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Guest Posts

How Customer Support Prepared Me to Lead in Beta

Posted on
March 11, 2024

A Career Built On a Solid Foundation

My journey to a career in beta testing and beta program management started in a loud karaoke bar at a company holiday party. At the time, I was working as a Tier 2 technical support technician, handling escalated issues and working through advanced troubleshooting techniques to solve some of the toughest problems coming into our support center.

Over the din of the band, my manager leaned over and said: “Hey, we should probably start some kind of beta program for all of these new products.”

“Yeah, sure, sounds good!” I replied, completely unaware that this brief conversation would change the course of my career. It would awaken a passion in me for providing fantastic user testing experiences and pursuing the release of perfect products. 

I love what I do now. I get to have a hand in the development, release, and ongoing quality improvements of dozens of products that have a real impact on the world around me. I’m always working with cutting-edge technology, and every day is filled with exciting challenges. But, the success and fun in my current role wouldn’t be possible without my time in customer support. The strong foundational skills and unique front-line perspective gained by helping customers with real product issues were key to preparing me for the proactive mindset necessary for beta testing.

Repurposing Customer Support Skills for Beta

In customer support, my role centered on reacting to issues that customers were experiencing with our products. As I transitioned to beta testing, I had the opportunity to have an earlier impact on the products I supported. I was now focused on spotting potential problems before real customers could encounter them and call support. This shift towards being proactive instead of reactive was a huge time- and cost-saver for the business I supported. 

Because of the skills I developed in support—like problem-solving and customer empathy—I could approach products in beta with a customer’s mindset and see things from a customer’s point of view. These skills became my superpowers as I moved into running beta tests, enabling our team to better anticipate and address user needs before they affected the broader user base. 

Here are a few customer support skills that transferred particularly well to running beta tests:

  1. Problem-Solving Prowess: Customer tech support hones your ability to troubleshoot on the fly, a skill that's equally critical when identifying potential pitfalls during beta. (This skill may also help to reason through some potential troubleshooting steps or workarounds before involving engineering/developers.)
  2. Customer Communication: Clear, empathetic communication with users during support calls translates into a nuanced understanding of user experience and feedback during beta testing. You’re able to put yourself into the testers’ shoes - particularly when it comes to the feedback management process and what they want to hear from you.
  3. Technical Acumen: Deep product knowledge gained in support roles provides a solid foundation for identifying, understanding, and testing complex product functionalities.

This blend of skills has been instrumental in my success with beta. It empowered me to view beta testing through the lens of the user’s experience, and preempt issues before they become roadblocks to adoption and call-drivers for support.

Leveraging Support Insights for Beta Testing

The “secret ingredient” to enhancing the beta testing process is… wait for it… anticipation. In other words, using insights from support to inform your beta testing strategies. Here are some examples that highlight the importance of this approach:

  • Identifying Common Post-Release Issues: Patterns in customer support calls often signal areas of a product that require closer examination during the beta phase.
  • Preemptive Problem-Solving: Understanding the types of challenges users face allows us to simulate those scenarios during testing, ensuring the final product is as robust as possible.
  • Documentation Quality Control: Time spent in support teaches the importance of having great documentation to head off support issues before they become a problem. You can use beta to determine if your existing documentation gets the job done or will create knowledge gaps, then fill those gaps to help your users help themselves!

This blog has only scratched the surface of how invaluable data from customer support calls are to beta teams and the beta phase of development. This deep reservoir of real-world user experiences has the potential to not only inform but also enrich your beta testing strategies, ensuring you have a path to exceed your users' expectations with every product iteration.

Bridging the Gap Between Support and Beta Testing

My path from tech support to beta testing leadership has been both challenging and rewarding. It’s revealed the untapped potential of support experiences in enriching beta testing and, by extension, the product development lifecycle. While I still have room to learn and grow along this road, my experience so far underscores a fundamental truth: understanding and anticipating user needs is key to creating products that not only function flawlessly but also resonate deeply with users.

About Our Guest Author

Alex Larsen is the Manager of Product and Customer Insights at Trimble Inc. With over 10 years of experience in building beta programs in a primarily B2B capacity, Alex has led high performing teams in executing tests, removing roadblocks to success, and creating a thriving, engaged community of engaged customer testers. Alex is currently leading Trimble's Product and Customer Insights team, which manages user testing programs for stakeholders across Trimble's global footprint of supported products and industries, from architecture, construction, and survey software to commercial trucking and beyond.

Alex and his team are finding new ways to bring new value to new groups every day. With a passion for technology on the cutting edge, Alex explores new solutions and innovation with other user testing professionals. When he's not changing diapers and watching Bluey, he loves playing hockey and disc golf. Alex lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and two children.

Listen to Alex on the Centercode Podcast
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