App support: What’s it worth?

Hello again! I previously wrote a number of entries for #idevblogday last year and am happy to be back (especially with the new bi-weekly format). Since I last posted I’ve released a new app, Next TTC, a location-based arrival prediction app for Toronto’s streetcars (soon buses). Check it out if you live in Toronto and ride the TTC :)

In this post, I’ll be talking about customer support/service and what it may mean to you, your customers and your sales. I had been drawing blanks for a subject, so it’s based on a suggestion after discussing this with a friend. Skip to the end if you’re pressed for time for a important-points-summary of today’s post.

In-App Support Emailer
I always add an in-app email feature to my apps, where my customers can easily and painlessly email me on a support email address I have set up for this purpose. When the user taps the feedback/support button, I display the following alert:

This generally help establish a purpose and set some general expectations for the feature. I also take the chance the automatically add some variables that may be of use if I need to debug a problem the user has, saving me and the user time emailing back and forth to establish which device the have, what version of the app and OS they run, etc.

While this feature is great for all apps, you may want to leave it out in a free app, depending on it’s features or purpose. If you have IAP, go for it, but if the app makes you no money whatsoever, perhaps reconsider adding the in-app emailer – because you will have to do some support work!

The reason for this is that you will get more emails than if you made it harder for the user to contact you (via support link in the iTunes App Store, etc.). However, in my experience, they’re often just short emails, asking for a specific feature, asking for help on something, and it often takes me very little time to answer them. Most of the time, I am able to copy a previously sent answer, since a user may have had the exact same question or issue. For example, in my app Next TTC, I’ve had more than 20 customers email and ask me why they cannot get arrival predictions for the streetcars that run at night. While this is stated in the App Store description, it is perhaps annoying to answer the same question over and over, but it’s easy if you can copy previously used answers, and I’ve had a lot of great feedback from customers who are genuinely happy about my prompt replies, even if it wasn’t exactly what they were hoping for (unfortunately data isn’t provided for the nightly streetcars at this time, if you were wondering).

In-App FAQ/Help article
Another quite helpful and fairly painless feature to add to an app is an “FAQ” or “Help” section. I won’t discuss the technical part of integrating this, but a solution could be local plist (or server-side) or through a UIWebView using jQTouch to make it look somewhat native.

While an FAQ or Help section is great and useful for anyone in the beginning, my suggestion is to not spend a lot of time on this feature (or the content) until you actually have an idea of the most frequently asked questions. If you combine it with the above in-app support email feature, you will quickly get an idea of what your users ask the most from the emails you receive.

This way you won’t be spending time on FAQ content that nobody will read anyway. I’ve seen apps with help sections that explain the most basic parts of the apps UI, such as how to go back in a UINavigationController stack (obviously without the technical terms), and other completely standard things that almost all iOS apps that use UIKit have. Even if you’re using custom UI or gesture-based UI interactions, consider whether it’s completely necessary to spend your time writing all that content. Besides, your UI and interaction with it should be intuitive and require no explanation at all, but come naturally at least after a few uses ;)

Once you have an idea of the most asked questions, comments, etc. through the in-app support email feature, put together some articles that your customers can read. If you still receive emails about a questions answered in an FAQ article, simply refer to the article in your app in a friendly manner and let them know they can email you back if they still have any questions or concerns.

Games should usually include a tutorial or guide, which does the job of Help articles. You can always add an in-app support emailer or help articles as well, of course.

How much support does $0.99 buy a customer?
Well, technically you only get 70 cents. Or 70% of however much your app costs.

It’s up to you to decide how much support you want to provide for your customers. If you’re finding you’re receiving a lot of emails regarding bugs or issues with your app, you’re definitely doing something wrong and you need to address the issue with your app. If your UI or a feature isn’t self-explanatory and easy to use and confuses your customers more than it helps them, remove it or change it.

In my experience, answering support emails can be done fairly quickly (for most devs, unless you have a best-selling app with huge amount of users). I usually take a small portion out of my day and answer all emails (if any, I may add) quickly and painlessly. If I only get one a day or so, I’ll just do it whenever I get a chance, on the streetcar, on the couch or during my lunch.

Be careful answering your support emails from your iPhone. Depending on the length and answer, answering it on your iPhone really does show in your language. Sitting down at your computer to type out a proper answer is always a better idea, and it also makes it possible to use signatures as a quick way to answer a frequently asked question.

What does great customer support buy you?
While support requires a bit of work on your behalf, one might wonder if it’s worth it. Basically you’re offering free support to customers who have already paid for your app. Your time spent developing the app is already more than what $0.99 should buy and I think many will agree.

From personal experience, a number of my support communication emails have lead to some great word of mouth and some great reviews from highly satisfied customers. I have even had customers where I have simply not been able to help them (it’s been an issue with the data, their device specifically or something else completely out of my hands), but because I have been honest, friendly and prompt, my customers have responded extremely positively and are generally always happy with my support, regardless of whether I was able to solve the issue immediately, or bring them good news about upcoming features.

I’ve also taken the opportunity a few times to tell the user they’re more than welcome to add a quick rating/review in the App Store. You’ll have to judge the situation and please don’t add it in your first response. If you’ve been emailing back and forth and the customer seems happy, go ahead and ask. Otherwise let the user judge and review/rate if they find it’s worth it.

A few points from this post:

  • You might be a developer, but you’re also expected to provide some level of support.
  • Remember, these people (usually) paid for your app. Regardless of the cost, you have their money and they deserve some support – especially if your app isn’t working as expected.
  • Don’t get cocky or disrespectful, no matter what the customer writes. If their email is hurtful and you cannot say anything nice, don’t reply. It’s not worth it, and you’ll piss them off even more and waste your time (the user can threat you with a bad reviews, or get upset and just do it anyway). I know you’ve spend weeks if not months and many long nights coding your app, but do not take it personally. Unfortunately the most happy customers and users are usually the least vocal majority. Move on and focus on all the positive things people are saying about your app!
  • Add an easy way for your customers to contact your for support within the app, and remember to add anything to the email body that may be useful for your debugging (without being intrusive and adding sensitive user data).
  • Based on FAQ through your in-app support emailer, add a FAQ/Help section.
  • Take your time to reply back to your support emails. Preferably use a computer (or an iPad with a bigger screen), because it may show in your writing style if you reply on your iPhone. Don’t let support emails sit for days. The longer you wait, the more time you give that user to submit a negative review as a way to report the bug, and they may not remove it even if you reply and resolve their issue.
  • In-app support email and FAQ section will increase your app’s rating score. If your customers cannot contact you easily to complain about bugs or issues with your app, they will definitely do it with a one star review, which can really hurt your App Store ratings!
  • On the other hand, if you provide great support, customers will return the favour (even if you don’t ask them to) and submit a positive review for your app and help spread the word to their friends on Twitter/Facebook.

Hope you enjoyed the post. Feel free to add your comments from your experiences dealing with your customers and app support. If you’ve got some great tips, even better!