Companies increasingly cite user experience as a primary pillar to their growth and success model. But like any core competency, implementation involves much more than adding a phase gate to the product design flowchart.
User experience is a capacious concept encompassing every customer interaction and touchpoint, from the first media or store-shelf impression, to the final moment of discarding the product or completing the service. Defining the full scope would require volumes of text. However, for physical products as well as software and cloud-based solutions, a key phase of customer experience evaluation is beta testing. Beta testing is the first time that non-company customers have a chance to touch, feel, and decipher the product. When done properly, beta testing is tedious and slower than the project team desires. And when done properly, the results will be enlightening, highlighting real changes for measurable improvement.
Before listing the Do's, one Do Not must be mentioned. Do Not send out 50 products and then request participants to complete an online survey. That is called feedback, not beta testing. Feedback is a viable tool. But beta testing is a hands-on, touchy process for benchmarking the customer experience. Key points of beta testing are:
Project team members must be onsite to observe all aspects of the beta test customer experience firsthand. The reasoning is simple but important. Customers rarely report failures of intermediate steps; they blame themselves. If a step takes 3 attempts to succeed, testers will not report this finding as long as the end result works. In reality, this scenario is an enormous failure that will drive support calls and derail the customer experience in mass production. The onsite witness must recognize, document, and ask probing questions around any perceived confusion by the customer to identify possible improvements by the design team.
Customers in Bangor have different experiences and viewpoints from customers in New Orleans or Phoenix. If a product or service is to be sold nationwide, then perform user experience testing nationwide.
The product is designed for a particular market and age range, say 25 - 54. Conduct 10% of your tests outside of the target range. Yes, this group will have feedback that does not apply. But this group will also preview shortcomings your customers might report later as your target group shifts with time. Such data allows for summarized contingency plans to be documented for quick implementation later should the findings prove true over time.
Every product has limits. Memory usage. Weight supported. Battery life. Wireless range. Work with your customers to create scenarios in the field that simulate the user experience near performance limits. These limits will certainly be encountered after launch, and usually sooner than later. The user experience at limits can be managed gracefully if properly understood and addressed prior to launch.
Approximately 75% of the findings will be found during the first few days of user experience testing. But the project team must re-visit customers 2-3 weeks after the initial review. Is the product still functional? What has been better, and worse, than expected? And most importantly, does the product effectively serve its intended purpose?
User experience verification encapsulates a healthy blend of rigorous planning and active observation. This includes much more than a dispassionate survey. User experience expertise is truly a touchy process, working side by side with customers every step of the way.