1-Star reviews: Don't get tilted, take action

14 July, 2017 6 minutes read

Over the last couple of years Apple and Google has gone down a trend of empowering users in their application stores by giving app reviews a prime real-estate when searching for an app, as well as giving peer reviews more weight (mostly by Google).

The thing with reviews is that when it’s going good it’s going great: Good reviews spins up more downloads and good set of user expectations going into the app. On the flip side, when bad reviews flow they tend to set a lower set of expectations which leads to a more challenging onboarding which leads to potential more bad reviews, less downloads and app perception issues.

I’ve been on both sides of the app reviews and while keeping an app on the high end of reviews and product\community management from that position is also a discussion to be had, for my own personal #retro I'd like to focus on the more tilting experience of handling a flood of 1-star reviews.

Understanding 1-star reviews

From my personal perspective, user reviews are a community pulse and more specifically the pulse of users who were passionate enough to take additional time after using the app and let us, as the developers and the rest of the community their thoughts.

1-Star reviews is particular are often very emotional (and sometimes explicit) and reading those on a daily basis automatically parses them in my head to two main questions -

  • What is that person is feeling?
  • What does the other person needs?

So for example, when a person says:

The update is horrible. You will lose all of your saved media. It's entirely convoluted--pointless colors and tiles and "modern features.”

What I’m hearing is I’m feeling confused and I need a more straightforward way to access my main use case. I think that when thinking on each review in terms of feelings and needs two patterns emerge: A very explicit ones with features, bugs, crashes and product related items that people need that can be addressed and validated by data and a more feelings oriented pattern that provides an indication of pain points that users are unable to express in words.

Taking action

Replying to 1-star reviews

Working with 1-star reviews and more importantly 1-star review-ers requires a good amount of empathy, problem solving ability, patience and above all, the realization that we’re not here to convert 1-stars to 5-stars (even though that’s a nice bonus that happens every now and then), I look at the goal of working with 1-star reviews as “empathizing with the feeling, addressing the need”.

The most trivial, common tool given us by both major app stores is the reply to reviews ability. I assume that replying policies vary based on the company, my take on replying to 1-star reviews is acknowledging the feeling and being honest about any action that is being taken. Between the volume of reviews and how we got trained to think about customer support over time it’s easy to forget that there is a human on the other end of the review with a unique case and unique needs so in the case of the review above, I replied the following -

Hi User, thanks a lot for leaving such a long and thoughtful comment. I read everything and totally hear you on the simplicity note: We're working towards clarifying access to video calls as well as discussing messaging. The most important thing to me is you connecting to your BF 💛

For any questions, feel free to reach out via Twitter\Facebook.

When replying to reviews there is a small thing to be said about timing: Since this is a dialogue, replying in a relatively timely manner goes a long way to kick off a discussion. I try to touch base with the user within a few hours and even though there are things I defiantly want to reply to, if the review is relatively old I usually let it go.

Channel frustration into action

The most positive outcome from a 1-star review to me is a continuous dialogue that leads to actionable solution on the other person’s side. Since there is no cookie cutter solution for each user and his specific use case I usually like to establish multiple channels a personal can help us help himself or feel well informed and noticed.

So far one initiative that has been beneficial is setting up a place where people can submit feature requests. This is a part of a larger process that currently runs though my head and involves more community transparency and involvement in the product roadmap, but that’s maybe a different topic for a different post. When it comes to common questions like “what happened to that feature?” or “I don’t like how the new feature looks like to behaves” a place where a person can feel have direct contact with the developers is really helpful and if as a company we can follow up on these requests it’ll be even cooler 😎

Actively requesting feedback

Each time we release a new version of the app there is a golden opportunity to talk to our community using the “what’s new” section. This area is rather broad and there a lot of opinions, philosophies and best practices involved but long story short, in period of times where the community pulse feels like a support is needed, I’d like to remind people using the app that we’re here, listening and that everybody’s a part of the iterative process.

Here’s how I signed the latest version -

Thanks for being on ooVoo! • We are reading all the feedback received and are working to bring you more frequent updates and improvements. For feature requests and general feedback feel free to contact us on Twitter, Facebook or reach out to customer support.

Another proactive channel we can work at when it comes to 1-star reviews is our social media channel. Often times I can see overlap between questions and comments from app reviews float up on Twitter and Facebook which is great since on social media we have the option to proactively solve issues and address frustrations in a public environment. I was actually fortunate enough to see numerous cases of a direct link between good social media presence and 1-star reviews get converted to 5- stars. We may not be able to solve a specific need over Twitter, but the personal attention, owning up to issues and humanizing the company goes a long way.

Closing thought

When I look at reviews though the prism of feelings/needs, every feedback is informational and good feedback. I’d take a 3,000 1-star reviews over a scenario where nobody’s talking.

As long as I can keep the dialogue going, listening and understanding the community I’m a happy, motivated camper 🏕