I spoke recently on the topic of “Customer Focused Test Design” (synopsis: customers don’t really care how much functional testing testers do, or how many bugs they find. A test approach that favors scenarios, -ilities, and customer feedback is better; and a bunch of examples for emphasis/proof).
Part of the approach I suggest (and have had some success with), is doing testing of performance, reliability, security, privacy, world readiness, and usability (including accessibility) early in the product cycle. Early, as in don’t bother with functional testing, do the ilities instead. The premise (and my experience) is that testing ilities tests the underlying functionality by default, and that programmers are (in general) doing a better job testing for functionality during code development. For more details, I’ll probably have to revive the whole talk – and that’s not what this post is (intended to be) about.
There’s one –ility that is critical to the customer perception of quality, but it’s not quite like the others – supportability. Customers hate problems, but they love finding solutions to those problems. Online forums, customer connection programs, twitter, facebook, and other online platforms are quickly becoming support forums for a lot of software. Software companies who engage with customers actively are creating happy customers.
Zappos has created a fantastic culture of customer service and have won customers for life (I’m one of them) by actually caring about their customers.
Recently, I moaned on twitter that I couldn’t get my (aisle) seats confirmed for a long flight from Australia to Seattle on a flight booked through Orbitz. Within minutes, @OrbitzCareTeam contacted me on twitter and booked and confirmed my seats. I fly a lot (too much), and I can book my flight with any discount airline– but Orbitz will get my business.
Last month, I visited an Xbox call center, talked to some of the employees there, and listened in on some calls. I was ecstatic to see that nobody works from a script and there are no quotas or other incentives to push people through the system. I listened to several calls where the support folks took their time helping people solve problems step by step (on occasion, converting customer rage into customer appreciativeness). Most interesting was that none of the calls I listened to had anything to do with the Xbox console. Our support people answered questions about entering codes for other manufacturers games, helped customers reset live id passwords, and a variety of other topics related to – but not part of the actual console. Every customer hung up happy – I was blown away.
If you want to be a successful software company, you have to care about customers. In addition to keeping them happy once they have used your software or service, you need to respond to their needs and give them what they need. In The Lean Startup, Ries drives home the point of iteration as a means to obtain validated learning; with the premise that any work that does not provide value to the customer to be wasteful. In other words, listen and learn – often.
Sometimes companies get it wrong. I recently had an issue with an application that was overlaying a decoration on my explorer icons. I found the overlays to be distracting and a detriment to my productivity. When I searched online for a workaround or solution (or sympathy), a representative of the company had this to say (bold mine).
Our thinking was that we want the app to be running in the background, all the time. We want to to blend into your experience so you almost never have to interact with [the application] to check the status of things. So we figured icon overlays were a subtle way to do this, while reassuring people that the app was indeed running.
Maybe we can add an option in the future to toggle the overlays, but honestly I wouldn’t hold your breath. There’s plenty of other cool stuff we want to add first
Note the pronouns in bold. Our thinking…We want…we figured…we want… – these are the statements of Engineering Focused Engineering (note the intentional idiocy of that phrase)
To be clear, I like this product. And on my own, I figured out how to disable the overlays. I also don’t know if the statements above reflect the opinions of one person, or a whole software team…
But the statements above are the statements of an organization that doesn’t give a $#@t about their customers. What’s worse, is that this software’s main competition is an application that is praised for its customer focus. In my opinion, it’s unprofessional to approach software development in this way – unless of course you don’t actually want to have customers use your software.
Isn’t it about time to put customers first? Always? I’m all for shifting test design to favor scenarios customers care about, but successful software projects are going to require a customer focus for the lifetime of the product – from concept to development to deployment and beyond.
It’s time for the rise of the customer.