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Pocket: Open Homes

Streamlining the inspection process for real estate agents.


RESPONSIBILITIES
Research and competitive analysis, UX/UI design, prototyping, user testing, delivery documentation, and QA.
TIMELINE
4 months (Aug–Nov 2019)
CONTEXT
Pocket is a customer relationship management (CRM) mobile application for real estate agents, powered by Rex. The app—which has almost 3000 monthly active users throughout Australia, New Zealand, and the UK—allows agents to manage their entire workflow from their smart device.

A key element of this workflow is facilitating inspections of properties that are on the market, commonly known as open homes. So important is this responsibility that, since it’s release in 2017, Pocket’s dedicated open homes functionality has become its most frequently used and highest value feature.

However, with user engagement steadily decreasing and a growing portion of our customers turning to a competitor’s product to manage their inspections, we realised change was necessary. Collaborating closely with a Product Owner and two front-end engineers, I completely redesigned the feature around the specific needs of our users.

BRIEF

Pinpoint pain points and optimise for efficiency

After being briefed by the Product Owner, we defined the scope of the project by identifying the key workflows we thought needed improvement. This was based on anecdotal customer feedback collected since the feature’s initial release, which was clustered into two key themes:

“Clunkiness”
T
o complete basic actions—such as editing contact information, sending documents, or recording feedback—agents had to tap repeatedly and navigate between multiple screens, wasting valuable time. At best this was frustratingly cumbersome; at worst it had lead to important details being missed and potential opportunities lost.

Lack of contextual information
There was no way of knowing (without more extensive tapping and navigation) if a buyer had inspected the property before or others like it. Such details are powerful conversation starters and are essential for assessing a potential client’s needs and interest level.

To minimise development effort and reduce build time, we imposed a constraint to leverage Pocket’s legacy component library and use existing UI components and interaction patterns as much as possible. This would also help ease the cognitive load imposed on users when the new experience was shipped.

DISCOVER

Research and gather context

To kick things off, I conducted a thorough audit of the current feature, including counting the number of taps required to complete important actions and workflows. This helped identify where time was being lost, and reducing tap count became a key metric of success for any proposed UX improvement.

I then completed a comprehensive analysis of our competitor’s product to benchmark Pocket’s performance and feature set. Despite the extra cost and double-handling of data (users had to copy any information recorded into their Rex database), it was  apparent that the app’s performance and ease of use was enough to outweigh these inconveniences.   

Finally, I scoured our internal feedback platform and “Rexperts” Facebook group to cross-reference our assumptions with input, suggestions, and feature requests submitted by practicing real estate agents. It was through this process that a clearer picture of our users and their goals began to emerge.

DEFINE

Synthesise insights and identify opportunities

An important part of the property transaction process, open homes are a chance for agents to meet with highly engaged buyers. And like many situations in life, first impressions are critical: they help to build trust and establish strong long-term connections, which are core tenets of the real estate industry. They are also stressful. At a busy inspection—of which there could be several in a single day—an agent must juggle multiple responsibilities, making it easy to feel overrun and overwhelmed.

Buyers queuing at a busy open home

It was this conflict that was the root of the problem we were trying to solve. Agents need to complete a range of tasks—checking in attendees, updating contact details, accurately recording feedback—but want to spend as little time ‘on device’ as possible so as to not appear distracted or disinterested to a potential buyer.

Accuracy and efficiency is therfore a primary concern, and this was where Pocket was letting our users down. It took too long to complete these important actions, causing some to churn to our competition, while others simply reverted to using pen and paper because they found it easier and could spend more time face-to-face with attendees.

This insight helped us to define the project’s problem statement:
How might we provide agents with a frictionless way to manage their inspections so they can maximise their time with potential buyers?

DEVELOP

Ideate and evaluate

After mapping common user journeys and wireframing the supporting in-app workflows in low fidelity, I wanted to test and ask for feedback on the decisions and assumptions I’d made. The fastest way to do this was by sharing the wireframes internally amongst the product team as well as key stakeholders in the broader company, many of whom have extensive prior experience as estate agents.


