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Pocket: Open homes


Streamlining the inspection process for real estate agents.


RESPONSIBILITIES
User research and testing; UX/UI design; delivery documentation
TIMELINE
4 months (Aug–Nov 2019)

Pocket is a mobile-specific customer relationship management (CRM) 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 workflow while out of the office.

One of the key roles of an agent is facilitating inspections of properties that are currently on the market, commonly known as open homes. So important is this responsibility that, since it’s introduction in 2017, Pocket’s open homes functionality has been the most frequently used and highest value feature.

However, with a growing portion of our user base preferencing a competitor’s application to manage their inspections, we realised a change was necessary. Working in collaboration with a product owner and back- and front-end engineers, I oversaw the complete redesign of Pocket’s open homes experience which, since it’s release, has resulted in increased user engagement, satisfaction, and retention.


THE PROBLEM

Drowning in a sea of taps


A crucial part of the property transaction process, open homes are an opportunity for agents to meet with highly engaged prospective buyers. They can also be stressful. At a busy inspection (of which there might be several in a single day) an agent needs to accurately capture details about the buyer they’re speaking with—their name, email address, phone number, at the very least—before welcoming the next viewer.

Speed and efficiency, therefore, becomes a primary concern. This is because agents want to spend as little time ‘on device’ as possible while an inspection is in progress. As one of our users affirmed: “It’s all about building strong, long-term personal connections.” This is nigh on impossible to do if they’re occupied on their smartphone.

Tellingly, falling usage statistics and direct (often blunt) feedback indicated a preference for a competing open homes application. “Clunkiness” was sighted as a primary reason for churning off Pocket: to complete even basic actions—like editing a name or leaving a note—agents had to tap repeatedly and navigate between multiple screens. At best this was frustratingly cumbersome; at worst it had lead to important details being missed and potential opportunities lost.

Agents also complained about the lack of contextual information available to them. There was no way of knowing (without more extensive tapping and navigation) if an attendee had inspected the property before or others like it. Such details are powerful conversation starters and crucial for gauging a buyer’s interest levels.

It was clear that a deeper understanding of our user’s needs and a better solution for addressing them was necessary.


APPROACH

Getting started


After settling on the scope of the project with the product owner, I began by conducting a thorough audit of Pocket’s existing open homes feature, which included counting the number of taps required to complete actions and workflows. This helped to identify where time was being lost and improvements could be made. I also scoured our UserVoice feedback platform to cross-reference our assumptions with suggestions and feature requests submitted by active users.

After wire-framing the required workflows and ideal experience in low fidelity, I began rolling out the UI and screens in higher fidelity. To minimise development effort and reduce build time, we imposed a constraint to use existing UI components and interactions as much as possible. Designs went through several rounds of iteration in close collaboration with the product owner and with feedback from the CEO and CTO.


A (small) fraction of the iterations explored


Testing and validation


After settling on the overall direction, it was time to get our ideas in front of users because, until now, I’d only been working from well-informed 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 conducted several in-person and remote usability testing sessions. To test our revised experience, I put together a high-fidelity clickable prototype using InVision to mimic (as closely as possible) the actual experience users would encounter in Pocket.

While all sessions were beneficial, those conducted in-person proved the most insightful. Being able to observe the user’s mannerisms, facial expressions, and tone and inflection when describing what they’re seeing, doing, and feeling up close makes all the difference.

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.


Readying for release


After documenting the feature end-to-end, including detailed interaction specifications, I worked in close collaboration with our back- and front-end engineering teams 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 invaluable feedback helped us to further iterate on and refine the feature before it was finally released to our entire user base, which included a blog article created in collaboration with our 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 smooth implementation for and an excited reception from our user base. On the first weekend after its release one of the primary screens of the feature was viewed a record number of times, with a peak 70% higher than any previously measured. Other key metrics have continued to trend upwards week-on-week, with per-user engagement improving drastically. Qualitative feedback also suggests that agents who were using our competitor’s application have since returned to Pocket as active users.

Below is a selection of screenshots from the feature we released.



REFLECTION

The power of collaboration and undercover 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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© 2020 Hamish Snow