In many R&D organizations the QA takes the role of the Customer Advocate, testing the system and even arguing in favor of fixing defects based on their internal perception of how customers use the product.
In some companies Test Engineers even take the role of Users during Internal Design Reviews.
Why does this happen?
Your guess is as good as mine but I think this is an issue of perception.
If testers already have an end-to-end perspective of the system, and they take the role of users when testing the product, this makes them good customer advocates, right?
If most testers have never even talked to a user, how can they advocate for them???
I think that QA is a good candidate for internal Customer Advocate, as long as we make sure they have the tools and experience to fulfill this role.
There are at least 3 ways to provide our Engineers with the knowledge and experience required to represent Users.
1. Place them closer to users within the Organization.
Do this by letting them take part of Customer Support activities and by supporting sales teams during pre-sale cycles, it can be as simple as instructing the Engineers to talk and learn from these customer-oriented organizations about the main needs, pains and comments coming from field.
2. Take Engineers out into customer facing activities.
For example, by sending them on-site to work with customers on complex installations or advanced implementations of the system. Another good opportunity is during Beta Programs, Customer Trials, or any other activity where the R&D interacts with users face to face (preferably on-site).
3. User conferences
Not all companies have them, but if you do this is the easiest way to gain access to a big number of users.
During conferences it is important to have an effective way to interact with the users, you can do this by arranging meetings up-front (with the help of the sales or support teams) or even by setting up a Demo Area where the QA can demonstrate the new or up-coming functionality.
At the end of the day the QA needs to take the role of Customer Advocate, there’s no way around it. If so, it is important to let your engineers do this right, by giving them the tools and knowledge required for this task.