Entrepreneurs are always eager to introduce a new product or an exciting new feature to their audience. Their entire audience. This is a common mistake for many reasons. It’s important to roll-out new features slowly and intentionally.
Product teams have tight deadlines. They are often under an immense amount of pressure to get new products and features to market quickly. The sales team in particular has the burden of communicating new features to close the sale. Customers are expecting them, especially in the early phases of a new company. If the new feature isn’t ready or doesn’t work properly, the customer is unhappy and unlikely to renew. Even worse, they might write poor reviews about the product online.
Sometimes, product teams don’t have the resources to do a beta test. Even so, any product developer should ask themselves these questions:
Testing your products through an internal quality assurance process is incredibly valuable. However, there’s no way it can expose every issue that a customer would find in real life. It doesn’t account for all user error and user experience problems. Once it’s released in the the hands of the unexperienced masses, things become more apparent.
Your customers won’t use the product the same way your QA team would. Your QA team, unlike your customers, has an intimate experience with the product. Beta testing helps you find issues and spot the pain points that a larger group of people will likely experience. Only by placing your product into a controlled group of beta testers will you identify the issues that will crop up during the full release.
New products almost always have errors or bugs that need to be worked out. Deploying a new feature to your entire customer base is a death wish. You’ll have a host of unhappy clients calling your support team if there’s a major bug. Your email inbox would explode. Your small team would have to deal with those issues rather than focus on fixing the problem.
Today, Gmail is one of the most popular (if not the most widely-used) email service in the world. If you’re old enough, you may remember how Google beta-tested Gmail with great success.
Google developed Gmail in 2004 with a controlled beta test. They invited a selective focus group of only 1,000 users to use Gmail in the beta test phase. They carefully documented their user experience and feedback.
They also allowed the beta tests to invite their friends and family to use Gmail. Google then opened the door a bit more month later, while still in beta mode. As a result, they experienced a smooth launch. Minimal product issues and security flaws were quickly resolved.
It’s important to note that Gmail did not officially exit the beta testing phase until 2009. They then opened it up to the entire public. This five-year beta stage gave them the opportunity to fully test the email client and resolve issues over a long period of time. This also gave them more exposure and clients with the invitation feature.
And look where Gmail is now.
Apple does not have a reputation for releasing new features for public beta testing. But, in 2011, they launched a beta version of Siri, the iPhone’s voice assistant feature.
After the launch, excited early adopters of this new technology were disappointed. Apple gathered negative word of mouth and online reviews. They didn’t control the beta testing despite announcing that the Siri feature was still in beta. Apple released it to many people.
Apple wanted as much exposure as possible for the beta test, but their approach backfired. Consumers had a poor user experience due to several bugs and product issues. Most people who use products don’t really know what “beta testing” means. They expect when they begin using a product that it should be fully functioning and working well.
Both Apple and Google are wildly successful companies. However, Apple would’ve had much better results with their beta testing had they conducted a focused launch similar to Google’s.
Your beta testers are valuable sources of information. Your product may be great, but there are always going to be things you didn’t think about that show up in beta-user feedback.
Gathering this feedback before deploying your product or new feature gives beta-testers the opportunity to be a part of your process. It turns them into brand advocates that are more likely to recommend your product. It also helps your product team harness that feedback so you can fine-tune your product.