How we’re building a user-first product

How we’re building a user-first product
By Sam Senior | On Sep 01, 2021
5 min read
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Our goal in building TestBox is to redesign the buying process from the ground up — to show that software buying doesn’t have to be sales or product-led, but that it can be truly customer-led. The customer is key, after all, so why isn’t buying centered around what the customer needs?

When we first set out to define TestBox and the TestBox approach to buying software, we spent months working with subject matter experts (SMEs), including software buyers, users, vendors, sales reps, and industry experts. Based on what we learned from them, we developed wireframes, created mock-ups, and then went back to our SMEs to find out about what they liked and what they didn’t. We continue to prioritize user feedback to power our ongoing improvement cycles on a weekly basis — it’s one of the most foundational parts of developing a product that is as useful and usable as it can be for our users.

In this post, I’ll share:

  • Three critical challenges in the buying process today
  • Why asking lots of questions and listening is so important
  • How wireframing helps to elicit further feedback
  • How prototyping helps us get a step closer to the end product
  • How this process has resulted in a customer-led buying process we’re proud of

Three critical challenges in the buying process today

Before we began TestBox development, we wanted to confirm our hypothesis and be sure we understood the biggest issues for managers when they choose a software solution for their team.

We spoke with more than 50 people from numerous companies and in every area of the business, including a Head of Revenue Operations, Head of Technology, CFO, Head of Channel, and several Account Executives and Customer Support Managers. They all agreed that they face three critical challenges:

  1. Buying software takes a really long time (three to six months or more).
  2. The buying process feels like it’s out of their control.
  3. There’s no hands-on way to compare software side-by-side, so buying decisions are often based on watching video demos or reading PowerPoint slides.

Question, question, question — and listen

With an understanding of the main challenges, we asked additional questions about the buying process. Our goal was to dig deeply into the buying experience so that we could understand both the pain points and the parts of the process that already work well. We asked questions like:

  • Talk us through how you approach buying software, what are the steps you take?
  • Why is that the approach? 
  • What’s hard about it?
  • What are the things you worry about when buying software? 
  • What would give you more confidence?
  • If you could snap your fingers and it was all magically different, how would you design it?
  • What are the bright spots of the process?

Something we've noticed is that their initial response isn't always what they really believe. It might just be what they think they should say. It often takes a few follow-up questions like “why is that the case?” or “what would your instinct be?”, and deeper probing to get to the heart of the issues. The most important thing during this phase was not to offer any potential solutions. It was all about listening and asking further questions to get the clearest possible picture.

Wireframing our ideas

After we’d gathered all this preliminary information, it was time to develop a high-level idea for a solution that could address the pain points and make the buying process quicker and more efficient. We presented this idea and wireframes of possible screens to our SMEs to get their thoughts and first impressions.

For example, we explained what the onboarding process might look like and asked for their suggestions to refine the process. Here’s an example of what we shared.

You may be wondering why I would share our work with low-fidelity images. I strongly believe it’s the best way to encourage detailed feedback. If you show anything too glossy and polished at this point, SMEs won’t feel as comfortable suggesting changes, because they’ll think that too much time has already been invested in development and that you’re not really willing to make changes.

Prototyping to get a step closer

Next, we built several prototypes of the TestBox solution, incorporating all the feedback we’d received on the wireframes and from our conversations with our SMEs. We wanted to make the platform as easy to use as possible and quickly discovered that the best way to achieve this was by getting feedback on the prototypes from a range of people.

We split our SMEs into two tiers, based on their degree of technical expertise:

  1. Non-technical experts (people familiar with using software, but not experienced in this field). This group was a good venue for testing usability — we wanted to make sure TestBox would be usable and easy to understand for anyone, regardless of their role or job experience — after all, the whole purpose of a platform where a user can invite others to collaborate on testing is to make it easy to get everyone's input. We asked this group lots of open-ended questions about usability, such as: What can you do on this screen? What do you like about this screen? What don’t you like about this screen?
  2. Technical experts (people who are involved in the software sales process, have bought software for themselves, or are managing teams that use software). This group generally has a deeper familiarity with the software buying process, probably has checklists in mind, and has recently gone through a procurement process. We asked this group questions that were more technical in nature, such as: Which of these functions would be important for you? Are any functions missing?

To take our solution to the next level, we also decided to set up our User Council to give us ongoing product feedback. This group includes 10 to 15 people, from CFOs and CROs, to those running learning and development teams for customer help desk platforms, to support leaders. We further divided this group into smaller cohorts and focus groups with diverse members who have different job roles, experiences, and perspectives so that they can play on each other's ideas and challenge one another to think outside the box.

In these meetings, we sometimes give them a login so they can play with the product themselves, or show them designs, wireframes, or a video and ask for their guidance — the content varies week to week based on our priorities at the time. We also encourage our SMEs to talk amongst themselves and bounce ideas off each other to gain further insights. 

From end to end, it’s a very iterative and agile process, with fast turnaround between prototypes, testing, and updates. I find it really exhilarating to hear the needs and wants of our SMEs as we incorporate their input into our strategic business goals for the future. In fact, we continue to meet with these groups monthly to keep those valuable sources of feedback open. 

A new customer-led buying experience — co-designed and validated by customers

The end result is a product we’re extremely proud of. TestBox addresses each of the three critical challenges head-on. What does this mean when you’re buying customer support software for your business? It significantly speeds up the buying process, puts you in the driver’s seat, and enables you and your team to compare software from several vendors side-by-side. But best of all, it gives you an opportunity to use the software hands-on in a sandbox environment, with AI-generated data and use cases that are appropriate for your business, so you can be confident in your decision.

If you’re currently in the process of buying customer support software for your team, I highly recommend you sign up for a free TestBox account and get firsthand experience with Zendesk, Freshdesk, and HubSpot today (with Dixa and Help Scout coming soon).

Sam Senior

Hi! I’m Sam. I’m from a small town in regional Australia and now re-designing the software industry. I’ve been in the US for over 5 years (previously at Bain & Co) and am obsessed with the incredible landscapes. Catch me riding bikes, watching cricket, playing with any dogs nearby, and trying new croissants whenever possible.

TestBox empowers you to have a self-serve, customer-led experience so you can buy new software and feel confident that you made the right choice. Currently focused on Customer Support, TestBox allows you to test out Zendesk, Freshdesk, HubSpot, Dixa, and other products side-by-side. It takes a matter of minutes to sign up and take these products for a test drive. Find out more at TestBox.com or follow on LinkedIn.

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