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Ratings Prompts Don’t Have To Suck

This is a new and improved version of a popular post published on May 30, 2014.

Over the past year or so, many people in the development community have sounded off about “rating nags” and the “please rate me” dialogs that some apps show, with perhaps the most pointed critique coming from John Gruber, of Daring Fireball. He shared his frustration with the usage of ratings prompts and said:

I’ve long considered a public campaign against this particular practice, wherein I’d encourage Daring Fireball readers, whenever they encounter these “Please rate this app” prompts, to go ahead and take the time to do it — but to rate the app with just one star and to leave a review along the lines of, “One star for annoying me with a prompt to review the app.”

Several other people have chimed in on the topic, having a somewhat public, flowing, long-winding debate about the practice of reaching out to customers for better ratings. Sadly, a deeper discussion about the app store, consumer decision-making and why ratings matter was touched on, but largely left alone as most focused on the execution of the prompts.

The debate has two basic sides, where those who think the practice is offensive/lazy, siding with Gruber, Marco Arment and others dismiss all points to the contrary. On the other side, we heard from Cabel Sasser , Chris Gonzales, Dan Counsell, and Wil Shipley who had arguments in favor of reaching out to customers. A key point that they made: Penalizing hard working developers and publishers hardly seems fair when the app store represents such an important piece of the distribution and customer connection puzzle.

Somewhere in the middle, Daniel Jalkut offered a nuanced view of the situation that asked more questions than it answered, challenging us all to explore what is truly best for the consumer. Taken in sum, this discussion is about so much more than rating nags and the annoyance we feel when we’re bothered in an app.

This is about much more than ratings. It’s about more than improving an app’s rankings.

This is about how companies communicate with their customers in the mobile world.

For many companies, mobile is the primary medium of communication with their customers and the number of companies who are mobile first will only grow. Each of us carries a little communications device that buzzes and blinks all day long, alerting us to news, updates, and information. These messages build up – messages from our friends, our family and yes, the companies we’ve allowed into our inboxes, given our phone numbers, and whose apps we’ve installed.

We do not have to guess how this plays out – we already know. There are reasons why developers employ prompts, why websites have numerous pop-ups, and we can only expect to see more of these on mobile. These messages increase revenue, retention, ratings, and customer interaction. Overuse of these tactics is well documented, and while inappropriate interruptions can make a difference to a companies’ metrics, we know that appropriate, non-intrusive, implementation can make a larger one.

You don’t boycott a store because a clerk asked if they could help you or become annoyed when a cashier asks if you were able to find everything all right.

What is needed is a better answer to the question: “How can I communicate with my app customers without driving them crazy?” The answer has to come from the app developers and publishers, not the app customers. Nor can we rely on the app stores to make meaningful changes.

Starting a campaign to rate apps 1 star if they prompt for a review or calling developers greedy and desperate are not constructive and don’t take us to a healthier communications environment. You don’t boycott a store because a clerk asked if they could help you or become annoyed when a cashier asks if you were able to find everything all right.

Let’s Start Talking With Our Customers, Together

This is really about companies wanting to talk to their customers in an elegant, helpful, and relevant way without being annoying. So, what is the right way to communicate with customers inside a mobile app?

By working with thousands of companies on these problems we’ve discovered that there are a few clear guidelines that can form the basis of better behavior by apps:

  • Don’t interrupt customers in the middle of tasks or at app launch
  • Identify and enable communication at key moments in the customer’s journey – when they’re happy, frustrated, or lost. Identifying these moments should be a natural part of any app’s design process
  • Instrument your communications activity so that you know what the impacts and outcomes of your messaging strategy are – working with hard coded solutions that don’t make you any smarter about your customers’ preferences is a recipe for disaster
  • Iterate, experiment, and be able to make changes on the fly

Some Myths and A Better Way to Communicate

In the debate about ratings prompts a lot of strong feelings based upon personal anecdote formed the foundation of much of the analysis. Significant assumptions about consumer behavior at scale made its way into commonly held beliefs. What has been sorely lacking, however, has been actual concrete data.

“If you don’t know what happens when you send a message, you might as well not send the message at all.”

