How to Recover from One-Star App Reviews

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So your mobile app just got torn apart with bad reviews.

Maybe you rushed the app out the door too quickly? Maybe you didn’t test for compatibility with older hardware? Maybe other apps do the same thing, only better?

Whatever the case, your new app has received a one-star drubbing. Now what do you do?

We asked a panel of app developers who have been there to weigh in.

Take comfort in numbers

First, know that you are not alone, says Dylan Osborn, creator of NiLi, a “personal nightlife concierge” app. “You have to realize that even the most successful and greatest apps out there receive one-star reviews,” he says.

At present, the average Apple App Store rating for the current version of the insanely popular Snapchat is 2.5 stars out of 5. Of its 1,546 current version reviews (at press time), 562 of them are rated one star. More than 1,600 of Facebook’s 3,965 current mobile app reviews are one-star slams.

“A one-star review isn’t the end of the world. It’s just another opportunity for success. If the user leaves a bit of constructive criticism, that’s amazing and exactly what you want. You can now tailor your product to fit your customers’ exact needs,” Osborn says.

Call it ‘beta’ — make updates

If the app in question is an early version, consider calling it a beta, says Troy Petersen, marketing lead for app developer ArcTouch. “This acknowledges the fact that your company understands there is work to do, but it can’t be a beta in name only,” he says. “Like all good betas, you need to set up a path to capture user feedback—and then reconcile the feedback by improving your app accordingly. If someone reports a bug, let them know you are working on a fix.”

Bonus: the Apple App Store by default only shows ratings and reviews for the current version of apps. (Users have to click to a secondary screen to see ratings for “all versions,” but this is uncommon.) As such, releasing a new — and, of course, genuinely improved — version of your app will wipe the slate clean. (Google Play aggregates reviews over the entire life of a product.)

Ask for forgiveness

Social platforms like Yelp enable you to attempt to make amends with unhappy customers. Careful responses to negative reviews may motivate a second look, and a more positive review the second time around.

App stores were not designed with this kind of conversation in mind. Still, user names may help determine the identity of app store commenters. Leverage your support logs, as well, says Diane Hamilton, managing partner of Binary Formations, which develops a variety of household-focused apps. “If you know a review is from someone who contacted support, and you were able to get them up and running and happy, ask them if they will update their review,” she says.

Request intervention

If a review seems particularly malicious, you may have some recourse through the store itself. The two major app stores include mechanisms for reporting offensive material. (On the Apple App Store, click “Report a Concern” next to a review. On Google Play, you can down-vote off-topic reviews or use the flag icon to report spam.) “If, and only if, it goes against Apple’s policy, you may report a concern,” says Hamilton. “If Apple agrees, they will remove it. Do this sparingly.”

Hamilton adds it’s best to use this option only for truly malicious or off-topic reviews, such as reviews filled with spam or other irrelevant material.

Let it go

Finally, remember that negative reviews are part of the business. “You have to let it go and chalk it up as someone having a bad day and taking their anger out on you for some silly reason,” Osborn says.

Hamilton notes the power of community moderation, as well. Recalling a recent negative review, she says: “It turned out, without our prodding, others left reviews disputing the not so good reviews.”

Ignore the critics and cultivate your fans, and you may find they’ll happily come to your defense.

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