Reading the customer’s expectations

For me it is very important to know my customer, know the problems and challenges he has, and to speak with him on a level, where he realizes that I understand his problems and his point of view.

I’m working in the QA department for a small software company. And so far, QA had no contact to the customers. That might not be the problem, if you have an account manager who transports the information to QA. We have such project managers, but QA was not listening so far. There were written requirement documents against which will be checked and that’s it. Of course, there might be the problem that a project manager is not used to look at the customer through QA glasses. And if he doesn’t know that QA can be flexible, why would he even think of other ways to approach the customer.

I’m used to work and speak with my customers and get an idea of his expectations from QA point of view. So I’m glad to get more and more opportunities to partizipate in client meetings and having the chance to “read” our customers and their expectations. For my team this will result in changes to the test strategy and approaches. Thanks to the participation of the customer we can now facilitate user stories in our test cases and test sessions. On the other hand this improves the customers understanding of what we do in QA (what he gets for his money spend), and has a better feeling that his point of view is used when determining the quality of the product.

I would even go so far, that I say the customer will be willing to spend more money on QA, when he is able to participate in the whole QA process. Nobody is willing to spend a certain amount of money for the paragraph, that the product has been QAed by company standards. You are willing to spend a bit more money for a product if it has a certain certificate that signals a certain amount of trust, even if you have no idea what has to be done to get that certificate on the product. But you’re willing to spend more money, if you know what is done to determine the quality of the product and that this reflects your problems and challenges. Certified or not, this is even better.

If you have a product that is sold only to one or a couple of customers, take your time to analyze your customers expectations. Don’t try to use the same strategy for all customers. Like I read in a comment the other day. If the only tool you have is hammer, all things you see are nails. Try to fill your tool-box with different approaches, strategies and techniques to meet your customers expectations. This will also improve the approaches and strategies you take for the other customers.

Be curious about who your customer is, what problems he wants to solve with your solution and what is important to him.
Try to partizipate in demonstrations and discussions. Observe the situation, observe your customer when he looks at the screen. Where is his main focus? What details are important to him? If not already defined, try to find out what the problem really is, that he needs so get solved and how important that is to him. Try to read his gestures and mimic. You will learn many things about your customers.
And don’t underestimate bugs found in production. Don’t just try to reproduce them to know how to retest them after the fix. Try to understand what your customer has done, that you obviously didn’t do. Learn from that.

But now it is up to you to use this knowledge and adapt your strategy, approaches and techniques. Involve the customer in reviews, improve your reporting and like Michael Bolton and James Bach always say, tell your client a story about your testing. If the client finds himself represented in your story, he will buy it. If not, he will challenge you.

Please don’t hide in your QA offices, go out and experience the customer.

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