The Importance of Customer Beta Testing
What is Beta Testing?
Beta testing is the process of allowing a sample of customers to use software in a real environment prior to release.
Typically, software goes through a number of quality control steps during development - manual testing, automated testing and UAT to name a few. However, all of these steps are usually conducted by the internal team that “owns” the release. Even the most robust testing process is not foolproof. And it’s arguably the final layer of customer insight that is most difficult to replicate internally. This is why using beta testing as a final layer of quality control is so critical and invaluable.
Beta testing is unscripted and conducted outside an internal “lab setting”. Therefore, it adds another dimension to the quality control process. This provides a chance to gather functional and experiential feedback from the very people who will be using the software upon release.
Beta testing adds significant value in any major release, but it is particularly important when the target audience is far-removed from the development and testing team (e.g. if the audience speaks a different language, shares a different culture, uses uncommon devices/browsers/OS, or is based in another country/location).
In the end, they will tell you things about your software that were previously unknown. If these issues remained unaddressed, they would have diminished the value of your product in the eyes of the very people it was designed to benefit.
It’s not always easy for the people involved in the development of the software to watch their “baby” go off on its own in the real world. However, by letting “untrained” customers markup your software, you end up with insights that can lead to critical product tweaks and/or pivots. In the end, beta testing makes a product that is stronger, more flexible and more satisfying for the end user's purposes.
The Beta Testing Process
While a beta test can follow many formats, effective testing usually includes specific steps that insure an optimum outcome.
Step 1: Planning
Before starting a beta test, goals and objectives for the test must be defined. Defining objectives in advance ensures that the right type and number of participants are chosen, enough time has been allotted for the testing and that everyone is clear on what must be achieved. You should also create a clear scope for the test, including: specific features your test will focus on, technologies you want to cover, and access to the test environment.
Step 2: Recruitment
Selecting the right type and number of beta testers is essential for good results. These should be individuals who match the target audience who are able to give impartial opinions in regard to the software. When choosing the size of your testing team, a good rule of thumb is to build a group large enough to provide a representative sample of your total user base. In other words, your testers should reflect the technological, geographical and cultural spread of your full user base. This will ensure you get adequate test coverage.
Step 3: Distribution
For the testing to be effective, the participants should be able to use the product in an environment that is as close to the live version as possible. That means, the entire product, including manuals, packaging, etc., should be distributed as part of the beta test.
Step 4: Feedback
Feedback is the point of the test and should be gathered quickly and in as many forms as possible. Bug reports, bug videos, surveys, comments and post-challenge interviews all come into play.
Step 5: Evaluation
The data gathered through feedback is useless unless it is organised and managed effectively. Naturally, the first step is to review and resolve bugs and feedback based on severity in the same way you would any other in-house test. It’s also important to share the output with other teams (e.g. marketing, sales, customer service, etc., that can also benefit from the findings).
Step 6: Conclusion
It is important to give the participants closure at the the conclusion of the test. This includes thanking them for their participation, updating them on the status of the product and recognising/rewarding their performance as a beta tester.
How To Setup A Customer Beta Test Using Bugwolf
What Are the Benefits of Beta Testing?
Beta testing gives developers a fast and economical way to meet a wide variety of goals that can dramatically improve their product. Let’s take a closer look at some of the insights that result from beta testing:
It’s a big world and your customer base could be geographically diverse. Differences in geography can result in significant variation in user experience due to differing technological capabilities.
For example, connection speeds and mobile accessibility will vary dramatically between outback Australia and Sydney. Likewise, payment technologies and protocols used in New York will be significantly different than those in mainland China. If your internal testers are testing from a single location, it can be difficult to accurately replicate and test for these variables.
As if the proliferation of devices and mobility hadn’t complicated things enough, developers have also come to expect an almost infinite combination of outdated OS and browsers across their user base.
This means it’s almost impossible to provide test coverage against every possible combination of user setups. Fortunately, beta testing helps you pick up where your internal test coverage leaves off - allowing you to identify bugs that otherwise would have reached the general public.
Like their technical setups, no two customers are the alike. Each brings with them a unique set of abilities, perceptions, beliefs and desires. These differences will give rise to different sets of expectations when it comes to your software. For instance, the type of language, colour scheme and imagery you use, may be interpreted completely different by one user compared to another.
Understandably, this is extremely difficult to identify by in-house QA teams who are focused on technical elements. Nonetheless, something seemingly innocuous can have dramatic ramifications for the success of your software. Beta testing is a pragmatic way to capture these nuances before they become costly mistakes.
With the internet bringing us all closer together, it’s easy to overlook the little functional differences that can have serious implications for the use of your software.
For instance, differences in language must be considered when thinking of number systems, writing direction and spelling variants, among others. Dates, calendar types, important events, weights and measures, currency issues and even paper sizes must all be considered. All of these items and more can vary by user and must be considered not only in your content and support materials, but also for form inputs and validation.
For instance, if your sign-up forms only allow U.S. phone and zip code validation, you might unintentionally prevent customers in other locations completing key actions.
How Does Bugwolf Help?
Bugwolf makes it easy to run your own beta tests. There are two main ways we help: the first is by providing companies with a platform that you can use to brief and invite your existing customer beta testers to review your upcoming release. And the second is using a hybrid approach whereby we select professional testers that match your criteria to run blackbox tests on your assets. If you’d like to find out more, please contact us.