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Test Strategy

3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Combine Customer Test Methods

March 13, 2018

When it comes to running a Customer Validation test, many professionals convince themselves that they can net all the results they need with one research methodology – trying to “kill two birds with one stone.” But combining Alpha, Beta, and Field Testing methods into a single test where actually two, even three different tests are needed may not help you in the long run.

Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t combine customer test methods when writing a test plan, and how it can actually derail your efforts when it comes to achieving your goals.

1. Unfulfilled Objectives

Creating test plans with competing objectives is an all-too-common pitfall for people charged with managing customer tests. It’s understandable – when running a tight operation, cutting corners by throwing a survey into a usability test seems like a viable way to satisfy both needs.

But in reality, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to Customer Validation. Each test type has its own objectives and uses different techniques to satisfy them. Using one test to assess two separate objectives waters down your feedback and compromises the accuracy of the data that is collected. Instead of focusing your team and tester energy on answering one set of questions completely, these tests with combined objectives answer multiple sets of questions poorly, if at all. As the saying goes, “A jack of all trades is master of none.”

2. Disinterested or Frustrated Testers

It’s also important to remember that the more questions you need to answer, the longer your test will have to be – and the more work you’ll need to do to keep your testers interested and engaged. Balancing the length of a test with the amount of data you need to collect is challenging for a single objective, let alone two or three. Your ability to collect valuable feedback before testers’ attention naturally starts to decline is a big factor in how successful or unsuccessful your test will be.

When a test is too long, demands too much, or incorporates too many elements, even the most enthusiastic testers will lose interest. Your testers may decide that testing your products is not a good use of their time, and that they’d rather opt out or leave the community altogether.

Running a test with multiple objectives forces you to make a tough decision – either sacrifice the amount of data you can collect while still keeping participation high, or risk frustrating your testers (and overloading your team) by lengthening your test. Both options can be risky, and both are mitigated when you concentrate your efforts on a single goal.

3. Incomplete Data

Between watered-down feedback and low participation, you’re more likely to end up with unreliable data. This isn’t to say that you won’t collect any valuable feedback. Your testers are still likely to uncover critical bugs and other usability issues. But with these particular time and focus constraints, most of what they’ll catch is low-hanging fruit.

Your ability to harvest in-depth, nuanced insight from valid user data is a prerequisite for delivering actionable recommendations. You’ll have a hard time drawing decisive conclusions when your research lacks meaningful depth. Combining test methods may have saved resources in the short-run, but in the long-run, recommendations based on superficial or inaccurate data are potentially disastrous for your product and your CV program. By contrast, it’s the observations captured in the details of your customers’ feedback that tend to provide the most value and have the most positive impact on your product.

What If I Can’t Run More Than One Test?

Some Customer Validation professionals don’t have all the time, money, and manpower they need to run completely comprehensive tests. This is especially difficult in the face of enormous pressure from stakeholders to “make a dollar out of 15 cents,” so to speak.

If you can’t run multiple tests, you need to ask yourself: What matters most to my stakeholders? Are they most concerned with how well the product works? Whether customers will like it? How they’ll use it in their daily lives? Focus on testing the area that will be most useful.

In the cases where multiple tests aren’t an option, the most common test to run is a Beta Test. But keep in mind that Beta Testing an unstable product is basically like running an expensive Alpha Test. To accurately evaluate customer satisfaction with your product, testers need to be able to use a fully-functional product.

Finally, it’s crucial to let your stakeholders know what they should and shouldn’t expect from your test. They shouldn’t expect that a single test will be able to provide definitive answers to all of their questions. But they should expect to see evidence-based, actionable recommendations that are related to the specific goal of your test, which will go on to support critical decision-making in high-priority areas of your product’s development.

To learn how to write clear objectives into your test plan, and how to implement specific testing methods to help you achieve your goals, watch our free webinar about “Picking the Right Test Strategy.”

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