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relationships between support team and test team

This is a guest post by Dee Ann Pizzica.

Sometimes relationships between the support team and the test team will emerge organically, but often they don’t. The teams are frequently just kept too separated. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort to change that.

Managers who provide learning opportunities for support and test teams to work closely together will be pleased with the end result. Testers will learn more about the practical application of the products they are testing. Support will learn more about how the product is made and when new features will be available. As these interactions grow, so will the learning and sharing opportunities.

Support ticket triage

Testers will learn from reading support tickets that come directly from customers. If possible, create a news feed of tickets that any member of the organization can review at any time. This extra level of visibility invites the team to weigh in and provide help.

Take this further and require testers to pair with customer service members to respond to support tickets. Participating in the response to support requests is a great way to educate your test team. This exposure offers an extra level of understanding and empathy toward customer struggles by providing firsthand experience.

Testers offer tremendous value to support and engineering teams by replicating customer issues. Most customer reports won’t include essential details or will have specific constraints that may not be obvious at first. Some issues need intense investigation and very specific replication steps. Testers can offer the engineering team information that will assist in resolving the issue more quickly.

Shadow phone calls

Testers should spend time listening to calls as support team members assist customers. Hearing a customer’s questions and complaints firsthand will also help a tester better understand the mindset of the customer. This gives unique insights into what the customers are attempting to do and their frustrations while trying to do it. These encounters may also provide nuanced information regarding other tools the customer is using. All this additional context helps the tester evaluate the quality of the product.

Sometimes testers overlook usability issues because they know how the system is expected to perform. A customer will experience a feature differently because they lack the background of how the system was designed or any limitations that were considered.

Testers who work directly with customer support can develop empathy across teams and for end users. They will see the challenges that customer support faces with difficult and demanding people as well as with deficiencies with the product. This will empower your testers to be better advocates to fix the issues that really matter.

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Expand team member training

Recruit your customer support team when you’re onboarding new testers and engineers. When a tester joins an organization, often they begin working on an already established product. They need to quickly ramp up on the features and functionality. Customer support is well suited for providing an overview of what the product is expected to do and what the user’s goals are. Customer service also can provide ideas for accurate test data, as well as how your customers are actually using your product.

Your testers will also learn what features are most used and valued by your customers. In addition, some customers will have more complex problems that your testers can dream up on their own. Customers will find ways to use products that the design and engineering team never imagined. They will repurpose fields and pages in all kinds of unintended ways. Testers can take all of the information learned in these interactions and expand them into a multitude of automated and manual test ideas.

Publicize new feature work

When starting new projects, customer support is an important and often overlooked stakeholder. Look for opportunities to learn from their experience, gather feedback and get more ideas for testing.

Invite customer support representatives to requirements meetings when designing new features. You should also include them in preliminary demos during the engineering process. This provides early feedback to the engineering and test teams about what works well or where issues may arise. You may also uncover places where a feature may not meet customers’ needs. Discovering these issues during development shifts testing earlier and saves everyone time in the long run.

These interactions also serve your support team. These team members will have increased confidence in how a feature will work so they are better prepared to represent your organization. It also gives them time to prepare any documentation they need for internal training or FAQ sites.

Hold a meeting for team leads

Trust and transparency from team leads can go a long way in nurturing this cross-team relationship. Representatives from customer support, testing and engineering should meet regularly. The details will vary in each organization, but here are some topics to cover.

Customer sentiment 

It helps to open the discussion with a gut impression about how customers are feeling since you met last. Learn if there was a drastic change in the number or tone of tickets the support team has processed. These issues may be big or small, but ask if there is anything weighing heavily on the support teams’ minds. Pay special attention to any new or high-volume issues that might be affecting a high number of customers. These impressions identify what areas of the product can impact your future roadmap.

Current investigations 

Keep a shared list of any important tickets that require discussion. When reviewing the list, check in about the current count of customers affected by any issue. As you discuss these specific issues in the backlog, also be sure to communicate current status and any progress that has been made. The team should also evaluate whether the priority needs to be adjusted. Remove any resolved issues that no longer require tracking.

Possible workarounds and patches

When going through current issues, look for quick fixes and workarounds. These will keep customers moving until larger changes can be implemented. Some investigations may require creative solutions to get customers past blockers. This is a great opportunity for leads to think outside the box about what smaller changes can be put into place in the meantime. 

Upcoming features and team workload

Prioritization is a big part of setting expectations across the teams. Because teams are frequently busy, the customer support team may feel like their requests don’t get enough attention. You can help by providing insight about what the team is working on. This is a great opportunity to schedule those demos of new features and answer questions about timelines for releases.

Prioritize pairing opportunities

Alignment of the customer support and test teams provides a partnership that will serve your entire organization. When teams invest in these cross-department relationships, it improves your organization’s overall ability to respond to issues that arise. Even better, it provides teams with the allies and information they need to prevent issues from making it to production.

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Dee Ann is a passionate and curious software tester. She has over 15 years of experience in support of small and enterprise-scale custom mobile and web applications with highly complex business logic for clients across a wide variety of industries. Dee Ann is currently working as the Director of Engineering at BRD where she collaborates with a talented team on a cryptocurrency wallet app for iOS & Android.