Great Service breeds Great Loyalty

loyalty-word-blackboard-single-45759567.jpgIf you give a customer great service and they enjoy their interaction with your business, you are building up loyalty in that customer. And loyalty is very important! I was reminded of this as I visited the barbershop I have been using for the past 10 years, despite moving further away. I’d like to share my thoughts on customer service and loyalty.

For me at the barber, I experienced great service by a welcoming atmosphere, greeted by a smile. He remembers my name and what’s going on in my life to ask how things are going. He remembers the way I like my hair cut, but doesn’t assume anything. He is happy to bend ‘rules’ of opening times or how long he spends on doing my hair or what happens if I forgot my money and it might be a simple scenario but it all makes for a great experience that keeps me coming back.

Characteristics of a loyal customer

A loyal customer will:

  • Put up with inconveniences like further/longer travel and limited support to return to your business because that’s where they feel comfortable. I travel past several other hairdressers to get to my preferred barber and put up with a limited window of opening hours I can actually get there outside work because I like it there and I feel comfortable going there. I only visit a couple of times a year, but he remembers my name and what’s going on in my life. He knows how I like my hair cut and is always friendly to deal with.
  • Not be swayed by sales and gimmicks other companies might use to try and draw their business. Unless it’s a huge difference, it doesn’t matter if they can save money elsewhere, people are resistant to change and so will stick with what they already know and love. I could get a cheaper haircut, but I like the way my barber does it and I value the relationship I have with him.
  • Be an ambassador for your business as they tell their friends about how great your business is and encourage them to try for themselves. Word will quickly spread when your loyal customer tells their friends about you, who then tell their friends and so on. One positive customer interaction can have great power in promoting your business, just as one negative interaction can cause great damage. I would happily recommend my barber to others.

What makes a loyal customer?

So how do you convert a regular customer into a loyal customer? Sometimes you might be able to buy loyalty through Rewards or Loyalty programs or bulk discounts. But this is short-lived as soon as someone else offers a better program. Instead, it’s all about the service you provide.

Make your service personal, showing that you value the customer and their individual needs. Remember the person when they return to your business so they know their presence was felt and their follow up visit is easier because they don’t have to repeat context like their name and preferences. Do this and you will go a long way towards building a sense of loyalty which will benefit your business in the long run.

What about you?

What companies are you loyal to and what was it about them that influenced you? What do companies need to be doing better at in this area?
I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

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The Champion for Quality

victory-clipart-II-400x400Being the Champion for Quality doesn’t mean being the only one who cares about it, the only one who does anything to improve it or even the one who is best at improving quality (though that might be true). The Champion for Quality is the voice of motivation and direction for the team to create a high quality product. That’s how I picture the role of a QA/Tester.

You’re the Voice

In the words of Aussie Legend John Farnham, “You’re the Voice”:

ASK what people consider as important for quality so that you know what areas you should focus on to deliver this. Is it more important for the product to be fast than accurate? Is it expected to handle a large amount of users? What sort of failures are acceptable and what are unacceptable?

TEACH people that quality matters. In order to achieve the level of quality desired in the target ideas identified above, the whole team needs to be on board. Show people the full story, how a lapse of quality in 1 area eventually leads to a negative customer experience and then a negative experience for the company.
Teach them about cutting corners now leading to more work later on to do it right.
This shows them the importance of their work and makes them feel a bigger part of the company and encourages them to put in the extra effort now, not later.

TRAIN people in how to build a quality product (by your definition of quality) by giving them the tools they need, the test cases, the conditions to experiment with, a peer to review and a clear understanding of what they need to do to ensure they are creating a high quality product.

Be the Champion of Quality in your team, Ask, Teach and Train!

The Power of Interns

I started out in my current job as an Intern, and my team has just said goodbye to an intern who was with us for the last 6 months, so it seemed a great time to share my thoughts on interns.

1. It’s great experience for the Intern

The first point is the most obvious so I won’t say much. Getting hands on experience to try a new skill is a really effective and efficient way to learn. It takes initiative and curiosity from the Intern, but seeing what real work looks like, and trying it out for themselves is something that can’t be taught from a book.

2. It challenges the rest of the team

As Katrina Clokie states in her blog (http://katrinatester.blogspot.com.au/2015/12/why-you-should-hire-junior-testers.html) the junior (or intern in this case) can push the rest of the team by making them think hard about how to explain the work they do, how they do it and why they do it that way. You really need to understand something to be able to teach someone else so it forces the rest of the team to strengthen their knowledge as they attempt to teach it to the Intern.

Another benefit is in answering the ‘Why do we do it that way?’ question, other team members might see on retrospect that the process they have been using could be improved.

