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How to turn 2-star apps into 5-star ones

January 1, 2017

For a year our app ratings (and reviews) were getting worse. There came a point when the vast majority of user feedback was about how “crap” the app was. I even remember a few users recommended that we sack our developers (along with me).

Our developers were not the problem, they were passionate about the product and extremely talented. No, the problem was we got too arrogant and believed that we couldn’t do anything wrong. And when we did something wrong (which was most of the time) we would deny there was a problem.

The result was 2-star apps (well, one was a 3-star) and the outlook was bleak. User engagement was dropping fast since our apps provide a terrible user experience. And team morale was low.

App ratings in 2014

How we fixed it

It wasn’t easy to fix our problems but we took a few steps in the right direction that helped us get back on track. Here’s what we did it:

Step 1: We owned up to it.

First thing first, we owned up to our apps being crap and we openly talked about it. You’ve got to admit to having a problem if you want to fix it.

As a team, we knew our apps sucked and this hurt us. But we were passionate to fix them and to provide a user experience that we would be proud of.

Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations. — Steve Jobs

Step 2: We really listened to our users.

We started to really listen to our users and let them tell their story of how they use our app. This gave us great insights into their pains, goals, wants and needs. We also used data to understand them even more.

User feedback is great but you’re going to need to understand your users so that you can give them what they need. They’ll generally tell you want they want.

Get out and listen to your users

Step 3: We started to test features with users.

For some reason, we thought user testing was tough or expensive or {insert_excuse_here}. The point being we made up excuses why we didn’t need to test our app with real users and we were wrong.

But we did learn our lesson, we went from never testing to always testing. If we wondered would a feature work, we would head out to the streets for an hour and test it.

We didn’t only test new features but old ones too and we created a habit of regularly testing the app.

Test old and new features

Step 4: We changed our mindset.

Instead of thinking we knew everything about how our apps should work, we changed to an open mindset where we wanted to learn from our users and people around us. This mean’t that we were also more open to failure (fail quick, learn quick).

We started to listen to the advice of everyone on the team (all of whom were very smart). Resulting in a sense of empowerment and autonomy for team members which boosted morale.

We used data instead of opinions in our decision making and we constantly challenged assumptions. No longer; “I think we should do this because I shouted the loudest”.

Teamwork is dreamwork 🤓

Step 5: We conducted regular UX reviews.

The review consists of going through the app from a user’s perspective and trying to identify usability issues (or anything that may take away from the experience). Once we had a list of issues, we then used data to validate them.

The review helped us to see if our app is meeting our user’s needs, wants and goals. Also, it’s a good way to identify little UX issues, that may be overlooked. We repeated this process every three months.

Conduct regular UX reviews

Step 6: We responded to every user review.

We started to respond to every piece of user feedback we received whether it was good or bad. And we didn’t do those BS responses that show no empathy, we were honest with our users. If a user complained that the app is crap, we acknowledged it and promised them that we wanted to improve it. And when we did improvements we let users know that their feedback helped us. We even mentioned users in our app release notes as a way of thanking them.

Unfortunately, we were only able to respond to reviews on Android and we would of loved to do the same on iOS.

The results

We began to notice how our user feedback was starting to change. Over the next two years, we had completely turned things around. User engagement skyrocketed and our app ratings for 2016 went up to under 5-stars (and this rating increased further in 2017).

App ratings for 2016

Conclusion

The moral of this story is to always listen to your users and be willing to learn from them. Focusing on providing the best user experience possible will lead to better ratings.

You too can improve your app ratings. It won’t happen overnight but enough small changes will lead to big improvements.

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