How can you be a better beta tester (and not get frustrated in the process)…

I like to try new apps, processes, and things. Perhaps it’s the kid in me who always wanted to join a club, and I love being a beta tester (usually.) Yet even the most thoughtful beta tester misses a few key points and is blinded by their biases. On the occasion of being noticed as a helpful Quora tester (thanks Stormy Shippy for mentioning me in the What is the combined answer length for the most active Quora answerers?) or at least a verbose one, I thought it would be interesting to think about some methods to become a better beta tester.

When you become a beta tester, you are trying an uncertain product pointed at an uncertain customer occupying an uncertain market with an uncertain likelihood of success. Beta customers feel special (you are – trust me) and companies feel free to stretch the tolerance of these users constantly by changing policies, user interface elements, or the basic functionality and process of the app or service (“the way things work”) in one fell swoop.

It’s pretty cool though. For the price of my time (it’s stated as *free* but there is a substantial investment that any serious tester must make in terms of their own time) you get to see a laboratory where changes are being made in (near) real time and gain the ability to influence and learn from the people who are making a brand new thing. I’m appreciative of the opportunity to share with and learn from some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. So how can you help the company (or companies) for whom you’re doing this beta testing?

You can help by being a “more certain” customer
Beta testing challenges you to articulate what you’re doing (or trying to do), to be able to explain it to others, and sometimes to realize that you’re an edge case and to stop wasting your time and the time of others.

Practicing this set of skills is the real reason I love being a beta tester (that, and the free t-shirts), and I try to do the following when I’m giving feedback to a team or an individual:

  • determine what it is I’m trying to do – if I’m not sure how I’m using the product, it’s going to be pretty hard for me to explain it to someone else;
  • explain what I’m doing in terms the “person on the street” could understand – it’s really easy to drop into jargon, and so I try to use the same terms throughout the feedback and detail my steps in clear language (and try to use the instructions myself to complete the steps);
  • be honest with myself when I’m bored and no longer want to test an app or service – it’s very easy to keep YAASA – Yet Another Social Account Alive. And much more kind to yourself and to the team building the app if you just bow out. (And let them know why you’re leaving.)

Learn new things, meet new people, and stretch your brain a little. What’s not to like? It’s true that trying new applications and services can sometimes clutter your experience or distract you from the things you ought to be doing today. Or maybe, practicing the skills of being a beta tester (and making it easier for teams to understand and learn from your feedback) gives you the exact set of skills you need to better beta test yourself.

Post on Quora

They found me through Quora? An Unexpected Job Opportunity

Quora is a great place to post questions to knowledgeable folks and to answer questions that are interesting to you. So when I wrote an answer to Twitter: Is Twitter an effective customer service tool? (by the way—it’s awesome for that) I had no idea that a post I wrote in March about customer care evolution would end up in an amazing new job opportunity.

Matthew G Trifiro, SVP of Marketing at Assistly in San Francisco, contacted me on Quora to let me know he really liked the piece and wondered if I would meet him for dinner the next time I was in San Francisco. I was totally flattered, and of course I said yes to this kind offer. And it started some amazing things in motion that never would have happened had I not shared my thoughts on Quora in the spirit of learning and growing by interacting freely (something that my friend Eric Koester calls “karma networking.”) The way Matt reached out to me, the interaction that we had both over Skype and in person when we met in San Francisco, and the trust and openness that he demonstrated paved the way for great things.

I had heard about Assistly’s product before, and thought about adopting it for my responsibilities at Gist. Like many startup companies, at Gist we adopted a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model for our Customer Support, and I was one of the administrators of our Zendesk solution. I’ve used Help Desk software from larger companies like RightNow and BMC’s Remedy, and understood the value of having a inexpensive solution that delivered many of the features of these enterprise systems, without the big price tag and personnel requirements.

