May 29, 2013 · 2 minutes

There's no good way to handle a negative app review. Developers are forced to watch as users leave one-star ratings that appear directly next to the "download" button, as people they've never even met dismiss the exhausting days and endless nights they spent developing a product they imagined to be the next big thing. They can't remove the review themselves, they can't make a scene with a disgruntled user via social media or email, and until recently, they couldn't respond to reviews -- and now they can only do so on the Google Play store, where users are more likely to download and dismiss their product before they can even say "thank you for installing."

Helpshift believes that the best way to handle those negative reviews is to make sure that they aren't written in the first place. The company is today launching its mobile tools meant to allow Android, iOS, and Windows Phone 8 developers to help and interact with users directly within their applications. This is akin to a restaurant offering customers the opportunity to speak with a manager instead of airing their grievances on Yelp. (Albeit with a far lower probability of customers suffering from food poisoning.)

"The problem isn't that users have a problem, and therefore they file a support ticket or send an email," says Helpshift COO Noah Barr. "The problem is that they have a question." Helpshift wants to make it easier for developers to answer those questions in a non-public, one-on-one way that puts developers and customers on an even playing field -- something Barr says is lacking from current mobile tools. "What used to work is not working anymore; it's like taking the telephone systems and applying them to the Web and email," he says.

Helpshift wants to change that by allowing developers to "weave" customer support directly into their applications instead of thinking of customers' issues as an afterthought. Developers are able to chat with frustrated users -- the software equivalent to calling the manager out from the back of a restaurant, to stick with the metaphor used above -- and put "contextual help" that explains a function or design choice within the application itself. The hope is that dealing with customers in this way could deflect bad reviews and keep users within the app instead of forcing them to deal with email, or Twitter, or the App Store, or whatever.

The idea that the tools supporting the shift to mobile haven't evolved as quickly as the category itself has proven popular in recent months. Some companies, like Xamarin, Vessel, and Sencha, are trying to make it easier for developers to build their apps; others, like Appboy and Helpshift, are tackling the customer management segment; and still others, like Leanplum, are trying to bring the best practices from Web development to mobile devices.

Helpshift's service is available for between $20 and $2,364 per year, depending on how many users and applications a developer is looking to support, and is launching after spending several months in an "early access" beta. Barr says that the service will continue to evolve as the company learns more about its users and, it hopes, avoid some one-star reviews of its own.

[Image Credit: Pewari on Flickr]