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Like this article? We recommend The Software Test Team and the Customer Support Team

The Software Test Team and the Customer Support Team

At another company, one of the existing products had a fair number of issues. Customer support was kept busy answering calls and assisting customers. The support staff clearly knew the issues surrounding the product, but it took many conversations before the support staff got comfortable enough to convey any information. In the beginning, they were clearly on guard, trying to assess who I was and what I was trying to do.

The previous test manager and team had no rapport with customer support, and I could feel the communication wall. I assured each support staff member that I wanted his or her insights on the product, and that my intention was to advocate resolving the most pressing issues. I also wanted their ideas to incorporate into future testing. It took awhile for relationships to be forged. But, some months later, when a new product release was planned that addressed issues we'd discussed, some trust was built; and, over time, the relationships grew. It no longer seemed strange to the support staff that I would be walking around their department or talking to people within the group. In fact, it started to seem like the most natural alliance.

Here are three ideas for building strong working relationships between the testing team and the customer support team:

  • Ask for test data. Depending on whether customer data can be shared or must be strictly protected due to HIPAA or other regulations, it might be possible to ask for a copy of customer data to use for testing. In most cases, the test environment data is refreshed by database administrators, but customer support is more likely to know the specifics behind any reported data issues.
  • Follow up with customer support post-release. By the time a release ships, the customer support team should know that the testing team is interested in how the product will hold up to production use. You'll also gain ideas for testing from the "war stories" you hear.
  • Ask to listen in on support calls. The customer should be told that a tester is listening in on the call. Listen to gain a sense of the customer's perspective, but also to let the support staff feel that someone else understands what it's like to hear tough criticisms from the field.
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