-by Michael Wray, Mariner Software President
Not to rehash a topic that has been floating around the internet for months* but I had an idea (it might not be original, though I can’t find anyone else talking about it) the other day that might help improve the issue of giving developers the ability to reply to app store reviews. First, let’s look at the topic from both sides.
From the customer perspective when posting about a negative buying experience:
Joe Customer buys XYZ app through the App Store. After downloading said app, Joe Customer finds that he doesn’t like, or perhaps, doesn’t understand the way the app works. It’s not intuitive; it doesn’t function as he expected; it’s missing features other competitive apps have. In a nutshell, it sucks and he is going to let the world know about it. Joe Customer fires off a nasty, one-star review and completely lambasts the developer for even thinking this app could be worth ¢.99.
From the developer perspective when reviewing the customer’s negative
Joe Developer spends 6 months worth of 60 hour work weeks to research, plan, and develop an app, that in his eyes, solves a huge problem which the world is having. He has given his heart and soul into the app and, though it’s not perfect, it is solid and functional. And though he has little marketing experience, he takes a chunk of his savings to promote the app because, in his mind, it could easily be “the next big thing.” The app is submitted and approved and sales begin to happen. Unfortunately, a few functionality issues were found that slipped through the QA process, and bad reviews begin to get posted.
Now, let me just say that these two examples are not the norm. Most customers accept the fact that apps aren’t going to be perfect but will be improved upon over time. Most customers understand that, particularly with smaller developers, improvements don’t happen overnight. Most customers are fair in evaluating apps. From the developer perspective, most developers are 100% dedicated to their “baby.” The last thing most developers want or need are unhappy customers. Unhappy customers need to be addressed and, as such, that cuts into development time. Cutting into development time slows down the normal evolution of improving the app, which in turn, makes the customers lose faith in the developer. Most developers have a genuine desire to help the customer through issues.
Some customers do want to “retaliate” by posting one-star reviews because they don’t understand the app. Or maybe, because they bypassed reading the user guide, or it’s not performing the way it should in his specific environment. Or maybe they didn’t like the fact that it was not localized in a specific language. Or maybe the customer can’t find the serial number for the app. Or maybe they don’t like the name of the app. Clearly there are reasons galore that customers give low ratings. Some justified. Some not so much.
That said, there are truly some moronic developers out there. You know the kind. Someone who create a feature, or worse yet, an app, with no intrinsic value or do not function as advertised and in some cases, not at all. Apps that constantly crash, for instance, and the developer is unresponsive for weeks, months, or years! There are other developers that would sell their grandmother’s soul for an additional ¢.99 sale. They will say anything, write anything, or do anything with no conscience for what’s right or wrong. With a bajillion apps in the Mac and iOS App Store, fortunately these sort of products usually sink to the bottom. But there also developers who have good intentions with their app but just go about explaining it the wrong way. Developers are developers, not marketing gurus. If you find one that’s both, he’s probably putting out some quality software.
So get to the point, Mike.
All this is my point. Sometimes, developers and customers have a hard time communicating. So why Apple, are you making this a one way street? Currently, if Joe Customer wants to address the world about a bug/missing feature/ (insert your favorite issue here), Joe Developer has no recourse other than purchasing his own app and posting a public reply to Joe Customer. Clearly not a good model if you want a constructive dialogue between customer and developer. Apple, I get that you might be concerned with an out-of-hand flame war between customer and developer and that’s a legit concern.
But what about this idea…
Give the _option_ to Joe Customer to let Joe Developer reply to him about his issue either directly or publicly, or not at all. With this strategy the customer is always in control (which will please Apple) however, if the customer is legitimately interested in getting a response from the developer on said issue, he can give permission for the developer to respond privately or publicly. In the end, Joe Customer can make his point and optionally get a response and Joe Developer at least has a chance (assuming that’s what Joe Customer chooses) to respond to what could be a very explainable issue.
I’m not saying this will fix the issue of developers not being able to respond to customer reviews, but I have to think it’s a better alternative to constructive dialogue that the current method.
* = Previous articles written