The relationship between product quality and customer satisfaction has long been one of the hardest things to measure. While it’s still fairly elusive, review platforms and helpdesk suites make feedback easier than even for software companies to track.

In the age of speedy deployment and increased market competition, customer satisfaction deserves more focus than “Duh, of course we care about that.” Customer satisfaction is now the number one target for everyone on the team, regardless of how physically removed they may be from the customer.

Users no longer want products that work. They want products that also look great, feel great, and almost read their minds.

And that’s where customer experience testing comes in.

QA teams should be best buddies with their customers.

Neeraj Tripathi

What customer experience testing is

To be clear, this method of testing is just like it sounds: a complete focus on the customer. While exploratory testing is certainly more customer-driven than say automated security testing or manually executed scripts, it still doesn’t stretch quite as far towards user-centricity as does customer experience testing.

Instead of solely accounting for expected user behavior, customer experience testing makes use of actual user behavior.

This requires a change in the involvement of the QA team with other departments and some innovation with how test plans are organized and executed.

Why customer experience testing matters enough to become a game changer

Customer feedback data is out there, just waiting to be used. Well, empowered QA teams aren’t waiting anymore.

One of the biggest struggles in the adoption of this method is convincing business executives to think about testers as more than bug finders and to involve them in earlier phases of development.

“Enhance customer experience” was voted as the third highest priority for QA (coming behind security and quality) by IT professionals interviewed in the 2016 – 2017 World Quality Report. So, it’s not a surprise that some companies are willing to make changes in the QA process, like the addition of new feedback loops or the inception of concrete QA deliverables during the requirements phase. QA is continually looked to for improvements in customer satisfaction.

How to incorporate customer experience testing into existing QA efforts

Because customer experience testing will cover such a wide array of user actions and steps, it should be strategized early on during test planning to maximize coverage and minimize overlap (especially on tight timelines). Here are specific actions to fully realize this method:

Understand the customer

Messaging apps are a prime example of a product that won’t take much research to understand. The customer is likely trying to send a specific type of message to a specific person in a specific format. As a tester, you can come up a swarm of variations all on your own.

But what about apps used by a certain role at a company? Take an enterprise edition of a social media publishing software as an example. To know how a manager-level employee would need to set permissions, organize teams, and execute the post approval process, you would need to study that role, and better yet, talk with someone or spend time with them.

Consolidate and analyze customer feedback

Using this testing methodology, QA needs full access to customer input.

Helpdesk chats, emails, phone calls, and social media interactions are all places to find customer issues and suggestions. Large organizations mix social listening with data analytics to create reports that are available to team members who need the insights.

If that approach is out of your league, then figure out the best way to get in the loop. A customer support representative can simply forward communications onto a QA team member who will sort and consolidate them.

Take any issues and conduct a detailed root-analysis. Save suggestions for future requirements meetings. Turn features with a disproportionate amount of complaints into the focus of the upcoming test cycle.

Involve customer-facing team members in test planning

QA becomes ever-integrated with other teams, all with the ultimate goal of user satisfaction. Just as QA should be a part of requirements decision-making, other roles can take part in QA.

Customer support and sales can be treasure troves of information for how to plan customer experience testing. Pick their brains during the planning process or include a senior level team member as a stakeholder who will need to sign off on your test plan.

Test the customer journey and all cross-channel interactions

Customer-focused testing means that you aren’t testing individual products or channels, you’re testing the full customer journey—wherever that may lead. Cross-channel browsing and interactions, personalization data, custom settings, complete and incomplete transactions all deserve follow through.

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Consider emotional and psychological experiences

Our favorite products feel like friends. Supportive, functional, and maybe even funny. UX writing and design are integral to the overall user experience, and many companies include in-app messaging meant to deliver the necessary information AND make the user smile.

Personable language needs to be culturally relevant, on-brand, and unobtrusive.

Other than functionality, what emotionally motivates customers to use this product? Are your optimistic UIs so optimistic that the backend lags behind by multiple user tasks? Where else does the app cause frustration and confusion? What are its main disappointments?

These questions can be answered with a combination of social listening, sentiment analysis, and customer research.

Conduct in-depth performance testing

Customer experience testing requires that you go beyond load speed.

Launch time, battery usage, and RAM usage can all affect the user experience. If your product interferes with others or is so intensive it can’t even run while music is streaming, then it will likely be turned off and not used again. You can’t control the quality of the customer’s environment, but you can make your product faster and lighter.

The job of the smart tester is to represent the customer and the customer’s domain.

Yuval Yerit

Why it’s time to teach customer experience testing to your team

This methodology really allows testers to level up their skills. Sure, the ability to wield automated testing systems and conduct predictive analysis before test cycles are highly desirable skills in testers today. But on the flip side, real working knowledge of customer experience testing is a huge demand.

By bringing this skill to your team, you can provide more value than ever.

So, how do you tackle it? On one end of the budget spectrum is a handful of data scientists at your disposal and all the time in the world to have coffee dates with your customers. At the other end, is creative social listening. The point is to pull in customer insights however you’re able, make them part of QA, and maintain an open channel between the two.

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Dayana is a QA engineer turned technology writer living in Milan, Italy. She's always down for a smoothie.