Friday, July 19, 2013

Get to Know Your Customers: 99 Ways Workshop #1

I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't at least try to practice what I preached.  Therefore, I'm taking a draught of my own medicine and following up on my advice from earlier today. How's that for mixed metaphor malapropism (not to mention partial alliteration ;) )?

Suggestion #1 - Get to know your customers - Chris George

Seems a little, I don't know... obvious. Right? I mean seriously, if you work for a company that makes a product, you probably know who buys it. I think there's a good reason that this is listed first, though, and it's not just to make a "blinding flash of the obvious" introduction. The idea of a "customer" is not always cut and dry. It's not like we can just simply say "this person/group/entity uses this product for X" and have it be true in all cases. For extremely simple things, possibly, but for most applications, you may be surprised how they are being used, and quite possibly in ways you never really imagined.

Workshop: Define a Customer for a Product (The Art of Personas)

Consider an application that's fairly simple and direct. For my purposes, I'm going to suggest a simple image editing application called IrfanView. Why IrfanView? Because it's the first app I looked at in my PC's launch bar ;).

Now let's stop and think... who would use this tool, and why? I know why I use it, and the reason it's helpful to me, but could I think of other uses of the product? More to the point, are there other contexts where a product might be used "differently"?

Off the top of my head, I could use IrfanView to...

- trim a bunch of images and make thumbnails (front end developer)
- size multiple images for a brochure (desktop publisher)
- create cover images for mp3's uploaded to iTunes (podcaster, musician)
- capture and annotate screenshots for testing reports (software tester, tech writer)
- modify red eye for pictures to be posted to social media sites (just about anyone)

There, off the cuff, are profiles of five different uses of the same product. Should I expect that each of them will want to use the product in the same way? To accomplish the same goals? What is common for all of them is that they manipulate images. If that were all I were to focus on, then I might be able to help deliver a tool that middle of the road handles the basics for all of them, but misses key aspects for those who has specialized and focused needs.

So how do I get to know who the customer is? There's a few ways.

  • Go out on the net and look at an application's support forum. Some places use services like GetSatisfaction. If they do, that's a golden opportunity to learn a lot about what is valuable to the customers of that product. What's more, you will also likely find dozens of examples of uses of a product that you might never have considered.
  • Product reviews are also great ways to see how people are using a product, and frequently, they provide plenty of information about what it is that they do to give excellent insights as to what's important to them, and where a product meets expectations (or doesn't).
  • Sometimes general purpose forums are good sources as well, if for no other reason, you can see who is suggesting a particular application based on the context of a thread.
  • If you can get the opportunity to go to a trade show or other public event where people come up and ask about your product, as a tester, see if you can make a case for doing booth duty for a day or two. Physically press the flesh and talk to people who want to know more about your product and what it does, and listen for key aspects of what they are saying? Are they current customers? Are they curious about your product? Are they wary of it? Are they undecided? If they are undecided, why is that?

Each one of these approaches will yield a lot of information. How can we put that information to work? Create "Personas". A Persona is a representation of a customer, but more than just a representation, it's meant to be a look into who they are and what they are hoping to accomplish.

Persona's could be general: an advertising specialist wants to size pictures for a banner ad.

Personas could be very specific: Kimberly is an advertising and copy specialist with a firm that produces banner ads. As such, she needs to quickly create dozens of advertising images each work day.

For me, the more specific and detailed the persona is, the more likely I can get into their head and consider test cases that will answer the needs of that customer. In the example above, one of the most important aspects is speed of use and turnaround time for images. With that as a goal, I can look at what a workflow needs for it to be fast, effective and turn around a lot of images.  These goals will help inform both the way I utilize the product as well as the ideas I formulate to test it.

Moving Forward:

Pick a software product. Any product. Any platform.

Who do you think the customer of such an application would be?
How many different customers could you identify?
Do they have unique or different needs?
Does the product in question make for a better "fit" for some customers?
Are there key elements that could be improved based on your understanding of the customer?
Does trying on different personas help you think differently about the product?
Does trying on different personal help you generate different test ideas?

Can you think of anything that we could add to this hypothetical workshop to make it better?
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