Here at Apptentive, we think a lot about customer communication and the experience for the end consumer. For years we’ve instrumented every message and communication we power for our customers, measuring what the outcomes are.

We’ve held ourselves to a standard that says, “If you don’t know what happens when you send a message, you might as well not send the message at all.” This perspective has served our customers and our team well. It helps us to deliver best practices, improve tools, and shed light on an area that is severely lacking in data. For example, we know that:

  • Just asking people to rate the app is ~5 to 10x less effective than starting a conversation about whether or not the consumer is happy
  • The actual words used in the message to the customer can dramatically change the % of ecstatic customers who talk about your app in the app store and impact the % of ratings that also result in reviews
  • Showing a ratings prompt on launch is 50% more likely to result in the app being closed than if it’s shown at any other point in the app
  • Customers who are asked about their opinion with an app who are unhappy are >400% more likely to return to the app than the average app customer. It turns out that being informed that the company actually cares about your opinion can change the dynamic
  • When you give people choices about what action to take, only about 20 to 30% of customers will actually exit the app to do something else.

This topic isn’t just something we believe in and write about, however. We’re building the solution to these problems. Over the past 4 years, we have a sophisticated communications system focused on enabling you to listen and talk with your mobile customers. Our company is betting on the fact that you, and app publishers everywhere, want to treat their customers well and with respect.

We believe that while in-app communications are inevitable, they don’t have to be annoying, unsophisticated, and a necessary evil. We know that it’s possible to connect with your app customers at the right time and we know many of you truly deeply care about the mobile customer experience. Your passion for the consumer experience is why the ratings debate prompted such strong opinions and discussion in the first place.

It’s Time We All Got Better At Talking With Our Customers

Poorly implemented ratings prompts raised awareness around how easily a mobile experience can be ruined. It’s time to re-examine all of our customer interactions and ask ourselves if we can do better. Are there better places in the app to ask for feedback? Are there places where customers might need help and appreciate a company reaching out?

As we said earlier, this conversation is just the beginning. We know there are strong opinions about this and encourage you to add your thoughts below. Many of you are our customers, colleagues, and fellow app enthusiasts and we value your words. We plan on taking the thoughtfulness and execution behind customer communication to a level beyond where it exists today on mobile and even online. We encourage you all to communicate with your customers the right way as we all work towards creating products that people love.

App Marketing

App Marketing Conversations: App Ratings & Engagement are Impacting App Store Rankings

App ratings are now even more important to your app’s organic marketing strategy

In this installment of App Marketing Conversations we talked about the news that Apple’s app store is now taking app ratings and engagement into account in a more meaningful way for setting the rankings of apps. We dug into some key questions that marketers are asking us about what this means and how to take advantage of  the changes. A few key questions to be asking about your app’s trajectory:

  • How many of your customers actually love the app?
  • Are your app customers using the app regularly?

Be sure to check out the Gamehouse segment of App Marketing Conversations which talks about what we can learn from the data indicating that the majority of app development is happening internationally now and from MobileDevHQ’s segment on the changes to the App Store Search Ranking methodology.

The Transcript:

Robi: Good morning. Welcome to another App Marketing Conversations. I’m here, as always, with Ian Sefferman, of MobileDevHQ, and Ryan
Morrel, of Gamehouse. I’m Robi Ganguly, from Apptentive. I want to take a few minutes this week to talk about an interesting conference that happened here in Seattle last week; it was called MoDev Tablet, put on by MoDev. This was their first real conference on the west coast, and it was very tablet-focused on a lot of really interesting content, in particular 3 different organizations were talking about they’re engaging with consumers, particularly around tablets. Nordstrom was there, Major League Soccer was there, USA Today was there. All of them had different takes, but they were all really seeing a lot of interesting use cases. I wanted to talk about that a bit and what it means for marketers.

