Interacting with Customers

A reader named “Iam N” left an interesting comment about his search for a career that *matches* what he loves to do. He posses some interesting questions (see his original post here). One questions he presents is:

Who are your customers? What is the depth of your relationship to them? What is the short and long term feedback loop with them?

Customer interaction is a challenge on any product group. From day to day, we're frankly quite busy. We're exploring deep into new builds, writing and tweaking our automation scripts, and finding and regressing bugs. Depending on our location in the product cycle, we're having (multiple) meetings daily, which further reduces work time.

My experience about customer interaction is that it's something I need to *make* time for. If I don't make it a top priority, then it'll sit on the backburner. Indefinitely.

So, what do I do to make time for customer interaction?

  • Discover *any* online outlet where people are discussing your product. What are they saying? Is it a forum where I can participate? Technorati is a GREAT resource here. Query example: what are people saying in their blogs about the keyword “Encarta“?

  • Newsgroups- aka, a Tester's best friend. Not only will you find people talking about what they love and hate about your product, but you'll find free bugs with documented proof that users are encountering it. I subscribe via RSS so I'm always the first to know about any new issue.

  • Product Support. One of the best business relationships I've built is with our PSS (Product Support Services) Manager. We're able to bounce ideas off of each other, and piece together patterns in support issues to find bugs.

  • Beta- I've actually worked with certain Beta testers enough to build some personal friendships with them. For several weeks a year, my primary job concern is helping our beta testers provide feedback about our product.

  • Feedback aliases- Most product teams have a “formal“ suggestion email address. For Encarta, it's ““. Pretty much everyone on our product team reads the emails sent to this location.

  • Watson- do you click “Send Error Report“ when you crash? If so, I'm the guy who does initial debugging and prioritization for these minidumps (atleast for Encarta). This is one of our best ways to discover user problems- and fix them.

  • Writing a blog (like this one 🙂

I think the most valuable thing I receive from all this customer interaction is motivation. As our product cycle gets busy, then it's easy to lose sight of the important thing- our customer's satisfaction. If I work hard and discover an extra crash, then I can save many, many, hours of user's time and frustration. It gives me the extra “push” I need to work hard and find these issues. I win for being a strong Software Test Engineer, and the customer wins for having a better experience.


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