App Store Roundtable: After Sales Support


In this installment of the App Store Roundtable, I talked to a few developers about issues with supporting their apps after a sale has been made. Many developers are concerned at the difficulty of providing any form of after sales support to customers. Minor problems with an app often lead to a bad review and a dissatisfied customer, when a better support system could have quickly resolved the issue.

The App Store is a wonderful platform, but I would love to have better customer service tools. The App Store asks the shopper to place their trust in the developer with Apple serving as an intermediary. Apple’s reputation goes a long way in building trust, but by providing better customer service tools Apple would turn their developers into a dedicated customer service team. By adding features like an app FAQ section, the ability to send a refund, and a standard “contact” button, Apple could strengthen customer relationships.

— Carrie Segal, developer of Colorific

I see real difficulty in supporting end-users. Apple’s sole concession is a “support” link in the App Store, which most people seem to ignore, preferring to add a review. Of course, we can’t respond to those reviews. We see a number of problems: Users typically see iPhone OS updates at the same time as developers, and there’s that delay in pushing out fixes; the difficulty of remotely diagnosing problems; the obstacles in getting access to logs and databases…The list goes on. Apple is certainly moving in the right direction with the recent availability of crash reports and version numbers on reviews, but things are possibly improving too slowly to help developers building more complex applications. As it stands, the App Store is still geared towards “disposable,” low-cost apps. People aren’t going to pay more for complex apps until developers can adequately support them.

— Stephen Darlington, developer of Yummy

Other developers reported some success by building their own support links and mechanisms into their Apps.

In Flower Garden, I did go out of my way to make sure users can contact me and give me feedback. There’s even a button in the app itself for people to give feedback.

— Noel Llopis of Snappy Touch, developer of Flower Garden

As Darlington mentioned, Apple (s aapl) has just recently started providing developers with access to crash reports via iTunes Connect. Trent Shumay, of Finger Food Studios, is one of many developers welcoming the new addition:

As soon as I heard of the crash reporting, a sense of warmth and happiness entered my soul after years of battling it out on platforms where it simply wasn’t an option. For the average independent iPhone developer, access to crash reports is a major equalizer in the delicate balance between limited resources for Beta Testing and product quality.

Our apps will receive thousands (or hopefully hundreds of thousands) of executions by a group of users not conditioned to its quirks and intended usage. No QA process can possibly reproduce this, so it’s incredibly valuable to have a safety net in case something goes wrong.

Apple’s crash reports deliver key information directly back to the developer, and have the potential to reduce the timeframe for correcting crash bugs by an order of magnitude. This is only a good thing, and a very welcome tool in the development process.

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