Software Testing

Customer Empathy Based Testing

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Testing Customer Empathy

Testers often talk about RISK-based testing, but how many have actually used the Empathy-based approach to create test cases? 

First, I’ll explain what I mean by empathy. Webster’s Dictionary defines “empathy” as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Empathy-based test scenarios would revolve around what impacts our users, based on questions like:

  • How do our customers feel when using our products?
  • What are our users seeing and hearing when using our software?
  • What types of positive or negative thoughts are they thinking while using our apps?


How does it feel?

If we can actually put ourselves in the shoes of those who use our applications by imagining what they’re seeing and doing when they interact with our apps, we can create some powerful tests that can positively affect those users’ experiences.

Asking empathy-based questions like these can also promote insight into use cases that we might not have otherwise had. I also think this type of testing fits in nicely with the Agile software testing that most of us are already doing.

The new way of developing software

Jeff Sussna, whom I interviewed on TestTalks recently, has gotten me thinking more and more about how empathy actually impacts every level of the software DevOps and Agile development lifecycle.

In recent years the relationship between companies that make products and services and their customers have begun to shift. In the hyper-connected state we now live in, customers rule the world.

For example, nowadays someone can go on Twitter and complain to the whole world about their software instead of calling the customer support line. That fact, plus the growing importance of design when we have products like smart refrigerators and smart thermostats and so on, is driving companies to be more user-centered in their approach to their customers.

User-centered design starts with empathy. Another point Jeff makes is that it’s not about me figuring out the correct way to sit in a chair if I’m a chair designer. I need to understand who your end users are. I need to know how they experience a chair and what makes them comfortable. It’s all about starting seeing things from the other’s perspective. This trickles down to everything we do.

Everything we do is a service

A good way to get into this empathetic mindset is to think of everything you do as a service. Even if you have a separate IT department, design department or QA department and qa teams, you are all in the business of providing services to each other, just as your company provides service to its customers.

The whole point of service is to help someone accomplish their goals. If we take the perspective of “How can I use what I do to help you?” rather than, “I do this thing, I make this thing,” that’s a step towards empathizing and providing better service.


Don’t cause my mom pain

Another, more personal example of why I think customer empathy is important is something I experienced a few years ago. My mother was suffering from a terminal condition, and I often had to accompany her to her doctor’s office.

On one such occasion when we arrived for her appointment the check-in line was halfway out the door. I could see the discomfort in my mom’s eyes as we waited an extremely long time just to get her checked-in. When we finally reached the front desk I asked the receptionist the reason for the long delay. It turned out that the hospital had just changed their patient software over to a new system and was experiencing software performance issues and a poorly designed user interface.

I wondered if this was something the folks who developed and tested this software had even considered – the fact that the performance of their application could possibly cause their end users to suffer.

We all Win from Empathy-Based Testing

Being in a hospital is uncomfortable, to begin with, and the less time a loved one has to spend there, the better. 

Remember: your customer might someday be you, so even if you’re a narcissist you can undoubtedly benefit from customer empathy-based testing.

* After publishing this post someone also sent me another excellent resource by richrtesting on empathy based testing Empathy: a lesson from history that you should check out.

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