Unlocking Growth via App Reviews

Key learnings from the trenches

Take a look at your App reviews. Notice how polarized they are? These users either show you 5-star lovin’, or rage like a hormonal teenager that they’re forced to give you 1-star when you obviously deserve zero. Let’s investigate further.

They’re over “good” experiences

Reviews are driven by emotion. Products that deliver a strong emotional punch get reviews. Not mediocre products, or merely “good” products. Strong emotional response leads to action (such as a review). Whether they tap “5” or “1” depends on what emotion your product triggered.

Identify the magic moment

The trick is to carefully step through the product to find the magic moment. It’s not going to last long, so make your move. That fickle, fleeting emotion is your window of opportunity. If you don’t nail that moment, you’ll blow your silver bullet too early, or too late. Examples of magic moments could be delivering the right piece of content, saving them money, saving them time, and saving their life.

At Unbill, there are a few small victories. For example, when a user connects one of their bills and we show them the magic of automatically syncing their balance & due date with the app. Although nice, this moment doesn’t trigger a strong emotional response.

The magic moment is when the user presses the “Pay Now” button on a bill, and in a few moments, gets a push notification that their bill has been paid. Usually people don’t trust apps with their money, so they open the app to verify it’s not deceiving them. Once they see it really worked, we drop a knee and pop the question. Be patient. In our case, it can take weeks before a user decides to pay a bill, but we know it’s the closer, so we keep our review prompt holstered.

The right way to ask for feedback

Users want/need to vent. Unless you give them a place to do it, they’re going to painfully throw you stars, razor sharp, one per user, like ninjas, in your eyes, in front of the whole world. Your “magic moment” doesn’t always turn out so magical. That’s why, when you pop the question, don’t make “yes” the only option.

  1. Use your interface to segment your users based on how they’re feeling about your product.
  2. Negative feedback is just as important, if not more important, than positive feedback. Be sure to capture it.
  3. People don’t like popups that interrupt their workflow. Put some thought into designing it to feel like part of the app experience.

Example flow

Respond to every review

You’ll be surprised how often users change their review rating when you reach out and talk to them. But that’s not the only reason to respond. Thank the users who gave you a good review, since they’re your best customers. They’ll feel the love and know that you’re human. When they run into a bump down the road, they’ll be far more likely to talk to you rather than throw you one star and delete your app forever. Apple just took a page from Google’s playbook and added this feature to iTunes Connect. As your app grows, you may not be able to respond to every review. You’ll need to find the right balance for your users.

Treat reviews like survey results

Your review stream is the result of a survey that has two questions on it:

  1. Why do you love our app?
  2. Why do you hate our app?

You may be surprised what you find by digging through your reviews and categorizing the reasons why users inconveniently take time out of their day to write something about your product.

For example, banking apps generally get a lot of hate in the form of one star reviews. But for some reason, people love Capital One. What are they doing differently? You start by laboriously reading through your reviews and highlighting the reasons people enjoyed the app. Many of the reviews will be too vague, so I recommend skipping those. You tally them up as you go.

You’ll end up being able to build a chart with the reasons people love your product, like this:

There are several potential takeaways about Capital One’s app from this data:

  1. The magic moment for their users is when they get a highly useful notification about a charge.
  2. Just because a few users complain about notifications, doesn’t mean they should remove them for everyone, according to this data.
  3. Many of the other features such as security and card rewards are appreciated, and don’t move the needle on being competitive nor do they consistently elicit a strong emotional response.
  4. Their investment in design is giving them an edge on the competition. Keep investing there.

This same approach can be used to analyze the reasons people dislike your app.

Inform your product with reviews

I hope you’ve enjoyed some of these tips on how to turn sometimes painful reviews into a tool that helps drive your roadmap, promote growth, and solidify your reputation.

Please share any lessons you’ve learned from managing app store reviews.