There will obviously be time taken out from the job to train the Intern, but this growth of knowledge through explaining and the chance to rethink current processes makes up for this.

3. You create a Spokesperson

If you make sure to treat your Intern well in the variety and importance of work given, and workplace benefits, then they will speak well about your company to others. They may interact with people who are doing internships at other companies or are in their class and you will gain some very useful word of mouth marketing of what it’s like to work at your company and possibly attract future employees. (The Intern may also turn into a future employee!)

4. They bring fresh ideas

The Intern is usually new to the profession and is often coming off or currently completing studies. This means they have minimal pre-conceptions about how things should be done from being in the field and what tools should be used. They might also be aware of new tools and technologies from their studies or from other fields they are coming from. These factors combined could see for an innovative approach to problems being faced in your company that the rest of the team hadn’t thought of.

What do you think?

Have you had good or bad experiences with hiring Interns? What makes a good/bad intern and how do you hire the right type to start with? Do you like the idea of Internships or are you against it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Bug Report: The Baby is crying

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What happens if you treat a crying baby as a bug you need to write a bug report for? A few weeks ago I welcomed my first child into the world, and as with all babies, he cries a lot so I thought I’d try writing a bug report for when he cries.


Title: My baby is crying
Priority: Major

Description:
Baby has wide open mouth, loud noises are heard coming from the mouth, a watery liquid appears from edges of the eyes, limbs may flail around wildly and body may experience moments of tension with arched back.
Commonly known as crying.

Steps to reproduce:
1 - Have a baby (or find existing one, much easier and quicker)
2 - Sit and watch them for sometime between 1 minute and 12 hours (wait is longer as baby gets older)
3 - Baby will cry for anywhere between a few seconds and several hours

Variables which may speed up process:
- Baby is too warm
- Baby is too cold
- Baby has gone to the toilet
- Baby heard a loud noise
- Baby realised parents aren't nearby/holding them
- Baby needs to burp
- Baby needs to fart
- Baby is tired
- Baby was taken out of the bath
- Baby is in an uncomfortable position
- X other reasons unknown to man

Recommendation:
There are many reasons a baby might cry, and babies have been crying for as long as there have been babies. Due to the very large scope of solving this problem, the recommended action is "Will not fix". Many workarounds exist such as cuddling, rocking, swaying, patting, talking, singing, changing, etc... so stick with these for now

The Art of Problem Solving

Solving problems is something i love doing. My job presents me with problems to solve every day (e.g. how to test ‘invisible’ features or how to simulate a customer using our product), and outside of work I’m also faced with problems to solve on a regular basis (e.g. why the hot water tap doesn’t heat up or why the TV reception is bad for 1 channel only). Whatever the problem, there are ways of approaching it that will apply in most cases. Here’s the approach i use.

Step 1 – Gathering Intel

First up, we need to understand the problem we are trying to solve. So start by gathering all the information you can about the problem. Here are some starter questions worth asking:

  • What steps are needed to see the problem occurs? (So you can determine if your fix worked)
  • What is the expected outcome and what is the actual outcome? (So you can tell when it’s been fixed)
  • Is it something that happens every time or just sometimes? And if so, how often? (This might tell you something about why it’s happening)
  • Does anything you do seem to influence whether it happens or not or how severe it is? (Another potential cause to the problem)
  • When did the problem start? Is it recent or always? Can you trace it back to start with a particular event? (Did that event cause the problem? Maybe it just made it visible)

Once you’ve got these questions (or similar ones) answered, you should have a good idea of what the problem is that you are trying to solve and a way to test out if your fix for the problem has worked.

Step 2 – Creating a hypothesis

Now that you know the problem, step 2 is to create a hypothesis on how you might be able to fix the problem. This will be based on your findings in step 1 on what factors seem to contribute to the problem with an idea on what change then needs to be made to fix the problem.

For example, a simple case might be that last month someone changed the type of paper the photocopier was using and over the past few weeks, there appears to have been an increased in paper jams. So your hypothesis is that by changing the paper back to the previous paper, the occurrence of paper jams should decrease. You’ve seen the change in behaviour, you notice an event which possibly contributed to the problem and you came up with a method to fix the problem, including a way to tell if it worked.

Perhaps the problem is a bit trickier. You’ve been using your iPhone for months as a calendar and it sends you email notifications when you have an appointment coming up. You recently upgraded to a newer model iPhone, at the same time as changing your email address that you receive notifications on. The iPhone calendar app has been updated and you decide that instead of checking those emails on your iPhone, you are going to start using your new iPad to read them. But the emails have the wrong times for your appointment.