A sample of initial wireframes

Having gathered as much feedback and critique as I could, the designs then went through several more rounds of iteration with input from the Product Owner, CTO, and CEO. Finally, I rolled out the refined workflows in higher fidelity ready to take to users for testing.


Early iterations in higher fidelity


Evolution of the attendee check-in view
DELIVER

Test, validate, and implement

It was now time to get our ideas in front of real users to validate or disprove our assumptions. In one of the most comprehensive testing efforts in the company’s history, I contacted almost 40 agents, administrators, and principles, and planned and facilitated several in-person and remote usability testing sessions. To test the revised experience, I created a high-fidelity clickable prototype in InVision to mimic what users would encounter in Pocket.

At the completion of the testing phase, the gathered feedback was collated and cross-referenced. The insights gleaned allowed us to identify aspects of the UX that required further iteration and refinement. It also resulted in the addition of new functionality that had initially not been considered but has since provided great value to users and created a richer overall experience.

After documenting the feature end-to-end—including detailed interaction specifications—I worked closely with the engineers to build the production-ready experience. A comprehensive testing and QA phase ensued, and a version of the feature was released as a closed beta to a small but highly engaged subset of our users. Their feedback helped us to further iterate on and refine the feature before it was released to our entire user base, accompanied by a blog article created in collaboration with the Brand and Marketing team.

SOLUTION

A faster, more powerful way to manage inspections

The redesigned open homes feature was thoroughly researched, tested, and documented, resulting in a better experience and smooth implementation for our users. On the first weekend after its release, primary screens were viewed a record number of times, with a peak 70% higher than any previously measured.

Average per-user engagement also increased by 22% in the months following the release, in terms of attendees added and open home “records” viewed. That increased usage trend has persisted to the current day, and while there was a steep decline during the COVID-19 lockdown period, it has since recovered wonderfully.

Finally, qualitative feedback has been resoundingly positive, and suggests that agents who were using our competitor’s application have returned to Pocket as active users. The success of the redesign and the warm welcome it’s received from users is a direct result of it addressing the problem statement in four key ways:

Simplifying the attendee check-in process


  • Search by name or mobile number.
  • Option to quickly create new contact.
  • Most relevant results surfaced first.

All important actions accessible from one view


  • Edit contact details in-situ.
  • Automatically send marketing collateral to checked-in attendees.
  • Quickly record buyer feedback and private notes.

Easy access to contextual information


  • High-level overview of attendee inspection history at a glance.
  • Quick navigation for digging deeper if more detail is required.

Complete actions with minimal tapping


  • Leverage smart defaults.
  • New interaction patterns introduced for better user experience.

REFLECTION

The power of collaboration and unexpected advocates

This project was easily the most rewarding of my career so far, with many important learnings to incorporate into my professional practice. Being trusted with the opportunity to own the process end-to-end and champion a design-led approach—one that puts the needs of the user front and centre—has resulted in a resoundingly successful outcome for all stakeholders. This was due in no small part to the close collaboration that occurred between myself and the development team throughout the project, who were equally motivated to provide the best possible experience for our users.

Another key takeaway relates to planning and conducting user research. In the absence of a dedicated UX researcher, it was my responsibility to screen and contact candidates, who, as busy working professionals, were sometimes slow to respond (or didn’t respond at all). This meant that the project’s process was hampered as additional candidates were located. In future, having several potential test participants lined up will alleviate this bottleneck.

Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, users that you believe are dissatisfied with your product can sometimes turn out to be important advocates. One of the highest-performing agents at a successful local real estate business provided a swathe of robust feedback for Pocket prior to in-person testing. But during our discussion, we learned she is one of the few agents in her office who routinely uses Pocket and recommends others do the same.


CORE TEAM
  • Tom McCarthy – Product owner
  • Siobhan Hockin – Front end development
  • Kyle Tickner – Front end development


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© 2022 Hamish Snow