Software testers play a critical role in transforming the way users experience software products. In this article, I will explore four simple steps QA testers can take to practice empathy and create applications that are more accessible and useful for more users.
By Yanique Dickson
When we empathize, we try to understand the feelings, perspectives and experiences of others. In my role as a Quality Assurance (QA) consultant, I practice empathy to help companies transform their approach to testing and to develop teams that operate more collaboratively.
While my work begins with understanding testing concepts, my impact is measured by how well I engage with peers, communicate with clients and deliver quality software that makes end users feel seen, heard and understood.
68% of customers expect brands to demonstrate empathy by creating personalized, convenient and connected experiences that address their unique needs; yet, only 37% of customers say brands generally demonstrate empathy.
As software testers, we play a critical role in transforming the way users experience software products. In this article, I will explore four simple steps QA testers can take to practice empathy and create products that are more accessible, usable and useful.
Get to know the end user
Persona-based testing can help us uncover insights into user behavior that allows us to approach testing with a more complete perspective of who we’re testing for and what their unique needs are.
User personas are often accompanied by photos of our ideal users, snippets of things they would say, and detailed descriptions of their lifestyle — from what kind of car they drive to what hobbies they engage in. To take it further, user scenarios can help us visualize our users in action with real-life stories.
With the correct approach and development, user personas and scenarios can serve as powerful, unbiased guides for how users interact with our applications.
“What a persona should tell us is what a person thinks, what they feel, what they are trying to accomplish, and what is getting in their way,” says educator Christin Roman.
By leveraging user personas, we are able to:
- develop a perspective similar to our end user;
- understand what challenges the user is facing;
- understand how to remove or reduce those roadblocks; and
- subsequently create and prioritize test scenarios that are more aligned with how users actually behave.
For organizations that lack the resources required to do in-depth user research, fictional personas can serve as a starting point. Although less reliable, fictional personas tap into the experience of designers and developers to identify the characteristics of a typical user.
Confirm positive user emotions, not just user goals
When we think about usability, it’s common to focus on specific actions users take when interacting with our products while losing sight of their emotional experience. In addition to ensuring that our products meet usability goals, we must also take steps to emphasize what makes our products evoke positive emotions for our users.
Let’s consider Netflix. As a video streaming service, Netflix users want to watch movies. There are thousands of options to choose from across several genres. To help users sift through all those options and find the best flicks, Netflix suggests movies the user may be more likely to enjoy. This feature prioritizes ease of use, user satisfaction, and enjoyment and increases the likelihood that viewers will have a positive emotional experience while using the platform.
We can apply the same principles while testing:
- Prioritize features that enhance the overall user experience and usability.
- Create test scenarios around features that induce feelings like enjoyment, security, accomplishment, self-expression, belonging and excitement.
- Collaborate across Testing and DevOps teams to implement new features that increase enjoyability.
Get end-user feedback
When testing software, it’s natural to develop blind spots over time. Getting user input, therefore, helps to identify issues we can no longer spot easily. User feedback also allows us to discover how users want to use the product, how they understand the product and overall satisfaction.
Take Canva for example. When the platform launched in 2013, developers ran into a huge problem — people were scared to use the product. Usability tests uncovered that non-design professionals were intimidated by the platform, unsure of how to use the product, and overall were not having fun. The insights gave Canva developers the information they needed to make improvements, including optimizing their onboarding experience to address their users’ emotional journey and change people’s beliefs that they were not talented, skilled or creative enough to design. The changes led to massive growth (more than 60 million users) in the following years.
Here are a few ways we can gather, analyze, and implement user feedback to improve satisfaction:
- Usability testing: a test session with real users that is administered either in person or remotely by trained professionals.
- Surveys: cancellation surveys, new user surveys, and new feature surveys can provide insights into why users choose products, cancel services, and what they think about new features.
- User forums: users can engage with developers to ask questions and learn from other users.
- Integrated feedback: in-app tools provide simple ways for the end user to provide feedback about issues they encounter.
The impression users walk away with after using our applications can be the difference between a product that wins ambassadors and one that attracts naysayers. With real user input, we can improve our test plans, strategies, and suites based on which features are most important to the people using them.
Practice empathy with your team…and yourself
Testers are skilled advocates for the end user. However, how are we extending empathy to our teammates and to ourselves during the testing process?
Without practicing empathy in the workplace, we run the risk of creating increased miscommunication, poor relationships, and toxic work environments. We can collaborate with empathy by practicing active listening, responding without judgment, and asking questions when we need clarification.
It is also important to practice self-empathy by communicating our needs as testers early and often. To communicate our needs, we must identify where we need time and resources, then advocate for more support.
We can create a culture of collaboration early within the development cycle by:
- creating user stories and acceptance criteria that are clear and easily understood by everyone; and
- ensuring the design meets end user requirements by outlining test plans, strategies, and scenarios early in the development process.
These actions can help build an environment that makes the process of testing smoother for ourselves and our peers.
We can build better products by practicing empathy while testing. User personas and scenarios provide opportunities to get to know our users and create test cases that are more aligned with their needs. Meanwhile, end user feedback can provide valuable insights into customer satisfaction, usability issues and opportunities for improvement.
Prioritizing tests around features that are designed to evoke positive user emotions like enjoyment, security, and accomplishment allows us to create software that users feel good using.
When we emphasize the importance of early testing and advocating for the time, resources and support we need to test at our best, we improve the environment for current and future testers. We also stand to develop better relationships with our peers.
At QualityWorks, we have a talented team of consultants ready to help you build software products that users love. Our automated test case management tool, QualityWatcher, is also packaged with predefined usability test suites that are designed with empathy. Contact us for a consultation or demo!
About the Author
Yanique Dickson is passionate about product quality and user satisfaction. She is an ISTQB Certified Tester and Agile Tester who has contributed to the manual and automated efforts of several development teams. She has helped transform multiple projects, QA departments and enterprises by introducing shift-left testing and Agile practices.