Testing unknown territory: Customer service and support

I’m used to testing quite tangible stuff. Does the system provide the answer I’m looking for, does something unexpected or unintended happen when I input different symbols and Words in an input field, is something missing on the screen.. The stuff I as a software testers usually “test”. But it isn’t always so. Sometimes the system under test isn’t necessarily a software system.

Last year, I was on an awesome smaller project, where I tested the website of a company who sold items and services online. In relation to this, I was also asked to test  their customer service and support .

That left me wondering.. How should I proceed with this?! I knew nothing about customer service. Sure, I’d called different customer services through the years, the latest being several calls to an online electronics store over a defect vacuum cleaner. But my attitude towards calling such services has always been being precise, kind and fair (I’ve worked in the service industry as a teenager, I know all about being kind to people serving you). So I never really experienced any problems. I’m also fairly tech-savvy, so I usually fix smaller problems myself.

I realized that I wasn’t the target group for my test at all. I was too inexperienced with using customer service. My first thought was to get a hold of people who would be in the target group, but I didn’t have the resources for that, so I had to think in alternatives. Luckily I have a friend who once worked as a manager in a charity-based call center and he agreed to help me. Not customer service per se, but I thought it was close enough.

Go get the requirements – even if the company has none

I sat down with my friend and we talked through his time as a call center manager. I noted down all the things he thought was important the callers did, and the different merits he used when reviewing the people on his team. This left me with a checklist of requirements, that the customer service should live up to, at least to some degree.

  • Courtesy
  • Does the customer service listen to the customer?
  • Does the conversation seem to take place on equal terms?
  • Is the conversation a personal experience to the customer?
  • Does customer service keep the conversation short?
  • Is there a ping-pong with the customer?
  • Is customer service helpful and knows the website?

These merits probably differs from one company to another, so it’s a good idea to get input from someone in the company under test, who knows what the company’s values are and what image they like their customers to have of their customer service.

Then what?

Then we agreed that it wasn’t enough that I called in and talked to them, because I wasn’t a part of the target group. So we created five different personas – archetypes that could call the customer service, each with their own problems and attitudes to the company.

personas for testiing customer service and support
An overview of personas for testing customer service and support

I called the customer service, being a different persona each time. Yes, that included pretending being an old woman not knowing what to buy for her grandson. If I hadn’t been LARPing, I would’ve probably felt like an idiot…

The company’s customer service turned out to be extremely friendly and helpful, and I could present the customer with an overview of how customer service handled the different personas (very well, by the way).

What I learned

  • Sometimes you can’t test for pass/fail scenarios or numbers. In those situations your best bet is to give your customer an overview/review of how the “system” under test is performing.
  • Ask for help! If you’re testing unknown territory, ask someone who knows that territory. Ask them what they think is important and what they’ve been taught is important (There might be a large difference).

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