The launch of a product is only the beginning of its lifespan. Expect months and years of tweaking, developing and changing. Bas Schopman, Senior Product Owner – Connect & Pulse at Booking.com, lifts the lid on the development of the Pulse app and why it has been a lesson in product iteration
The property-management Pulse mobile app, which we launched in July 2015, gives our property partners the ability to manage their reservations in a straightforward way. They receive notifications of reservations, cancellations and reviews, and all the arrivals and departures appear in a calendar.
We started with the Extranet, a desktop application for hotels to do business. Interestingly, Pulse was actually the result of a hackathon project to leverage the power of push notifications, so properties could be alerted to incoming guest messages and bookings while on the go. It grew into an app that partners could use to perform the urgent and less complex tasks. So how do we create a mobile experience for a repetitive user base? We felt that we could create a far better user experience in an app than we could on a mobile extranet.
Adapting to evolving customer needs
We saw that our target base was changing. We have taken 10 years to move from zero to one million partners, and we then moved from one million to two million partners in a year and a half. We began to interact with our audience far more frequently.
Our business was changing, and we had to adapt to it. Originally we started working with big hotels with a lot of rooms – old, established businesses operated by a team of professionals. If you fast-forward, you see that our customer needs and partner base had changed, and we began to see more and more vacation rentals on our platform.
As you can imagine, the expectations of people that have one room that they want to rent out for three months a year is completely different from a team of professionals running a large hotel. These people are consumers as well as part-time hosts of a property. They don’t require unnecessarily complex tooling.
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If you have only one room and only one price, you have a very simple set-up. It’s very convenient to be able to see guest enquiries and bookings on your phone because you most likely have your phone with you at all times. That customer base is very well-served with an app. They also don’t have existing infrastructure. If you look at larger properties, they already have a computer system that they’ve used for some years, so it’s far more established. For newer partners, their interface is far more straightforward with apps.
This combination of mobile-first and a change in partner base led to a significant growth in the use of the app. We started to increase the number of things you can do on Pulse to make it more relevant. About 900,000 properties are now using it, with a high daily usage rate of about 70%. We also see larger properties utilising the app to stay on top of their business, including checking promotions and guest reviews.
Experimentation is key
We get ideas that could come from anything – from the data that we analyse and market research that we do, to the amount of calls we get from partners with recommendations or complaints. We test these ideas and ask for feedback on certain improvements to see if the changes that we made are perceived to be useful. We run a lot of experiments.
Here’s an example. Partners told us that they wanted to be able to verify if a reservation has been paid, and to be able to view credit cards. We then did some research. What makes mobile development different is that everything is so small. You need to be focused and keep things simple on a very small screen. We spend a fair amount of time creating prototypes and beta testing the feature. The initial feedback that we get deepens our understanding of exactly what we believe partners want. Then, given the constraints of what the partner wants and the constraints of a small screen, how do we create the interface? With product development we do a lot of small steps, and these small steps require a lot of time. We also need to find a way to ensure the right sequencing.
The short-term aim is getting the basics right, including developing credit card features and making push notifications more robust. But the cool thing is the process never stops evolving and that’s how it should be.
Don’t forget you can manage your property on the go with Pulse.
Bas Schopman is Senior Product Owner - Connect & PulseMore by Bas Schopman
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