Are Customers Your Testing Method?

You’ve built your site.  You’ve included the latest ways to let people login.  You’ve made social sharing easy.  You’ve streamlined your shopping cart.  You’ve optimized your pages for load times.  In short, you’ve built the perfect beast, if I can paraphrase Don Henley.

And during this build out, your engineering tested everything they installed diligently, right?  I mean, they said they tested, right?

Well, you’d best roll up your sleeves, because even if they did test everything, there’s nothing like double and triple confirmation that your plans are working as expected. This is where having detailed product spec written come sin very handy.  Yeah, yeah, I know those are boring.

“The button will be 51px high X 100px wide.  The button will reside in the top left corner of the page, immediately below the colored band surrounding the logo. Spacing from the logo shall be 37 pixels.  The button will contain the word “Home” (no quotes) center justified and balanced top to bottom.  The expected behavior when clicked is to call upon, and deliver the visitor to [].  In its static state, the button will be #F2BB66.  When hovered over, the button will change color to be #C08934 with a matching shadow [#808080] appearing below and right of the button.  Upon being clicked, the button will change color to #669EF2.  After-click state will be to show the button in #BA66F2.”

Yes, that’s boring and tedious to build, but it’s a great way to get what you want.  Heck, it’s a great way to get what you want, even if what you want is wrong.  I mean, I’m pretty sure those color numbers would be an interesting combination.

Ultimately, If you’ve done your work as a product manager, and the engineers have done their work, the site should be spot on.  Jolly good, even.

Well, hold your cravats there, gentlemen and ladies.

As we all know, even a single digit in the difference changes those colors above.  And did you even think to check if the colors you’re using are culturally acceptable everywhere?  In some cultures, colors can portend good or bad luck.  Which are you?

And beyond all that upfront work, are you managing testing after the fact?  I mean, surely you’re not implementing something, then waiting to see if it works for your customers, are you?  If you’ve got it on your site, test it six ways from Sunday.  On a smartphone, on a tablet, on a phablet, even.  On a desktop, with IE, Firefox and Chrome, even.  Test it from the office, from home, and in your car on your phone (pulled over, of course).  Ask your spouse to test it, ask your kids, or pay some kids, even.  They’d rather test a website than mow your lawn, I’m guessing.

But for the love of all that’s monetary…do not, under any circumstances, let down your guard. Never assume because you tested it, and launched it, that it still works fine today.  One little understood, yet all too real, axiom of owning an online business, is that it owns you, 24/7.  Unlike that little froyo shop that closes at 9PM and is all locked up by 11PM after cleanup, your website is operating 24/7/365.  Your server is constantly running.  Things wear out.  Errors happen.  Recover files are sometimes imperfect.

All this means, that when a customer arrives on your website, things should work as expected, the first time and every time.  If that means you’re paying a monkey to click links and throw bananas when they see something break before a customer does, then I suggest you buy stocks in Chiquita.

Today’s web consumer has a vast number of choices of where to go.  Help yourself.  Test your product careful and frequently.  Taking the pain away from a customer’s experience should be your priority every waking moment.

The good news is, today, most systems are reliable. But don’t get complacent.  Big brands fail every day because a third party login fails to work, leading the customer to simply shop elsewhere.  Big brands fail every day when the latest custom javascript widget takes too long to load product data, or hide sit in a way too clever for the shopper to bother unraveling. Common thinking has it that big brands are successful because they can afford the best.  Reality check: before they were big, they all, every one of them, focused on customers to build their empire.

You want success? Focus on failure points, eliminate them and ensure your visitor has an amazing experience.  Sure, they’ll only appreciate it when someone else fails them, but isn’t it nice to know they’ll come right back to you then?

Duane Forrester
Sr. Product Manager
Bing Webmaster Tools