Zeb Winzenried, Director of Testing Services in Payments at Applause, joins the podcast to explain how organizations can navigate the complicated task of validating global payment flows.
Complexities of Modern Payment Testing
About This Episode
Zeb Winzenried manages the testing request delivery with a global team, helping big companies validate their payment flows. Zeb’s business background and love of technology helps him navigate the challenging and unique payment testing landscape.
(This transcript has been edited for brevity.)
DAVID CARTY: Being a stay-at-home parent is a full-time job, and is sometimes stinky one at that. But that magical time of Zeb Winzenried’s life was also the beginning of his testing career, starting with a few testing projects and eventually blossoming into much more.
ZEB WINZENRIED: I was living up in the Pacific Northwest in Seattle, and I just had my first child born and decided to be a stay at home dad, which was fantastic for us. Love spending all that time changing diapers and watching her grow and become a little person after a couple of years. But three, four years into it, of staying home, I kind of got a little bored. I was twiddling my thumbs and tired of reading kids’ books and only hanging out with kids. So when I was at, actually, a kids’ play group at the library, somebody mentioned this site called uTest, where they could just test various devices they had around the house and make a little extra money on the side. And I was like, I’ve got devices. I’m a nerd. I’ve got a drawer full of phones already. So let me see what this is all about. And I signed up and really enjoyed what I was doing, getting to test and break a bunch of applications and finding some really cool bugs along the way and meeting cool people. I just really liked it, and that’s where my journey began. So from nerd to dad to tester.
CARTY: Zeb found that testing work fit right in with his personality. From a young age, he was interested in learning how things did or did not work, like the time he saved a CD player from a trash heap.
WINZENRIED: I’ve always wanted to see the inner workings of things. My brother once got a CD stuck in his boom box and that’ll probably show how old I am, people are like, CDs? But he got it stuck in there and didn’t know how to get it out and put it on the side of the road to be picked up by the trash man. And I’m like, OK, let me just take this thing apart. I can fix it. And I took it apart and put it back together and realized all the electronics work together, and I’ve been poking around on stuff like that ever since. So you give me a complex problem to try to solve, especially one without an obvious answer, I’m digging right in.
CARTY: Gig-working is common for many people, but not everyone turns it into a career. For Zeb, he found that testing was a thread he just wanted to keep pulling, and he finds the work as rewarding today as he did when he started.
WINZENRIED: The gig economy and just having kind of a part-time work and working whenever I wanted was great. But we talked about scratching an itch earlier, and it really kind of stirred something in me that I didn’t know what kind of career path I wanted to go for. But this felt right. So every day I come in with a game plan, and every day it’s something different. We’re constantly coming up with new, crazy ways to solve complex problems, and every day is something new. I’m never bored at this job, and my brain loves that.
CARTY: This is the Ready, Test, Go. podcast, brought to you by Applause. I am David Carty. Today’s guest is CD player technician and software testing expert Zeb Winzenried.
Zeb is the Director of Testing Services in the Payments and Academy program here at Applause. Zeb manages a global team that helps name brand companies validate their payment flows and what can often be a challenging and unique landscape. When you as a consumer tap to pay for your purchase, whether you’re buying a brand-new flat-screen TV or just a fake mustache, you expect that transaction to process seamlessly and successfully in a matter of seconds. But payment flows are often complicated and difficult to validate in real-world settings. But don’t take my word for it. Zeb, penny for your thoughts?
Zeb, many businesses have poor visualization into their end-to-end payment flows and results. Now, you work with organizations all the time that express these kinds of frustrations, right? So why don’t we paint a picture right off the bat? What is the current state of payment testing and reporting for many organizations today?
WINZENRIED: For many organizations, it’s very slim, especially if you’re a newer company, a startup, or a small online merchant, for example. You might have a very loose relationship with a payment processor or a provider that handles things, but you don’t get metrics back on card abandonment or payment failures. You have no way of knowing what’s happening. So You might see your numbers start to dwindle for your sales and wonder, what’s going on is? It my product? Is it something else? You don’t have those analytics. Some larger companies may, but there’s still kind of a gap between the product sellers and the actual processors, because it’s a really complicated solution. It seems easy as a consumer, that you go in and type in your credit card number, and something shows up at your house. But the web of complexity behind the scenes that a payment has to go through is pretty grand, especially on a global scale.
CARTY: And you just hit right on it. I was just going to ask you about looking at this globally. It becomes even more complicated, right? Looking at this from the perspective, let’s say, of a US-based company, what sorts of additional payment-validation complications are going to come into play when it comes to operating in other countries all around the world?