I immediately saw that Assistly had customer service and social channels in its DNA (See… for more info) The ability to respond easily to customer issues in Facebook, Twitter, and email and also to create custom data structures for an installation was really powerful. These were two of the things I had really wanted to do in Zendesk and had never been able to complete successfully.

But product functionality wasn’t really the point here.

The way Matt acted spoke volumes about the way his company engaged. He found me in a social channel; engaged me in that channel; and then we met in person in San Francisco and shared a meal. Guess what? We got along – and it’s not just because we both appreciate good food. Matt and I connected because we share a passion to provide great customer service (he calls it Customer Wow) not just in our jobs, but everywhere, because engage = win.

So I had met an interesting executive at an interesting company in a field where I had good experience (cool!) Assistly was a great potential fit for me, but I wasn’t really looking for a job—Gist was acquired by Research In Motion (company) in February, and we still had work to do to reach BlackBerry scale. And then Matt unleashed his Ninja recruiting move—which was really just an opportunity to collaborate. Would I add my thoughts to an e-book Assistly was finishing up—Customer Service at the Speed of Twitter—a sort of primer of best practices for delivering Customer Wow via the Twitter channel. Working on this project was a great fit for me because it allowed me to learn more about how Matt and his team interacted on a real project.

What happened next? Some great things. I met more of the teamDan Stern, VP of Customer Wow; Mark Briggs, the VP of Sales; and Alex Bard, CEO of Assistly. I was impressed by all of them, particularly because one thing kept coming up over and over again: being great to customers. It’s easy to find bad service—in fact, it’s all around you—and any company that provides (and demonstrates) service as a core value is one to watch.

One month later, I am the Director of Customer Wow at Assistly. I’m excited at the amazing opportunity to interact with our customers at powerful brands (and at the brands you’ve never heard of and might never hear about.) The passion I bring to Customer Wow is the same emotion I want to instill in everyone who uses Assistly or who contacts us—customer love and the expectation of being treated well as an everyday experience—I think it’s going to be fun. I’ve already been writing about exceeding customer expectations on my personal blog ( and on a companion blog where I chronicle those who Deliver the Awesome ( and now I look forward to meeting you! (And thanks, Matt, for believing in and participating in new social technologies where great conversations can happen.)

p.s. Thanks Quora!

Post on Quora

Is Twitter an Effective Customer Service Tool?

photo by

Is Twitter an Effective Customer Service Tool?
Twitter is absolutely an effective Customer Service tool.

It’s effective because it allows customers to communicate with the company in a channel that they prefer (no more IVR/Phone Tree for me, please); it makes the issue public so that the company is forced to respond and act (transparency = #winning!); and it allows the company to answer questions with a human style and build brand equity (bonus: and builds content for others to search and use for self-service.)

People are raising their hands, why not answer?
If someone walked into your office, would you tell them, “please don’t talk to me, I only respond to phone calls?” Of course not. But this is the attitude many large corporations display when they ask customers to contact them in only one way.

Truth = corporations need to scale, cannot answer every customer in the same way, and need a way to quantify what they do, which is most convenient in email/call centers/CRM systems. But people don’t really care what option you prefer them to use. They just want you to answer. So Twitter is a great option because from the customer’s perspective, they just ask – and you figure it out. (Clearly, from the company view, you need to gather and triage these requests just like any other, but there are lots of good ways to do this.)

Open Communication = Win
Would you rather do business with a company that communicated with you publicly or one that only responded irregularly and never stated its intentions? I’d rather deal with the company that published information to the web, answered questions, and generally made the parts of its business that could be public, well, public.

Acknowledged = that not every business can communicate this way, that there are secrets and private information that should not be shared on an open channel (e.g. medical, financial, or otherwise regulated details) but the initial contact can most definitely be made on an open channel in many cases.

Your Employees are People and Your Customers Are People – Why Not Let Your Brand Reflect That?
There are lots of brands that are doing an outstanding job of sounding like people, not like, well, committees. Virgin AmericaZappos, and Ford are doing a great job in social media, and (surprise!) I also want to do business with them. Even better, when I communicate with these companies on closed, non-transparent channels, I feel like the same brand proposition and value still transmits in these other mediums. (Win!)