I’ll start with I think a lot of people were surprised at first when I said that they were there, but then they got it. The MLS,
Major League Soccer, has in the past couple years, really built out a digital presence to engage with fans who are, as content
consumers go, rabid. In a previous segment, we were talking about fantasy football. Sports fans consume everything about
their sport, and Major League Soccer has really capitalized on this by creating lots of digital content, lots of technology to
watch stuff. What they were talking about being able to do on the tablet was really let the consumption of the sport happen;
you can see lots of different clips from different angles, but have the ability to go deeper, more personal. You, if you’re a
stats geek, can use their tablet experience, and some of this is web-based and some of this is app-based, in order to go deeper
on stats. An example of that is you can see the different shots on goal that a player makes, and then their percentage of
success with those different shots on goals. As a stats geek you can get into it.

I want to push this out to you. Have you seen yourself as sports fans, a change in the way you consume sports with mobile
devices, with tablets?

Ian: I am not a big MLS fan. There’s no team in Detroit, so why would I be? I’m a huge college sports fan. ESPN3, or whatever they call it, Watch ESPN now, and March Madness, completely changed my life. Being able to see multiple games at once, being able to
see all of the stats online; all of that stuff has totally been a massive shift. It’s been a time shifter; I can watch the games
whenever I want, especially on ESPN3. I can play Shift; I can watch it while I’m at the office, I can watch it at home, I can
watch it on the bus, whatever, and it’s allowed me to go deeper. As a sports fan, tablets are an incredibly useful venue for
consuming the information.

The other interesting thing is, I saw this yesterday, that ESPN is now in talks with some of the IBTV folks, the InternetTV
folks, to get all of their content directly onto that stuff.

Robi: Interesting.

Ian: Which will, I’m sure, send shivers down many cable network CEOs.

Robi: Just all across the country, they just went . . .

Ian: Exactly.

Ryan: As you were saying this, all I was thinking was, ‘The content wants to be free. Let it go.’ When you think back maybe 7 years ago, and you go home and go watch March Madness, it’s like, “Let’s go to the bar down the street for March Madness.” Then it was like,
“CBS has this thing; you can watch 1 or 2 games online, but it’s still video over the web and it’s crappy sometimes.” Now it’s,
“We can go watch these 3 or 4 games all at once on different screens. That’s fantastic,” Then you run into some content
distribution ownership rights and all this crap, and you’re like, “What is going on here?”

Ultimately, I think it just gets better from here. Now there’s opportunities, especially with sports and things that people are
really passionate about; you can almost consider them niches, to create really deep, engaging experiences. I think that’s just
going to grow as . . . these people that own these content distribution rights are going to have to start letting them go.
Comcast, we all know their big fear is being a dumb pipe, and that’s why they bought NBC. They’re still going to be a dumb
pipe.

Ian: They’re going to be dumb pipe with NBC.

Ryan: Yeah, exactly.

Robi: I think this is interesting as we talk about everything, one of the things that came up over and over again at this tablet
conference was the way in which you could go much deeper to engage customers and engage your fans. The way that MLS was
thinking about it was very forward thinking, like ‘We’re building this league. We’re building this brand presence, and
this allows us to get those fans even deeper.’ There’s this constant overwhelming theme of ‘mobile helps you get deeper into
a customer’s life’. You can’t necessarily do that for everybody, but if you have 20 million loyal fans, you can let those people
just do everything they want to do with your content. Freeing it actually helps you get that relationship much more cinched.

Ian: I think on top of that is mobile allows you to give, and especially tablets; you have a massively-connected social experience in the tablet, as well. One of the things, I think March Madness did this, CBS did this, was integration with Twitter for people
talking about a specific game. When I first saw it, I was like, “This is stupid. This is just a gimmick.” By the end of March
Madness, especially because Michigan went to the finals, by the end of March Madness, I was so in on that. I was like, “Look at
all these people. Look at these idiots from Louisville.” I was so in on it. It was, first of all, I had this personal
connection with the tablet, because for whatever reason, I feel more personally connected when I’m using a tablet. I don’t know
if that’s just because I’m literally holding it in my hand, and then it has the direct integration with social. All of a sudden
I’m like, “I should participate in this,” and I’m going way deeper than I would have ever gone if I was just laying on my
coach clicking buttons.

Robi: Wow. That’s pretty awesome, if I think about. What’s an experience where you went overboard?

