Creating a Culture of Testing, Part 1 of 3: Leverage your employees to grow your business.

The company that tests together, is best together.

The Culture of Testing

In our Vision Fridays article I’m going to talk about the culture of testing – and what you can do in your business to build an amazing system – very quickly, I might add – that will pull amazing ideas out of your customer’s heads, increase marketing efficiency, tighten your team, and spearhead product development.  Oh, is that all?

Why is it always my job?

When working for a potential client, I ask them questions like…
1. How do you segment your customers?
2. How do you capture information about your customers?
3. Do you test ideas out on customers?
4. What do you ask them? Why?
5. How is this process driving your product and marketing development?

Then they shake their heads at me and say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about”. Then I cry. Then I help them. Then they cry… with joy.

You want results, you get them.

The culture of testing was in reference to an article (podcast?) that I recently heard and just loved. It reminds me of me. These are the first steps in how I go about shoring up marketing within a company. I have often worked for clients that have no marketing team, or no sales team, or very little budget… sometimes all three at once.

Why create a culture of testing?

This doesn't really work. The boss should not be telling others what to do, but rather listening to what their employees are saying.

Top-down doesn’t really work for direction.

The boss has very few interactions with customers in relation to employees. The boss is concerned more with big ideas and where to put the money. The feedback he receives from customers is sporadic at best.

Therefore, creating a culture of testing is paramount for business development.

The Culture of Testing: Feedback from employees that receive feedback from customers gives direction about products, customer service, and uncovers opportunities.

Only your customers know what they want from you. They know what bothers them, how your customer service is, and what other things they might like from your company.

By setting up a testing culture amongst your employees (that interact directly with customers), you’re getting feedback from many more customers than you would normally encounter.

Benefits of a testing culture.

Happier customers.

The direct customer benefits. The direct customer loves it because they’re being taken care of. Not only are customers happy that you’re asking their opinion, but it’s a great time to reward them for helping you, and that forges relationships – and people that spread the word of your responsiveness.

The indirect customer benefits. For every customer problem you solve with product, customer service experience, or whatever, there are probably hundreds that had the same question – and didn’t ask.

Happier employees.

They’re forging relationships with customers. They might start off thinking that interacting with customers other than ‘solve their problem’ mode is lame, but they’ll get over it once they realize that the customers are thanking them profusely for asking for feedback.

It personalizes the whole job thing. What they start to realize is that they own a part of the success of the business – and that means they’re happier to work for the boss. That also means that the boss should be rewarding them by taking notice and doing special things for them.

Happier boss.

The boss loves feedback. What’s a boss without a culture of testing surrounding them? Alone, poorly understood, and prone to giving bad directions. With a testing culture, bosses realize that they’re employees are giving them great ideas.

They want to see that employees care. There is nothing more beautiful than realizing that your employee is helping your business. It’s like the gods are talking to you through others.

Tighter team.

Those that test together, are best together. Since you often have to pool information together between people, there is a ‘team effect’ that kicks in. Employees start collaborating on the results they’re seeing from their specific ‘channel’ of interactions. It’s topic for conversation and not at all distracting to running the business.

In the system below I’ll show you how to forge a strong team out of silly little tests that start with individuals and gradually start to mesh together for effect.

What is the culture of testing?

It’s fast and sloppy testing.

But that’s a good type of sloppy, like a Sloppy Joe. Creating a culture of testing means shaping the development of your product and company through…

  • Constant testing,
  • Quick testing,
  • Ad-hoc testing.

Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug.

It’s not a replacement for formal testing, like ‘product’ testing. Nor is it a replacement for hard-core website usability testing. But it’s effective in getting ‘micro-adjustments’ for further testing – like product and usability testing.

C’mere testing.


“C’mere for a second… what do you like – red or blue?” – That is the foundation of how usability testing came about. So, in a way, the culture of testing that I try to build gets back to those informal roots of c’mere testing. It feeds ideas to me as a consultant, but creates a simple system of testing that extends far beyond my work for them.

What can you test for?

Website functionality. Does your website work? Does it attract the right type of people? Are people finding what they want, or leaving the site, never to return? Do they buy from the website, and what convinced them? Do they consider it an educational tool?

Product value. Who is using the product? Why? How are they using the product in new ways? Why did they buy it? Where? Do they consider the  product indispensable?

Product development. What other products does a customer buy? Do they use your product or service with other things? Could the product be expanded into new colors? Are there other services that your company can offer in addition to the service line?

Customer satisfaction. Is the customer happy with the purchase? Why? Would the buy the product again? Would they tell others about the product? Why did they buy the product over other competitor products?

What can you test with? (the tools).

Your website.

Your website could have hundreds of visitors to it daily – even if a few people per week interacted with you, it could give you direction.

5 minutes and a little ingenuity… take the text by clicking the image above!

Surveys. This survey to the right took me 5 minutes to setup (in Google Docs). What’s stopping you?

Polls. You can do the same thing with polls. Faster since no typing need occur to take one. Don’t get invasive… just ask them for their opinion and be done. Here’s a good poll maker – free and easy to work with.

Over the phone with real, live humans!

The best testing is the with humans – computers don’t have culture, humans do. Humans can evaluate so much more than a response to a checkbox.

Spot testing. So, when you’re on the phone with a customer, and you’ve captured their interest, it’s time to sneak a little question in there, like “what product do you like best, by the way?”

Or here’s my favorite one: “Have you seen our website? Yes? What is the one thing that you would like to see on there that you couldn’t find?” That’s a GREAT question. Why?

