Test better: Do customer support

Earlier today, I had a conversation with one of my excellent, new colleagues from a small company my employer recently acquired. New colleagues bring new perspectives. This particular company has practiced something that a lot of software companies would benefit from: A large portion of their developers and project folks have started out in customer support.

Customer support is great. Everyone should do it on a regular basis. Developers, certainly, and definitely testers. There is no better way to learn about all the weird ways customers configure and integrate the systems you are developing, the workflows they employ, and which things tend to go wrong out there in the real world. All of it information that should inform the testers and test process, much more than it often does.

Too many R&D folks like us hardly ever meet the customers. Possibly during the planning phase, or perhaps a guided tour of the customer’s facilities, observing users over the shoulders. Until you’ve been in there trying to solve an actual, complicated problem the customer is facing, you have seen nothing. Thus, I find myself on the phone with a customer overseas in the evening, remoting into their systems running procmon to nail a strange problem that only occurs on some users’ computers and never in our labs – and enjoying it.

If you are a manager of testers and developers and don’t want them to spend time doing work that the regular support folks do anyway, typically for less money, think again. There is no amount of training, conferences and courses that will teach them what they learn doing support for their own product. In the end, this is the best customer service you can provide – an organization that really understands what your customers need, top to bottom.

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