Understanding User Assistance Testing
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Understanding User Assistance Testing

Gavin Austin, Principal Technical Writer, Salesforce
Gavin Austin, Principal Technical Writer, Salesforce

Gavin Austin, Principal Technical Writer, Salesforce

User Assistance may sound as exciting as tax reform or registering your vehicle at the DMV. But ignoring the topic could cost your customers, increase your support costs, and tarnish your brand or organization’s reputation. A simple plan for creating and testing user assistance can prevent disaster. It can also mean the difference between whether or not deals close, contracts renew, or customers stay or go.

What is user assistance? It is any mechanism that gives customers the right content, at the right place, at the right time. Content may sound trivial or simply words that anyone can write, but think about the last time you tried to hunt down the smallest bit of information about a product or service to solve a business problem, and you couldn’t find it. Or better yet, you found inaccurate or poorly written information that caused more problems and wasted your time. Did you want to continue working with that vendor or pay them more money? Probably not.

Some of the classic forms of user assistance that can prevent terrible customer experiences include:

• User interface text - the words within an application. UI text is the first information that most users see, including page text, messages, pop-ups, and labels.

• Online help - articles or frequently asked questions that empower users to solve their own problems.

• Videos & graphics - Engaging overviews that demonstrate how to perform a task using a product or feature.

• Release notes - Outlines, descriptions, or bug fixes of every change in the release of an application.

• Implementation guides - Tasked-based manuals that help users plan, set up, and configure products or features, from start to finish.

  The purpose of business is to create a customer   

As technology evolves, customers expect more modern forms of user assistance, which are baked into applications and usually require software development resources and testing. Some of these mechanisms include:

• Tooltips - A small piece of contextual information about an element on the screen, which is displayed when a user hovers or focuses on the element it is describing.

• Welcome mat - A getting started panel for a product or feature set. It’s tailored for quick user adoption and has links to videos or other content; it tracks progression using in-app achievement stamps.

• Walkthroughs - Guided in-app tours that help users learn about a feature and how to perform one or more tasks within it.

• Setup assistant - A centralized, on-screen list of tasks for administrators to onboard organizations or features. It’s a prescriptive and detailed guide for learning and configuring an aspect of the app, which can take hours or days.

• Feature popover - Highlights features users aren't taking advantage of but would benefit from. They are used to bring awareness and describe notable features to users.

• Feature prompts - Visual indicators that alert users to changes to their system, such as new features or functionality.

These modern user assistance mechanisms may look “sexy” and sound great, but how do you test them? With application enhancements to build and a slew of code to QA or fix, how do you prioritize and align your teams behind them? At Salesforce, user assistance is part of the software development lifecycle; it’s built into our culture.

First, we develop software in an Agile environment, meaning we’re organized into small teams who meet daily, foster open face-to-face communication, and work iteratively to reach bi-weekly or monthly deadlines. Since Agile is widely explained elsewhere, let’s get right into how it’s helped our user assistance culture.

Content Creators are Equal Members of the Team.

From day one, new hires participate in training that emphasizes the importance of content creators. Developers and product managers alike learn that the writers embedded on their teams are like journalists who ask them tough questions to articulate business value and make customers happy. The training specifies that great content increases customer satisfaction and feature adoption, and reduces customer attrition and support tickets. Internal stats and figures are shared to show the tens of millions of dollars earned and saved annually by supporting content development and user assistance.

User Assistance is as Important to the Product as Code.

When teams plan and estimate for software development, user assistance is tracked alongside it. A new feature or application enhancement cannot ship unless its content is completed too. This motivates developers to help content creators and verify that user assistance functions to a high degree of quality within the app. A feature or fix isn’t considered finished until its content is finalized and reviewed.

User Assistance Templates are available for Development Teams  

Instead of having each developer try and figure out how to create or test a variety of user assistance for the app, code samples are ready-made. Testing for consistency or behavior is easier to do because no one has to reinvent the wheel. Design patterns and libraries are established by User Experience teams, and instructions for use and QA are available to all on a wiki.      

User Assistance is tested by every member of the Development Team.    

Towards the end of a release, content creators organize what we call a “blitz”—everyone on the team attacks the content or user assistance to try to find flaws or break it. Similar to how a security team tries to hack into a system and discover its vulnerabilities, the same goes for content. Is the user assistance helpful? Does it make sense? Is it accurate or in the right place for a customer or potential customer? If not, bugs are assigned to the content creator or the developer who helped add the user assistance to the app.  

User Assistance is signed off by Executives and Product Managers.

After content is edited, tested, and reviewed by a development team, it cannot ship until an executive checks it out and signs off on it. As an added layer of importance, user assistance is often demoed at the executive level for feedback and to highlight how on-screen mechanisms can add value and boost brand experience.

As Peter Drucker famously wrote in The Practice of Management, “the purpose of business is to create a customer…” If you ignore user assistance, or believe that it’s not worth testing, then you might as well ignore your customers. Your application is only as good as its user experience. If you fail to think about content, or the mechanisms needed to deliver content, you may not be in business long. Test accordingly.

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