WINZENRIED: Yeah. Once you start branching out of the United States, you’ll see that it’s a vast world out there, with lots of different variations and lots of rules that you need to follow and lots of expectations that consumers have. So on a global scale, most countries have a lot of card security, for one, making sure that payments are secure, that nobody can actually take your card number and complete a transaction without some sort of extra authentication, whether it be an authentication app or scanning your face for some biometric readouts or validating inside of your banking app, that, yes, that transaction is you. These are all really common things outside of the United States, especially for any online purchases. So when you start branching out, an American might not think of those things when they’re setting up their payment solution. It’s very important to the world, really, to make sure that their payment data is secure. And on top of that, just the variety of payment methods. We’ve got a pretty good deal here in the States with Apple Pay and Google Pay and digital wallets and Cash App and Venmo, all the various payment methods you could use. But you step into a foreign country, multiply that by 10x in some cases, and a lot of those payment methods we’ve never heard of. Well, I’ve heard of them because I like to reach out and test these things, but as a whole, as a country, as a US retailer, you’ve probably never heard of Pix in Brazil or Klarna in Sweden, and these are some of the most popular payment methods that you as a business would need to support.
CARTY: Right. It gets incredibly fragmented when you look all around the world. And all of this is happening in a global marketplace with digital-first customers, right? Surveys show that a significant portion of people would rather create or manage a bank account from their mobile apps as opposed to visiting a physical branch, for example. And we know customers have a low threshold for friction in a digital experience, especially when it comes to retail experiences. They want that to work reliably and without friction, regardless of which of the thousands of device and OS payment instrument combinations that they use. So how important is all of this make payment testing? And do you feel that organizations are really placing enough importance on this task?
WINZENRIED: Yeah. I think this is incredibly important for companies to focus on, organizations, because at the end of the day, you need a customer’s trust. You need to build a relationship with the customer, because there’s so many options out there nowadays. There’s not a lot of monopolies in the retail space, for example. You can go down the street to another store. Specialized goods– there’s a million places online you can buy them. So you’ve really got to stand out and earn your customer’s trust, and one way you do that is by building a seamless payment flow that accepts the kind of payment methods that somebody would expect that you would accept and that just work every time. Because everybody’s had that situation where they’ve gone into a restaurant, and the card declines for some random reason. And you call up the bank, and they think you were out of the country. And so they blocked your card. That’s incredibly frustrating. It’s embarrassing. It’s something that you don’t want to ever happen again. So as an end consumer, you just expect these things to work, and the only way to do that is to really have a broad testing strategy and make sure you’re focused on the consumer first. And when you do that, I think businesses see a lot of success.
CARTY: Now, many companies use promotional rates, rewards programs, and other incentives like that to foster loyalty with their customer base, but these efforts can fail quickly if they don’t work as expected, just like we’re talking about, right? So what are the keys to validating these sorts of transactions? They’re probably a little bit different than the typical tap-and-pay kinds of transactions, right?
WINZENRIED: Absolutely. These can be a little trickier to navigate, but they’re certainly still possible. So I had a customer that had a rewards program that was really focused on getting extra points for anything that was travel-related. Say you took an Uber or you booked a hotel. Those line items in your statement should show up as travel and you gain the necessary points off of those. What they were finding is that not everything was correctly categorized, and customers were complaining left and right. Because a lot of the realizations that businesses come through customer complaints that something isn’t working right. And in this case, we were able to go out and correctly identify what type of transactions were not triggering that travel flag to be able to be eligible for those rewards and making sure that those customers were retained and getting what they deserved and agreed on with the statements.
CARTY: Now, we talk a lot about shift-left testing, shift-right testing, kind of spreading out those different tests throughout the software development life cycle. But payment testing is unique in that the bulk of the work really has to be done in a production environment, right? Why can’t simulated transactions get the job done as a way to save time and resources and reduce a testing backlog?
WINZENRIED: Yeah. That’s a great question. A lot of things that we see where a customer thinks that just because something works in pre-production that it will work in production, and that’s just not the case. Pre-production is almost always done with some sort of prepaid card or a phony card or a test PayPal account, things like that, that are just designed to work and make sure that the integration looks correct. But what we found from years of testing is that that’s just not the case. Once something goes live, a real user is going to be putting their e-wallet in. They’re going to be using their card. And we found tons of failures happen when those changes go into effect. So really understanding that the end transaction can really be completed is critical.
