Custom Application Development

Jun 13 2008   12:26AM GMT

Beta Testing – A True Story

SJC SJC Profile: SJC

On a visit to my chiropractor today I heard a story that I found simply amazing to believe, yet I have to believe it as I was witness to some of the “events” a few years ago – and I remember them well!

It seems that some 6-8 years back my chiropractor (always on the lookout for a “good” deal) was in need of software to handle her business – appointment scheduling, billing – the “usual” stuff for a small practice.  I remember this period as I had been shaking my head on more than one occasion as her employee struggled with the system that was being used.  I also remember her excitement that she had ordered a new system that was really going to be much better than what she was using – and she couldn’t wait until it got installed so that she could address some of the “issues” she’d had with her existing system.

Well, making a long story short, let’s just say that it was a LONG time before improvements were noted by this loyal patient of hers.  She struggled seemingly at every turn – reports didn’t work properly, things didn’t balance – just an apparently endless array of “issues” with this new system that was supposed to solve so many of her problems.  “User friendly” was not how she described her new system at the time.

Interestingly enough, today after I commented about “…good thing your computer system is user friendly…”  (her new office person was struggling with some entry is what prompted my remark) — she asked me if I remembered all the problems she used to have with the system?  (I acknowledged that I indeed did!).  At that point in time she told me “…I really didn’t understand what being a beta tester really meant!  They gave me deep discounts!…”

Indeed they should have given her the software for free from my perspective — her beta testing was more like an alpha site – only she was running live!  I chose not to ask her if she would buy into a beta testing again.

However, what I took away from this today was that if deeply discounted pricing is provided to a customer in return for being a beta test site — the developer had better convey VERY clearly to the customer just what it means to be a beta test site for them.  It seems that in this case the expectations were not clear – the result appears to have been that the 5 years of high employee turnover, retraining, and resulting frustrations and inefficiencies probably cost a great deal more than paying for a proven product would have been.

Of course, I could be wrong!

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  • Suzanne Wheeler
    It's great to see this aspect of software creation brought to light! I worked for a company who beta tested for free to 3 sites, out of over 3000 customers, and then sold the resulting package for full price even though it was not completed. The beta test was 3 months long, at most. The full price package had many features that intentionally did not work because they weren't finished yet. They released weekly updates as code was completed. That was my greatest adventure in customer support for trying to keep customers happy.
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