TCB.pngAs an indie developer it is sometimes easy to forget who I work for. I worked for many years as a salaried employee, usually for a large company, often with little contact with customers. In that environment compensation is more dependent on decisions made by others and corporate success as a whole. Now it’s a different story. My income comes from many sources. I get “paid” by Apple, Google, LinkShare, etc. But I don’t work for any of them. I work for myself, but more precisely, for the iPhone customers who use our software. If we don’t keep them happy we don’t eat.

Keeping customers happy means more than just adding features or putting games on sale occasionally. Noel’s iDevBlogADay post last week about communicating with users got me to thinking. I’m not doing a great job of communicating with users, but it’s not all bad news. If you’re like me, you get many emails a week about some aspect of your product(s) from users. It’s tempting to dismiss the complaints, and developers know you can’t please everyone. But I’ve been working on “taking the high road,” and it seems to generally pay off.

What does this mean? I’ve written about recent product changes and how the users react to them. I think in general there are far more players who like the changes than those who don’t, and we have metrics to validate that. People that respond to the prompt to rate/review an app are usually going to have good things to say. A few will spontaneously write bad reviews or leave the dreaded 1-star rating. I no longer lose (much) sleep over the latter, but when someone bothers to send a support email, I take it very seriously.

I’m not promising an instant reply. Other developers, even friends of mine, sometime take weeks to reply. I’ll usually get to it in a day or two. All the support emails typically fall into similar buckets that are easy to respond to.

“Can’t get it to run.”

“How do you play the game?”

“I liked it better the old way…”

These folks are typically happy with a simple explanation or offer of appeasement (promo codes work great!). Once in a while we’ll see an email from a truly angry user. If you handle these properly you can turn lemons into lemonade. This is where it pays to take the high road. Using a common sense approach will almost always work in your favor. Be respectful, be sincere, be accommodating wherever possible. If someone with an issue sees you being responsive they may very well change their opinion and even reverse a bad review or rating. I’ve seen this happen a number of times.

All it takes is patience. Here are a couple of examples of unhappy users who changed their minds. One guy wrote this email about our iPad game:

Subject: reMovem with ads sucks

I paid for this app, not the advertising.

What’s up with that? reMovem 2 is a free app. My response:

Hi Bob, [not his real name]

reMovem 2 for iPad is free and always has been free. If you look at your receipt from Apple iTunes Store it shows a price of “free.” I use ads in my free apps and have never used ads in any of my paid apps.

In the future we may add an option to opt-out of ads with In App Purchase for reMovem 2.

It is frustrating as a developer to get bad ratings when they are undeserved. I do appreciate you writing to me so we could straighten this out.

Thanks,

-Matt

I’m in the habit of using my name in support emails so folks know there’s a real person here. This generally leads to a more civil discourse. I also want to acknowledge the effort he took to write to us instead of just leaving a bad review. In this case, Bob was appreciative even though he stuck to his guns:

Matt,

Then it’s my mistake and I apologize for the misunderstanding. I do own the purchased iPhone version. reMovem is one of my favorite apps and it was one of the first apps I downloaded for the iPad. When I wrote to you, I assumed that had I paid for the iPad version, too.

The take-away is that there are people willing to pay for the app and avoid the ads. The other take-away is that I “reMove-d-em” from my iPad and will not reinstall it until there is an ad-free version.

I really appreciated you response.

Thanks.

Bob

Now we can agree to disagree, but I know that Bob is a loyal customer and have an idea of how to make him a repeat customer in the future. Win!

Here’s another example of someone who’s not happy with Apple’s spartan Game Center signin screen:

I paid for this app to avoid annoying interruptions but get a stupid popup asking me to logon or create an account. I don’t want to do either but tapping cancel only gives me temporary relief. I get this popup several times each game. I will not be buying any more software from this company.

Sent from my iPhone 4

Doesn’t look good. My response:

Hi Joe, [again, not his real name]

Thanks for taking the time to write to us about reMovem. The “stupid popup” is for Apple’s Game Center feature, which lets us use online high score leaderboards. We wish Apple had a better interface too, but this is what we are stuck with at the moment. Chances are more of the games you like and use will support Game Center in the near future. For more information:

http://www.apple.com/iphone/features/game-center.html

In any case, it is very easy to turn off the Game Center features:

1. Go to the Info screen and turn off the Game Center switch at the bottom.

2. Quit and restart the game.

Note: On an iPhone 4, quitting requires more than just pressing the Home button. Let me know if you need further assistance.

Thanks,

-Matt

Joe was also appreciative of my response and can now play the game he likes:

I apologize for blaming the popup on your application. I have not seen it anywhere else. I turned it off and now it plays without interruption. Thank you for your help.

There are many other examples, and this is not exactly rocket science, but I think you get the point. Treat the customers with respect, even the angry and combative ones, and they will respond in kind. These are the kind of users that will remember you made an effort to reach out to them. I don’t think Bob or Joe expected me to reply at all. But since they took the time to write, why not do my best to make them happy?

Take the high road, yeah!

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This post is part of iDevBlogADay, a group of indie iOS development blogs featuring two posts per day. You can keep up with iDevBlogADay through the web siteRSS feed, or Twitter.