Ryan: I don’t know that . . . unfortunately, I used to be extremely over- the-top sports fan. Since I’ve had kids, I’ve gotten a little bit older; I’m just not so much anymore. It was also just like this guy, “Look at all these Louisville.” All right, man,
whatever. I think ultimately this is . . . we’ve talked about this funnel over and over again, and how you can use apps to get
into this lower section of your really good consumers. Those are the people you want to inundate with content and options to
engage with you, because the more you let them choose the path they’re on, the more they’re going to do so, and the more likely
they’re going to be to come back. Apps are a . . . it’s a choice. They made, they declared their intent to engage with
you.

Robi: At first, I think I was a little bit ambitious in wanting to talk
about these 3 different companies. I think that I’m going to
have to break this up. We’re going to have to come back to some
of those [inaudible: 07:54] from USA Today and Nordstrom, but
just the MLS experience for marketers, I think the real lesson
is when you have fans, doing everything you can to go deeper and
deeper and draw them in, especially on this device that makes
you feel more personally engaged, is a huge opportunity. Think
about how you can do that.

Ian: One amazing customer is better than 100 customers who don’t care.

Robi: Exactly. That’s absolutely right. With that, I’m going to wrap this
up and say please share this, Like it on YouTube, and then check
out the other segments this week where Ian and Ryan drop some
knowledge. Thanks.

Ian: Thanks.

Ryan: Thank you.

Ratings

Better ratings for your applications

[Editor’s Note: Due to the popularity of this post and the ever-changing nature of the app stores, we’ve released a free 55-page eBook full of actionable steps to improve your App Store ratings, rankings, and reviews. Enjoy!]

Better Ratings

Begging for ratings is lame

It’s a commonly held belief that more good ratings and reviews will lead to more success for your app.  As a result, we see a lot of developers experimenting with ways to get ratings.

Ratings solicitation tactics
If you’ve ever engaged in one of the following, you know what we’re talking about:

  • Asked all of your friends to download and rate your app
  • Used your Twitter account to remind every follower that they should check out your app and rate it
  • Told every friend you have on Facebook to download your app and like the Facebook fan page you’ve made
  • Installed code in your app that prompts a user to rate based upon how many days the app has been installed

If you’ve been doing this, it’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, you’re trying to grow your business. We understand why you’re doing it and we think you’re ahead of many developers who aren’t even thinking about how to help themselves out.

There is, however, a better way. Asking for ratings needs to be about YOUR APP CUSTOMER.

Stop yourself and think about the rating process in this way:

How can you make your customers’ lives better by asking them to rate you?

This is a challenging question for some developers. Fortunately, we’re learning about this every day with our customers and we’ve discovered a few principles you might find helpful in thinking about ratings, reviews and the overall customer experience:

Ask a simple question: how many people love my app?

Remember: the surest way to better ratings is to have a better app FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS. It’s that simple.

Apple share of PC market trend chart - Apple's 11%

“Only” 1 in 10 PC buyers is getting an Apple device. Seemed to work out fine for them

Your app doesn’t have to make the entire world like it. It just has to have a rabid and loyal fan base.

Like Apple.

Got it?

Start with that goal in mind and work backwards from it.

You have limited time. Learn FAST.

A lot of our customers have fewer than 10 people working on an app.  Not a lot of resources. Which features do you prioritize? Which bugs are the most important?

One of the reasons we’re big believers in the Lean Startup movement is that it’s designed for organizations with resource constraints. A major benefit of the approach is to reduce waste by reducing the number of useless features you build as you discover your market’s needs. The more your product benefits from what you learn on a daily basis, the more likely you are to be efficient in its creation.

