September 25, 2013

Testing Inspiration: Your customer service requests are a gold mine

One of the hardest parts of running a successful testing program is consistently developing needle moving ideas to test, the key phrases here being “consistently” and “needle moving.”

Typically we’ve seen testing programs teams source the majority of their testing ideas from their fellow colleagues and leadership from within their own organizations. It only makes sense. Testing programs are often sold as “internal debate enders,” HiPPO equalizers, or as a method to validate internally developed product roadmaps and re-design plans, so what do you test first? You test the things you are debating in your meetings, the ideas of your senior leadership, and your ideas for new features and design changes.

There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with this. These sources for testing ideas should and will remain critically important wells from which to draw your testing inspiration, but they shouldn’t be your only sources.

You need to “get out of the building” as they of the Lean Startup faithful are fond of saying. Here is a very simple way you can do that without actually having to leave your desk.

Your customer service team is a gold mine full of testing inspiration. Mine it.

The loyal users of your product – you know, the ones who take time out of their busy day to write to you about it – often know it better than the majority of folks working in your organization. Perhaps, even you. You built it, but they drive it. So why do they so often NOT have a front row seat when you are planning your product and testing roadmaps?

We believe this is even easier to do than it may sound. We are not talking about setting up a customer facing idea forum with game mechanics and leaderboards to source ideas the way Starbucks and others have done (note that we think these are awesome). We’re not talking about inviting your customers into your office to sit-in on a focus group, and this isn’t about fancy customer survey software either as useful as that may be.

To introduce the voice of your customer into your testing program without the need for any new tools than what you almost certainly have today, your testing team should start by consistently reading the things customers are saying to you when they Contact Us.

Here’s a simple, step-by-step approach that has worked very well for Clearhead and its clients.

  1. Listen: Sit in on every customer service call and consume every customer service email, tweet, Facebook comment, message board post about your website, store, application that you can get your hands on.
  2. Track: If, through any of these channels, more than one customer complains about or asks for the same thing more than once, write it down in a spreadsheet. It’s now a trend. From then on keep track of each additional time it comes up.
  3. Filter: Use your spreadsheet to filter your customer service request trends by the number of times they’ve come up during the period since you’ve last reviewed them.

Start reviewing from top to bottom. Which are suggestions for new changes and features? Which are complaints about problems on the site, store, app, and/or user experience that can be fixed? Keep the ones that are. Archive the ones that are not as they may be useful to other groups.

  1. Develop: Develop your customer’s requests and complaints into new features, changes, fixes, etc that can be tested. Insert these developed testing idea into your testing queue.
  2. Prioritize: Prioritize your customer service request inspired testing ideas along with the rest.  We’d suggest that with all else being equal, ideas from your customers should trump your own on the testing roadmap.

There’s a number of ways to execute this, and depending on the level of sophistication and maturity of your customer service and social media monitoring software, your organization may already have tools that make it dead simple to perform steps 1 – 3. If so, awesome!

The point here is to use this as a source to inspire your testing program . Once you do, we believe your customers will soon be providing you with some of your best, needle moving test ideas yet.

And when they do, thank them! They will love it. You get needle moving ideas, and they get the satisfaction of knowing you listened. Winning!