Brands Turn to Crowds to Fine-Tune Digital Experiences

While some companies have struggled to come to terms with the new situation, others have found ways to adapt and maintain operations. Richard Downs, UK Director at Applause, looks at a distributed testing model that has enabled brands to stay on track and continue to release successful software.

To say that life has changed for all of us over the last few months would be a bit of an understatement. Traditional routines and standards have given way to a new set of norms that are still being defined. Despite lockdown conditions being eased across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, many people are still working remotely. It’s uncertain when enterprise businesses will open their office doors again, and when they do it’s anticipated that repatriation will be a slow and incremental process. Remote working will remain the preferred model for the foreseeable future, which has implications for brands looking to release new software and applications to keep pace with demand.

The digital economy is driven by web and mobile applications that support everything from retail to media and entertainment, travel and transport. Recent figures published by Apple revealed that its App Store ecosystem had facilitated $474bn worth of sales of digital and physical goods in 2019 alone. This trend has been exacerbated by the pandemic. ONS reports have indicated that online sales in the UK during April increased by 38% on the previous year. Given this, brands are under enormous pressure to maintain the quality of digital experiences for customers.

However, eCommerce doesn’t paint the full picture. Brands are more reliant than ever on technology to drive sales, and engage and connect with customers – whether that’s via websites, mobile apps, voice assistants or IoT experiences. Typically, the ongoing quality assurance (QA) testing of these digital properties may have been conducted using a mixture of in-house and third-party resources. However, the pandemic has forced in-house QA teams to work remotely and placed enormous strains on outsourced QA teams based in offshore locations. Subsequently, more and more brands have turned to the crowdsourced QA testing model.

Crowdtesting isn’t new. It’s been a standard industry model for well over decade now. Brands have used it successfully as part of an integrated approach combining in-house testing with crowdtesters to accelerate product development. Crowdtesting consists of communities of testers that work from home on their own devices testing digital experiences in all types of scenarios. They uncover any bugs or glitches that can be addressed immediately by developers, speeding up time to market and preventing real customers from leaving negative reviews once a service has gone live.

Many technology outsourcing companies, which do much of their work in countries like India and Vietnam, have been severely affected by the coronavirus crisis. Remote working isn’t the norm and it’s not generally supported. There have been attempts to alter the situation and some companies are now shipping laptops to employees’ homes. However, conditions are challenging. Even if they can get devices to staff, companies are finding it difficult to expand their virtual private networks exponentially, which isn’t helped by the fact that many workers live in densely populated areas with poor-quality broadband infrastructure.

In the absence of offshore support and IT, development and QA teams all working remotely, the crowdtesting model has proven to be effective. It draws on a community of skilled and highly vetted QA testers with a range of different skills and expertise. One of the biggest advantages of the community model is that it provides brands with access to a diverse set of people from different backgrounds and different age groups. Ideal for consumer brands that are looking for detailed insight to help improve the design of a user interface.

This is important when you consider that technology needs to so be simple and intuitive, especially if it’s going to appeal to different demographics. Take the elderly for instance; they need to be able to navigate digital services and applications with ease. If brands are looking to ensure a service is more inclusive, then crowdtesting can ensure their software is placed into the hands of older users to test its compatibility.

In addition, it’s important to remember that customers aren’t always up to date with the latest iPhone or operating system, so brands need to test on older models and versions to better understand the broadest range of end-user experiences. Fortunately, crowdtesting gives you access to people who are using their personal devices in real-world situations that mimic where and how customers would use the app.

As for the transition to working from home, well, it hasn’t been a transition at all for crowdtesters. This also means testing can take place outside of office hours, which cuts down project times and reduces costs. This is a huge advantage for brands looking to quickly respond to changing conditions.

The community is responsible for all types of testing, including usability and manual testing, but that isn’t conducted in isolation. Automation also plays a key role in QA testing. It allows the continuous development, execution and maintenance of new or updated applications. Brands that implement automated processes along with manual testing have experienced significant efficiency gains.

Any concerns brands may have had about the ability of crowdtesting to scale up and deliver a comprehensive QA programme have been removed. Prior to, and during, the pandemic, crowdsourced communities have been remote and responsive. They can be ready at a moment’s notice to support in-house QA teams. Brands can scale up their testing exponentially, while also adding new skills and practices that ultimately lead to a stronger release.

About the Author

Richard Downs, UK Director at Applause, a provider of crowdsourced and automated testing. Applause is the worldwide leader in crowdtesting and digital quality. Software is at the heart of how all brands engage users, and digital experiences must work flawlessly everywhere. With our testers available on-demand around the globe, Applause provides brands with a full suite of testing and feedback capabilities.

Featured image: ©Leung Chopan