Ratings and reviews are prime opportunities for you to learn. Here are ways in which you can utilize ratings/reviews and customer feedback as learning tools:

  • The comments from ratings and reviews can inform your view of what users care about
  • The velocity of your ratings, that is, the number of ratings you get per day or per week can inform you about changes in customer perception. Are you suddenly seeing a lot more ratings and reviews? Did you make a change to your app that creates a reason for people to be more active in giving feedback?
  • The score – the actual values that people are giving you. This is an obvious one isn’t it? Most people just focus on the overall rating, however, instead of analyzing how it changes over time and monitoring significant shifts in the trends.
  • What is it that makes people unhappy when using your app? What can you learn from the critiques and complaints you receive? Are there customers who just don’t make sense for you?
  • What is it that people LOVE about your app? This is the most important thing you can learn from your ratings – what is it that delights people and what kind of people are delighted by your app?

When you look at ratings and reviews, think about what they’re truly about: giving customers a voice. Your goal should be to build upon that, giving them a voice so that you can learn from their feedback and make your app better.

So, how do you do that?

Ask simply…

App Ratings Done Right: Asking Your Users' Opinions

Who loves you? Find out how you’re REALLY doing.

People often overlook the importance of asking nicely. Pay attention to when and how you ask for information. Pay attention to what you’re really asking for as well. What are you trying to discern from your app customers?

We think it’s fundamentally about love. If you can earn a customer’s love, you’re on to something. You’re probably on their home screen, they use you daily, and they actively recommend you to their friends (usually by demoing your app in-person).

It turns out that asking a simple question gets honest feedback, constructive criticism and yes, more customers who truly love you. (We’re happy to share our app ratings component with all of you for free, by the way)

When you ask this simple question you inform your customers that you care about their feelings and needs, while respecting their time. By giving your customers permission to answer no, you communicate that the question is really about THEM, not about you. This is a huge departure from the traditional tactics we’ve highlighted above, which are really not about your customer’s needs. Consumers are smart and they can tell when they’re being asked to do something just for you.

When you’re asking customers to share their opinion, you’re also setting the expectation that you’ll be listening. That’s a huge gap in the current behaviors we see by developers who are asking for ratings. In today’s incredibly connected environment, customers expect to be heard and responded to. So, give yourself that capability (or use us to be able to respond to consumers quickly and directly).

…and respond nicely!

Responding to consumers who are expressing frustration is often all that’s required to soothe the frustration. Instead of being incapable of following up with the person having the problem, you can actually get in touch with them and possibly debug your code together.

While many developers think that people just want to vent and complain, we find that most people appreciate the knowledge that something is actually being done about their problem. Negative ratings and reviews are not about publicly badmouthing an app so much as achieving consumer catharsis. By establishing a direct line of communication with your app customers and reducing the friction required to speak up,  the person with a problem is far more likely to talk WITH YOU.

While being willing to listen is great, true consumer happiness comes when you respond. Just the act of responding nicely provides catharsis to your customers, delighting them at a time when most consumers are left alone.

You don’t have to tell customers that you’ll solve their problems (sometimes you just can’t) but by being honest, polite and apologetic you’ll ensure that they realize you are a real person who actually cares about the time they’ve invested in your product. That is not an impression most of those consumers will ever forget.

Plan for the long-term & respect your customers

Ultimately, we’re here to help you build a business that lasts. We understand that many of you feel similarly to Arash Payan, who created Appirater due to his frustrations around the behavior exhibited by consumers in the existing ratings and review model. As he wrote on his blog:

“In comparison to the unhappy user, the satisfied user rarely takes the time to review your app. Which leaves you with crummy reviews from uninformed users hurting sales of your app.

If Apple would allow developers to respond to reviews, or more easily challenge the validity of a review, this would be no big deal. But I don’t have any hopes of Apple wising up and fixing anything, so I’m left trying to get more positive reviews of my apps to drown out the negatives ones.”

Those frustrations are very real, but it doesn’t mean that you should settle for solutions that don’t get to the heart of your customers’ needs.

The app world is more competitive every day and the only way to consistently win is to have a core base of users who absolutely love you. Those folks will keep you on their home screen, applaud your updates and eagerly give you feedback, if you make it easy. They will tell their friends about you, they will pay attention when you release new apps and some of them will help you build the best apps you can possibly make. So, aim for winning more of those customers and keep their needs in mind.

Remember: if you’re trying to get ratings just to get more ratings, you’re doing it wrong.

The Mobile Marketer's Guide To App Store Ratings & Reviews