Feedback is crucial to any mobile app

Once you’ve gone through the hard work involved in designing, coding and testing an app, and then the distribution of the app to the App Store, Android Market or equivalent, it’s easy to think ‘pens down’. The app has been released, customers can purchase and download it, the work is done. Except, really, the work has only just begun.

Putting aside the obvious need to promote the app to the public (because no-one is going to purchase the app if they don’t know what it is, what it does, and where to get it), there is a crucial phase that comes after the app is released – and it really has no finite finish date. That phase can be summed up simply as “feedback and action”.

During the development and testing of your app, the coders would’ve been constantly testing functionality and the designers would’ve been tweaking user interface elements to ensure its ease of use. But if you think this is where feedback and action stops, you’re mistaken. You could give your app to 10 people you know, ask them to play around with it, and give you feedback after a week. Whilst this can be a worthwhile exercise, there are a few issues with it. Firstly, there’s a very good chance that given you’re supplying your app to them to test, that you know these people and they will not be brutally honest with you about the positives and negatives of the app. And secondly, ten people is not a good sample size to be receiving feedback from.

So, what is the best sample size? Well, really, it’s the entire user base of your app. If your app has been downloaded 1,000 times, then ideally you want to receive feedback from 1,000 people. This may be optimistic, as not all users of the app will want to supply feedback, or have any criticisms to give. But even if you receive feedback from one quarter of that user base, you’ve got 250 pieces of really usable and valuable feedback. And that’s a lot more valuable feedback than you would get from 10 of your friends!

But how are you going to get that feedback? Well, you have to provide a forum for users to contact you. Sure, facilities like the App Store allow users to rate and leave comments on apps, but this is far from perfect. With one of our own apps, we actually ask our users not to leave feature requests or bug reports in the App Store, because it is both impossible to reply to, and is also not a good look for any potential new users who come across your app. What we do is we ask them to use a series of in-app contact options to leave us feedback, report bugs or request new features. That way, an email comes straight through to us, we can read it, process it, and reply to them in a timely and courteous fashion. For us, this has been an overwhelmingly positive concept, as the app’s rating isn’t scarred by users reporting minor bugs and feature requests, and also we are able to tell our users that we are responsive and actually listen to what they have to say. And your users really will appreciate it when you listen!

Now, going back to the name of this phase (“feedback and action”), the job is only half done. You’ve got your 250 pieces of feedback and criticism from your user base, but now you need to do something with it. You need to take action. Many apps that are released for iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry get a single release onto the markets, and then are never touched again. No changes, no updates, no nothing. This is very odd, because it’s unlikely that your app’s first version was 100% perfect in the eyes of your entire user base. So, take those 250 pieces of feedback, filter them, categorise them, rank them by importance and by how many people made the same comment, until you come up with a list of items to ‘action’. Then it’s a matter of actioning those items, testing the app and releasing the second version. Then, the cycle of “feedback and action” simply starts all over again.

Posted November 16th, 2011 in General.

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