Well, for one, if it IS on there, that means they couldn’t find it. Two, if it isn’t on there, then perhaps it should be.

Who does testing? (the players).

adminThe admin. Call the admin what you want – assistant, admin, secretary – the admin is the gatekeeper to the owner or president of the company. They are often the most unappreciated of the players in the culture of testing – not many realize that they are the ones responsible for driving the development of many aspects of the company.

What type of information they catch: The admin is filters information to the owner, and often decides which information gets through. Good or topical ideas pass through, bad ones don’t. Since their phone rings with VIPs and decision makers regularly, the are often privy to a great deal of important information.

The delivery person. This could be the final person that a customer sees, and makes a strong impression on the customer. A person delivering your home theater system, a mechanic that works on your car (like in a mobile auto repair service), the person that finally trims your branches – whatever the occupation, it’s the person that finally delivers the goods.

What type of information they catch: That person knows important things like whether or not the customer, overall, is happy or annoyed. They have an incredible opportunity to shape the customer’s interaction with the company in the future, and can ask very important questions that revolve around customer service related products that customer buys.

The salesperson. The salesperson knows more about the ‘pain points’ about the point of purchase than almost anyone else. Pain points are the decisions a customer makes that make or break a purchase – why they buy, or don’t buy.

What type of information they catch: The salesperson has a real opportunity to shape the development of how the website markets itself. After all, the website is nothing more than a salesperson that’s not talking. Every fear must be mitigated, every reality defined on the website, before a call or purchase is made. They feed back information to the marketer on what to say or not to say, and how visible certain pieces of digital information are.

bossThe boss. The boss is, by definition, the person that ultimately decides whether money is thrown at A or B. They work at the vision level – whether they’re opening a new branch, or starting a new service.

What type of information they catch: They require those around them to inform them of what’s going on. Many bosses tell rather than listen. Some are big thinkers, others small thinkers. We’ve all met bosses that say much and know little – and how annoying they can be.

marketingThe marketer. The marketer is usually aware and in control of what messages are working – online and offline. In the offline world, they’re tracking phone calls and form fills, product sales and segments; they know more about the success of the marketing efforts than anyone else.

What type of information they catch: But great marketers not only measure and interpret statistics, but listen to the buzz in the company. They know that an offhand comment by an admin or salesperson from a single customer can lead to new and ingenious ways to express the value of message.

supportSupport. The brunt of the problems that a product or service creates for the customer is hefted onto the shoulders of the support staff, whether customer or product support. This is the most obvious of employee roles that feeds back information about product or service success. They can work remotely through the phone or on-site in a customer’s home.

What type of information they catch: But support also has the opportunity to create relationships with customers. Some customers feed back far more information than others, and if support identifies the ‘chatty’ customers – ones that give great advice – they can turn them into beta testers, people who are happy to test out ideas with support that make the product better.

The opportunities.

Is the caller not a customer?

If the caller is not a customer, you want to find out where they heard about you. If they haven’t seen your website, give them a tour.

Is the caller an existing customer?

How many times have they bought? That will determine whether or not to connect with that customer on a deeper level. Questions like whether or not they like the website, all the way to ‘could we give you a special gift and have the president call you?’ is the range.

What if the customer is mad?

Then don’t ask any questions, just solve the problem. If you feel that the customer’s mind turned around, then you might be able to ask some exploratory questions about how you could do better.

If not, perhaps you should give away something for free – and that’s also a kind of testing – finding out whether what you give away means anything to the customer.

A few questions you could ask.

Anything that is lacking on the website that you would like to see? The great question for a website, since if you DO have that information on the website, it means they can’t find it. If you don’t, perhaps you should.

Would you like me to give you a website tour? Engaging the customer in a tour of the website is powerful, since it gives you a vast amount of feedback. This is, in essence, a deconstruction of website usability testing.

What convinced you to call our company? Certainly a poignant question to ask, since it reveals the most important thing to the customer.

Why did you go with us instead of our competitors? Again, another important question, since it tells you the most important difference (perceived or not) between you and your competitors.

Why did you buy from us again? When a repeat customer calls, it’s time to find out why they’ve bought from you multiple times. Often the answer is something like ‘you took care of me’ or ‘fast shipping’ or ‘easily navigation on your website.’ Now you know.

Your top buyers. When you come into contact with someone that has bought from you repeatedly, it’s time to setup a customer brainstorming session. Meet with the customer if possible, or have the president call them on the phone.

This is an important opportunity because you can find out all the things that the customer did to ‘break through’ the problems and still buy from you. This might mean that there is a segment of customers out there that has no representation, something that you can capitalize upon and market to, easily (and cheaply).

In conclusion…

The culture of testing must be created. It’s a mindset that develops the very fabric of how your business accumulates important information that leads to product development, happy customers, and a sense of strong business culture and ‘ownership’.

The next 2 vision articles…

Part 2 of 3: How to build a simple test.

In part 2 we’ll show you how to build a fast and easy test, with one question. Sometimes everyone asking a single question is the most powerful method – since it gives you more data about one aspect – whether that be improving customer service or what customers don’t like about your website.

Part 3 of 3: Variant tests and an example.

In part 3 we’ll show you how to create a decision tree on how to ask the right question, or ask a different question per department – provided you have enough customers to ask over a single week’s time. We’ll also show you an example how we’ve used testing to uncover an entire branch of business opportunity overlooked for the past 9 years.

What now?

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3! If you enjoyed this article, and would like to be notified of these future articles via email, you can sign up for your newsletter here!

Further reading.

Greg Cox

Analytics Geek. Gregory likes Motorcycles, Cooking, and Sciencey stuff.