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Android developers must carefully respond to Google Play customer reviews

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Peggy AlbrightGoogle (NASDAQ:GOOG) gave Android developers a new opportunity by making it possible for developers who distribute apps through the Google Play storefront to respond to consumer reviews and comments about their apps.

Many developers will likely welcome this opportunity, though some may balk at using it. For those that do participate, they need to be careful about how they engage with customers in this forum. In particular, they need to make sure they are using their public conversations with customers effectively so that they generate and maintain positive consumer attitudes about their apps.

Google Play made the response capability possible by incorporating a comment tool into the Android Developer Console, which developers use to publish and manage their apps. Developers can use the tool to respond to specific customer comments and when they do this their responses will appear online in the application's review section immediately following the original comment. Developers can also use the tool to insert messages announcing new product features or updates, to solicit feedback on their apps or to recruit participants to participate in beta tests. The feature is currently available to select developers but expected to serve all developers eventually.

The opportunity to communicate directly with customers is a valuable one that represents a larger trend in business to engage with customers in the venues that customers themselves use. For example, many customers use interactive business and third-party websites to publish their opinions about products and services. And many customers use general platforms like Facebook and Twitter to carry on public conversations about their product experiences, preferences and complaints.

Engaging with customers in these venues is particularly important in the mobile app business because customers and developers historically have not had that many venues for communicating with one another about the features and performance of their apps. And because apps are distributed via app stores, customers and developers don't know each other directly like they might in other fields of business.  

Developers do need to have a strategy and mechanisms in place to properly take advantage of tools such as the one Google Play is providing, however, because poor or mismanaged communications with customers can backfire and create a disgruntled customer base. 

So how should a developer approach the opportunity to communicate with customers via review comments?

I asked Vijay Chattha, CEO and "chief talker" at VSCpr, for some suggestions. Chattha has provided public relations services for mobile developers for a decade and views the Google Play comment feature as a good thing.

"It's another chance for developers to talk with customers, and that's what they want to do, at the end of the day," he said.

In general, Chattha suggests that developers partner with consolidated help desk firms that can help respond to social media. Such firms will consolidate messages conveyed via a company's customer support application, Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels and respond on behalf of the developer.

A developer should also hire a "community manager," he said. The community manager, now a typical role in many companies, functions as an intermediary between the business and consumers and spends most of their time engaging with consumers in public forums. They can help get consumers excited about products and spot problems in the marketplace.

When it comes to responding to specific customer reviews, Chattha says to be systematic and positive about it. Use a community manager, for example, to prepare responses to Google Play reviews if the review is particularly problematic and needs to be handled with care. If there is a problem with an application that can be fixed quickly, get it fixed right away and let the user know. If a negative review seems unfounded or lacking substance, pose a simple and polite question asking for more details or clarification about the issue.

The impact of all of this is that developers are entering a new phase of business, one in which there is a greater degree of transparency in their work with their partners and customers. Developers have not honed their creative and programming skills in order to function in a consumer relations capacity, and some developers will opt not to get involved. Certainly there will be many methods and techniques for addressing customer reviews, but those who do approach these opportunities with a view of optimizing their relationships with their customers, and work hard to do it well, should benefit from this work.--Peggy