feel uncomfortable emailing them out of the blue, ask them for their feedback on the feature they specifically had a problem with. "I recall you were unhappy with Feature X. I've published an app update that should great improve that. Can you please try it out and let me know what you think now?"
Ask Reviewers for a Second Chance
This naturally leads into asking reviewers for a second chance. By default, the App Store only shows ratings and reviews for the most recent version of your app. When you fix problems users brought to your attention in the past, they may give you another chance. Similar to my previous point, be sure to notify users when you improve things they care about. If they like what they see, ask them if they are willing to post an updated review in the App Store for your latest version.
Once you have addressed their specific concerns and made a better product specifically for them, they will likely be happy to post a quick review. If nothing else, they will respect your attention to detail and excellent customer service. I can count on one hand the number of times a company has fixed something specifically for me and asked me to give it a second chance. Consider how infrequent yet impactful those interactions might be with your customers.
Use Critic to Manage App Store Reviews
Critic gives you a simple way to manage in-app bug reporting and customer feedback. By giving users a way to submit feedback within your app, you are decreasing the likelihood of them leaving a negative review in the App Store. This improves your App Store ratings and helps you manage feedback before isolated issues become widespread problems. Additionally, you can review bug reports, customer feedback, and device statistics in Critic's web portal. Prevent negative App Store reviews, manage App Store reviews, and respond to problems more quickly by signing up for Critic today.