Lots of variations and no obvious cause to the change. But the same rules still apply, find out all you can, and create your best guess hypothesis of what might help fix the problem.

Step 3 – Test out your hypothesis

Finally, you test out your hypothesis, make the change(s) required and see if the problem still happens. This might take a lot of testing depending on how often and predictable the problem was to reproduce. Eventually, you’ll figure out whether your hypothesis was correct or not.

Hypothesis didn’t solve the problem? Repeat Steps 2 and 3 again with the new information you’ve just learnt until you find your answer.

Applying it to my job as a tester

How does this fit in with being a tester? Well there’s two main types of problems i come across in my work.

  1. How to test tricky to see/verify areas of the project?
  2. How to create automated tests to cover those areas that are also useful, readable and maintainable (see my previous blog post for more on writing good automated tests)

In both these cases, the same rules apply as i’ve outlined above. It might take a while to gather the right data and come up with a solution, but I’ve found following this simple and general approach quite helpful in my work. In my role as a tester for the Online SaaS company, Campaign Monitor (which is awesome by the way!) I have lots of things to consider in how to test our product and where appropriate, automate tests to cover our various UI elements and so I constantly find myself with problems to solve. From how to run automated tests in parallel to figuring out how customer feedback should shape the way i test and the things i look for.

I hope this simple approach might help others solving there problems too!

What makes a good automated test?

Testers are increasingly being asked to write, maintain and/or review automated tests for their projects. Automated tests can be very valuable in providing quick feedback on the quality of your project but they can also be misused or poorly written, reducing their value. This post will highlight a few factors that I think make the difference between a ‘bad’ automated test and a ‘good’ automated test.

1. The code

People vary in how they like to write their code, for example, what names they use and the structure they like. This is fine to be different, but there are still aspects that should be considered to make sure the test is going to be useful into the future.

Readable & Self-explanatory
Someone should be able to read through your code and easily figure out what is being done at each part of the process. Extracting out logical chunks of code into methods helps with this but be wary of having methods within methods within methods… Deep nesting can add unnecessary complexity and reduces maintainability since coupling of code is increased. Use comments sparingly as the methods and variables should be descriptive enough in most cases and comments quickly get outdated. Format your code so it’s easy to read, with logical line breaks and be wary of ‘clever code’, which might be more efficient and might get 4 lines of code into 1, but it must still be readable and understandable to the next person looking at it in 5 months time. Make your test readable and self-explanatory.

Clear purpose
In order to make it easier to get a picture of test coverage, it helps to have tests with a clear purpose of what they are and aren’t testing. This also means people reading through the test trying to understand it or fix it know exactly what it’s attempting to do. Similarly it helps to not have your tests covering multiple test cases at once. When the test fails, which test case did it fail on? You’ll have to investigate every time just to know where the bug is before you even start getting the reproduction steps. Having multiple test cases also makes naming tests harder and can result in these extra test cases being hidden underneath other tests and perhaps duplicated elsewhere or giving a false picture of test coverage. Make your test have a clear purpose.

2. Execution

When you actually run your tests, there are a few more attributes to look for that contribute to the usefulness of the test.

Speed
If your tests take too long to run, people won’t want to wait around for the results, or will avoid running them at all to save time, which makes them completely useless. What ‘too long’ looks like will vary in each context but speed is always important. You will reduce reluctance from using your tests by setting a realistic expectation of the duration for running your tests. There will also be times where you want a smaller and faster subset of tests for a quick overview, whereas other times you are happy for a longer, more thorough set of tests when you aren’t as worried about the time it takes. Make your test fast.

Consistency
In most cases, depending on the context of your project, running your test 10 times in a row should give you the same 10 results. Similarly running it 100 times in a row. Flakey tests that pass 1 minute, then fail the next are the bane of automated tests. Make sure your tests are robust and will only fail for genuine failures. Add Wait loops for criteria to be met with realistic timeouts of what you consider a reasonable wait for an end-user. Do partial matches if a full match isn’t necessary. Make your test consistent.

Parallelism
The fastest way to run tests is in parallel instead of in sequence. This changes the way you write tests. Global variables and states can’t be trusted. Shared services likewise can’t be trusted. To run in parallel, your tests need to be independent, not relying on the output of other tests or data which is shared. Wherever possible, run your tests in parallel, finding the optimum number of streams to run in parallel and you will have your tests running much faster, giving you quicker feedback on the state of the system being tested. Make your test parralelisable.

