Every year, Consumer Reports tests thousands of products — from cars, to laptops, to WIFI-enabled speakers and appliances — and grades them on a scale of 0 to 100. A trusted source of unbiased product testing, their mission is to make it easier for consumers to make well-informed buying decisions. And it’s as helpful to smart tech shoppers as it is potentially nerve-racking to smart tech makers.
With over 7 million subscribers, Consumer Reports is one of the most widely recognized resources for product reviews. Using a combination of in-house product testing and member surveys, their scoring system looks at customer satisfaction, quality, usability, and reliability.
“[We’re] focused on the fundamental performance that consumers are looking for—blenders that yield the smoothest smoothies, snow blowers that demolish the drifts at the end of the driveway, and headphones that deliver great sound.”
Like the products themselves, their product testing standards are constantly evolving as functionality expands and changes. That goes hand-in-hand with what consumers are looking for — the best products for the best value. So it tracks that a high Consumer Reports score means an all-around awesome product.
The best way to make sure your product earns a high rating from Consumer Reports is to go in thinking like a consumer. In our experience, high-performing products are the result of this real-world, customer-focused mindset. It’s also one that pushes the results of customer testing throughout the product development life cycle.
Here are four takeaways from Consumer Reports’ product testing to ask yourself during your own product tests — and our tips for securing product success that lead to high Consumer Reports ratings.
1. How do customers see the product?
As a product manager, engineer, quality tester, or anyone involved in the product development process, knowing your product inside and out is necessary for performing your role well. But there’s a catch: it can also give way to the “Curse of Knowledge.” This makes it harder for you and your team to see your product as your customers see it.
Consumer Reports treats each product like a “black box” because it lets their product testing team focus on factors that matter most to customers. Similarly, getting fresh eyes on your product (or a new feature) is essential to spotting shortcomings that cause friction for your customers and sabotage your hard work. It’s also a great way to highlight benefits and use cases you might’ve overlooked.
While most people think of customer testing as focused on identifying and resolving bugs, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater by dismissing feature requests, suggestions, and praise.
2. Does the data make sense?
When you’re spending hours thinking, planning, and ironing out every last detail on a project as high stakes as a product launch or new release, surprises are unwelcome, even scary.
That personal investment causes many professionals to develop a confirmation bias. Confirmation bias happens when you’re so focused on proving your hypothesis that any contradictory data gets downplayed or ignored.
As an independent research organization, Consumer Reports is more easily able to approach their research and results without introducing positive or negative biases. But for tech product makers, it’s normal to have a hypothesis in mind and an idea of the data you want to see when you start building out your project objectives.
The goal of customer testing isn’t just to validate how great your product is — it’s also about fixing issues and making improvements that will give your customers the best experiences possible. Challenge yourself to ask your testers questions you think you know the answer to. Root out inconsistencies between what your team thinks and what the data is telling you.
Finally, if you’re seeing data that confirms your hypothesis, there’s nothing wrong with having someone like a trained researcher take a second look at your surveys.
3. Which features are driving purchase decisions?
Times change, customer needs evolve, and once in-demand features — like changing your ringtone on your cell phone — eventually give way to new desires and expectations. Which features are driving your customers’ decisions to buy (or not buy) your product?
Consumer Reports works with a customer experience group to understand what’s important to customers, similar to the way your product team works alongside CX. But even surrounded by expertise, it’s still hard to perfectly navigate what your customers will gravitate towards.
Your customer testers will spotlight the features they like and the additions they’d like to see. And because your tester team reflects the demographics and technographics of your target audience, you can rest assured that their ideas and praise will translate to success on the market.
4. What real-world factors are influencing product usage?
Consumer Reports has 63 separate labs for consumer-focused product testing. But even with dozens of labs at their disposal, they know that it’s no substitute for real-world usage.
“In a typical year, we invite roughly 3 million Consumer Reports members to participate in our online product surveys, and gather product reliability and satisfaction data.”
If you’re like most organizations, you’re probably working with one or two labs. That means it’s even more critical for you to get your product into the hands of customer testers and their real-life environments. The better you understand the use cases that are going to impact customers — how different living room configurations affect the picture on a wall-mounted TV, for example — the better you’ll be able to troubleshoot before launch and guide your customers after.
Customer Testing, Optimized for Every Industry
When it comes to creating standout products, what you need to test will vary, even if the end-goal (a smashing success) is the same. Whether you’re building cloud-computer software or connected devices, we’ve got specific use cases for optimized customer testing that’ll send your Consumer Reports rating — and your customer satisfaction — through the roof. See our industry use cases and our list of satisfied customers in our ebook, Making Good Technology Great.
See Industry Use Cases in Making Good Technology Great