User reviews are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, satisfied customers can spread the word and boost sales of your product or service. On the other hand, negative reviews can scare people away, even long after the issue referenced in the text has been resolved. Microsoft is hoping to help Windows Phone app developers take control of user reviews by affording them the ability to respond to reviewers with updates on new features and bug fixes.
Microsoft announced the change today in two separate posts, one for developers and one for users. The former Microsoft said that the addition of responses is supposed to help developers maintain closer contact with users in order to address common concerns, gather feedback, and address bugs. Interestingly, Microsoft goes out of its way to inform Windows Phone 8 users that the feature is not supposed to be an avenue for debating personal opinions. In fact, users are encouraged to report questionable responses left by developers.
"This capability is not about allowing developer[s] to question or debate your personal opinions," Microsoft said in a blog post directed at users. "In fact, developers who misuse the ability to respond to app reviews will lose the privilege. Windows Phone users are encouraged to report any questionable developer response via the reporting link in the "details" section of the app's description (shown at left below)."
Microsoft first talked about review responses at Build earlier this month. It's being rolled out as a private pilot program for now and will eventually enjoy a more widespread deployment. What's interesting is that Microsoft has not even touched on the fact that developers often see inaccurate or misguided reviews or feedback from users with bad intentions or trolls. No doubt some developers responding to baseless, negative comments will be reported for abusing the response feature. Then they stand to lose their privileges for defending their apps. The best advice there is probably: "Do not engage." We guess the lesson here is to only respond to reviews with constructive criticism.