Summary

There is plenty more that could be said about what makes a good Automated Test, but this should make a good start. Having code that is readable, self-explanatory and clear of purpose, and written in a way that it runs fast, consistently and can be run in parallel will get you a long way to having an effective, efficient and above all, useful set of automated tests.

I’d love to hear about what other factors you find most important in writing a good automated test as well in the comments below

Lessons learnt from writing Automated Tests

The purpose of this article is to share some of the big lessons I’ve learnt in my 5+ years of writing automated tests for Campaign Monitor, an online service to send beautiful emails. If you are writing automated tests, it’s worth keeping these lessons in mind to ensure you end up with fast, maintainable and useful tests.

1 – Website testing is hard

Websites can be slow to load, both at a whole page level and an element level. This means you are constantly writing ‘waits’ into your code to make sure the element you want to test is available. As java-script techniques improve, there are more animations, hovers, fade-ins,  call-outs, etc… being added to websites which results in a much nicer experience for the user, but can be a nightmare for writing a matching automated test. With these things in mind, I suggest the following:

  1. Evaluate whether this test case is worth automating. You can test functionality via an automated test (eg does clicking button X cause action Y to happen?), but they are less useful at telling you whether a page animation looks correct visually, so you are better to keep that as a manual regression test.
  2. Do as much of the automated test outside of the UI as possible. If you can utilise an API call or make direct database updates to get your system into the state required or to verify the UI action performed in the app you will save a lot of time in executing the test and avoid possible test failures before you even get to the point of interest for the test.
  3. Use Smart Waits. As often as practical, you are better off doing your assert of an element state within a short loop. You usually don’t want your test to fail because your app took 4 seconds to login instead of the usual 2 seconds. Always opt for waiting for a specific element state rather than Thread.Sleep!

2 – Make your tests understandable

When you first write your test, you have all the context you need, you know why you chose each method over other methods, you know what you are attempting to do at each step along the way. But what about the next person to look at that test in a years time when the requirements of that test have changed? Writing a test that is easy to understand for all readers will save valuable time later on and will mean the test continues to provide value for a long time. How do we do this?

  1. Use meaningful variables and method names. You should be able to read through your test without diving down any deeper into the methods and know what is going on. To do this, you need your variables and methods to accurately and succinctly explain what they are for.. For example:
    int outputRowNumber = GetTableRowForCustomer(“customer name”);
    compared to:
    int x = GetCustomer(“customer name”);
  2. Add comments when necessary. Your colleagues aren’t idiots, so they won’t need comments on every line of code, but if, for example, you have a line of code calculating the number of seconds left in the day, it might be worth a few words to explain what you are doing.

3 – Run your tests often

The purpose of creating and running these tests is to find bugs in your application, so you should be running all of your tests at least once a week, and most tests daily or more. This will make it much easier to identify the change that occurred which has resulted in the failed test. How often you run the tests will depend on how often you are updating the code under test. The more often you update, the more often you should run the tests. You will probably have a mix of tests that take varying amount of times, so be smart about when you run them, run the fast ones during the day, but leave the slow ones to run overnight so you don’t have to wait for the results.

We’ve had great success in having a small and quick subset of tests that do a basic check of a broad range of features across the application. This gives us quick feedback to know that there aren’t any major issues with core functionality. We call them ‘Smoke tests’, because if there’s smoke, there’s fire!

4 – Be regular in maintenance

Any one who has tried automated testing will know that your tests will get out of date as the features they are testing update. But, if you keep an eye on the results of your tests regularly, and act on anything that needs updating in a speedy fashion, you will save yourself a lot of pain down the track. Much better to tackle the cause of 2 failing tests now then to deal with multiple causes of 30 failures in a months’ time. If you can address any maintenance tasks for updated feature behaviour within a week of it happening, the context will be fresh and you will be able to get on top of it quickly, before it spreads and merges with other issues and suddenly you have a sea of failed tests and don’t know where to start.

5 – Be technology independent

We previously used a technology called WatiN to drive our test automation and are now in the process of moving over to Selenium WebDriver. We’ve also used other technologies in the past and each time a change is needed, it takes a lot of time/effort to convert our solution. If/When the time comes where you feel the tool you are using is no longer working for your needs, the time/cost to change can be huge. It’s possible every method you’ve written is dependent on your current technological choices, so it either rules out ever changing, or means there is a steep curve involved in changing over.

So instead, add an interface layer on top of your code which just says “I want the ‘browser’ to ‘click’ on ‘this link’”. Then the implementation can figure out how to get the Browser to click on the given link. Then when you decide you want to try a new technology, just add a new implementation to the interface and nothing else needs to change.

I will probably add a follow up post as summarising 5 years of learning into 1 post is hard!