CARTY: So if you can’t shift left because you need real payment flows and real payment instruments, those kinds of things, how should you navigate the time crunch and logistics challenges that that issue creates?
WINZENRIED: That’s a good question as well. I think you should really prioritize timelines on what releases are coming out. If you’re enabling new payment methods, making sure that you have resources available to test as soon as they go live. Doing coordinated testing around those releases is probably pretty critical. I know we have some customers that only release updates 2:00 in the morning on Tuesdays. So we would then make sure we had testers online to be able to test at 2:01 AM to make sure that those transactions would still go through.
CARTY: And there are some types of payment transactions that require a more long-term kind of testing cadence, right? Can you tell us more about those?
WINZENRIED: Yeah. One of the upcoming hot topics and hot payment methods is really “buy now, pay later” where it’s basically an instant credit check that you can decide to split something up over payments, kind of like layaway was back in the day. And it’s a really unique situation where the risk is being assumed by the merchant that end user, the consumer, is going to fulfill and make all of those payments, because they’ve already got the item in hand in most cases. So, really, structuring that out and making sure that different types of payments work back for that. What if somebody wants to pay early? What if somebody misses a payment? Are they properly charged any interest fees in that case, or delay fees? So having a strategy around those lengthy payment options is key, too.
CARTY: So we’ve talked about how complicated payment testing is. The good news is it’s only going to get more complicated in the future. You’ve got cryptocurrency in a strange place from a regulatory standpoint, right? You’ve got digital wallets, BNPL solutions, digital-only banks popping up. How does all of this complicate payment testing in the very near future?
WINZENRIED: I think it just reemphasizes the fact that you need to be ready for anything. So understanding your end-to-end flow, understanding your customers and what they want, and then understanding and having an idea of what’s coming up and what the latest trends are to be able to accurately fulfill those is another key item of the payment testing. You’re right. These digital banks are popping up left and right. E-wallets are the new craze, “buy now, pay later,” doing everything from a mobile device, whether it’s Apple Pay and something that’s kind of ingrained in everybody’s minds or something completely new. This is all just a part of the ever-changing landscape, and you’ve got to be prepared.
CARTY: Another example are wearables or voice-activated systems, right? Even the inputs here are changing.
WINZENRIED: Oh, absolutely.
CARTY: How can organizations validate those sorts of non-traditional forms of digital payments?
WINZENRIED: So, yeah, they should certainly have a strategy in mind for testing those types of situations, whether it’s a mix of payment testing and IoT where you have a speaker device that you would input and generate a transaction from, or you’re scanning your watch on the subway to pay your metro bill. These are all still payment testing and customer journeys that need to be explored.
CARTY: OK, Zeb, final sprint questions here. First, what is your definition of digital quality?
WINZENRIED: Digital quality is just having an experience that a customer feels welcome in and enjoys and is simple and easy to use.
CARTY: What is one software testing trend that you find promising?
WINZENRIED: I think a mix of manual functional testing and automation together, hand in hand, to cover all aspects of a test flow are what I would recommend for that.
CARTY: What’s your favorite app to use in your downtime?
WINZENRIED: Ooh, favorite app. That’s a tricky question. My most used app is probably Twitter/X, but I just primarily use that to get Yankees updates and watch cat videos at this point. So I guess it is my favorite app.
CARTY: It’s probably as relevant a use for that app as anybody has, so that sounds good to me. And, finally, what is something that you are hopeful for?
WINZENRIED: What am I hopeful for? That’s a great question. This is a lightning round, so I’ll give a quick answer. I’m just hopeful for continued change and continued disruption, actually, in the industry, in the tech industry, because it really excites me to see new things come along, new payment methods, new app types, new ideas. Soon we might be wearing those Apple Vision glasses everywhere we go to interact with each other. I don’t know, but I’m excited to see that. And I’m hopeful that it’s going to be a fun and adventurous journey with those.
CARTY: Well, Zeb, this has been fun, and we really appreciate you joining us. Thank you so much.
WINZENRIED: Oh, thanks for having me. It was a blast.
CARTY: Thank you to Zeb Winzenried for joining us. You can find more of his thought leadership on payment testing on the Applause blog.
Thank you to our producers Joe Stella and Samsu Sallah and our creative team, including Megan Gawlik and Karley Searles. Subscribe, drop a comment, leave a review, or let us know what you think of the podcast by emailing at email@example.com. We’ll catch you next time.