A French-headquartered multimodal metasearch engine for ground transportation and flights is putting users at the centre of product development with, it says, long-term benefits
It may at first take longer to develop an online travel product or service, but by involving users in development from the moment of conception can avoid pain in the longer term.
Pan-European ground transportation firm Gopili learnt this the hard way. Back in 2012, France-based parent company Kelbillet launched a non-native app that the team had developed internally. Although behind company doors all seemed well, when the product finally made it into user hands the experience just didn’t stack up. And we all know what that means; 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience.
Taking an early lesson from this Gopili decided to take a user-led approach to product development. Says Rodolphe Morfoise-Gauthier, the UK country manager for Gopili: “A poor experience costs time and money and today our strategy is quite different. In every stage we conceive, develop, test; conceive develop test…and include users from the very beginning of the project.”
That’s a big shift from typical online product development which generally takes place in three phases: conception, development, and finally A/B testing (only in this last stage do most companies involve users).
Test, test, test and learn
Gopili’s product development, on the other hand, takes place in five phases. The first four involve qualitative tests, and the fifth quantitative A/B testing.
#1 Mockups: In this phase the graphic designer creates a mock-up and users are presented with different paper screenshots of these. Users may be asked, for example, to point simply to the departure date or price filter.
Objective: Simply to validate that the design is ergonomically sound.
#2 Prototype: Next comes the development of a prototype, essentially and interactive mockup, this time shown to users on a screen. Again they would be required to complete a particular scenario such as entering a travel date from say London to Paris. User actions would be closely observed.
Objective: To validate navigation on the site’s main features
#3 Beta launch: Next comes the launch of a beta version which would involved the same principles as above, with some additional features added – say finding first the price and then a train leaving after a certain time.
Objective: To validate the navigation funnel and detect issues
#4 Going live: Once the app is live, then further tests are done to identify issues with the product. Again users are given clear scenarios to navigate their way through, and are observed while doing so.
Objective: To identify remaining issues or potential improvements
#5 Quantitative A/B tests: This involves a large number of people where A/B tests are done across a range of different devices. These are not done face-to-face.
Tips for testing
At Gopili, user testing of a new product at takes place in five phases involving between 20 and 30 users that last around four hours. Some of the steps taken are to:
Determine objectives and scenarios for each stage of the testing. Establish a hypothesis for each test which must be validated by at least 60% of users.
Find users via various associations, universities and so on. At Gopili they also draw on so-called ‘companions’, people who are already customers and are more than happy to dish out criticism every quarter.
Assign two internal researchers for each user test. One is tasked with asking questions, or giving instructions, while the other observes and takes notes.
Encourage users to verbally explain their actions to give the researchers a clear view of pain points. However, only objective comments are considered: for example, Gopili’s chosen colour scheme is red. If a user prefers yellow, that would be disregarded.
Establish a panel that represents a cross-section of users – young, old, experts and newcomers.
Test across all devices and smartphones.
According to Morfoise-Gauthier involving users in the early stages “may take more time but in the end it pays off because you don't need to fix bugs and you have a better user experience, having started with a high performing product.”
Though hard to measure, this should deliver higher conversions.