Finally, it’s good to note that trying to act in a public or transparent way, treating customers like human beings, and trying to answer their questions in a way that reinforces a friendly, helping brand will also build a large store of indexable, searchable content that might short-circuit many inbound questions, provide self-service options (and save your company money.) That’s a lot of benefits derived simply from thinking that Twitter is a good way to conduct customer service. A focus on the customer leads, overall, to a better Customer Experience.

Follow the discussion on Quora.

Is real-time customer support commendable or crazy?

Go for it! Real-time Customer Support is Commendable, not Crazy.

Why is Real-time Customer Support commendable?

  • customers don’t get enough support
  • early, well-supported customers will become your evangelists
  • it’s a lot cheaper than trying to fix problems later

Why is Real-time Customer Support crazy?

  • if you think customers don’t want immediate help, you probably think offering real-time support is crazy.
  • if you think customers won’t go to your similar competitor and that you can’t differentiate on service, you probably think offering real-time support is crazy.
  • If you don’t want to learn from customers as fast as you can whether your product or service is working or not, you probably think offering real-time support is crazy.

Ok, so how do you do it on low or no budget?
Start by reading Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans (…) and go out and get them. Near-real time customer service is a great way to start.

Here are some ideas for how to provide that support on a limited budget:

  • ABC – Always Build Content – if you get a question from a customer, write it down somewhere, preferably somewhere where they can search it and find it out themselves. (I use Zendesk to help with this task.)
  • Funnel all of your support channels through one place (again, Zendesk is very helpful here and reasonably priced.)
  • Be Authentic – publish your phone number (or a phone number), and admit when you don’t know what you’re doing. People will appreciate that you own your mistakes
  • Listen – use a listening framework (there are many good ways to do this – please feel free to reach out and I can share my own) and respond when you’ve solved a problem.

I don’t think you’ll be able to reach every person, but you should try like crazy to reach every person for as long as you can. It will instill good discipline for you and your team that customers will form the long-term success of your company.

Good luck!

(Follow the discussion on Quora here: Is real-time customer support commendable or crazy?)

What are the best community tools for customer service?

The “best tools” start with the following approach:

  1. Connect with your customers on a human level – understand the commitment you’re making to make it right for people.
  2. Pick the right tools to match the approach you want to take – match the tools to the problem.
  3. Keep doing it – no one’s going to do it for you.

You should connect with your customers by remembering one thing – there are people out there on the other end of the conversation. Try to set simple expectations (respond within 24 hours, make sure we resolve the entire issue within 7-21 days) and use those as a framework to respond. And remember that one “wow” experience can build an advocacy relationship for a lifetime.

Pick the right tools for you – not for someone else. If you’re a small organization, you might get by with responding solely on Twitter and recording the results in a Google Spreadsheet to share among a group. Likewise, having a fan page on Facebook may be sufficient at first.
When you’re ready to progress beyond the individual tools/services and need some products that can help you coordinate work for a group of 5-10 people, here are some useful tools that are free:

Here are some useful tools that are not quite free, but very inexpensive:

  • Zendesk ( — coordinate the intake of issues among a group of agents, and even creates tickets from Twitter
  • GoodData ( — with a Zendesk plus account, provides a plug-in with valuable analytics to Zendesk
  • Google Apps — use Google Voice as a central clearing house for your main phone number, and have the inbound phone calls transcribed to text automatically.

Once you start supporting customers, keep doing it. It’s easy to say you’re going to connect with customers in whatever medium they contact you at the time when they contact you, but it doesn’t always feel easy. So keep doing it and you will build up your customer service muscles.

If you’d like to see an example of how we do this process at Gist, check out this presentation on building a better customer experience:… (and let me know what you think!)

Follow the discussion on Quora: What are the best community tools for customer service?

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: