Building a platform that learns.

In yesterday’s post, Erik talked about how Urbandoor is ‘a platform that learns’. I thought I would expand on that today as our team is in Washington D.C. at the Worldwide ERC Global Summit. As our team spends their time introducing the Urbandoor platform to mobility professionals from around the world, they are listening at every opportunity to what the customer’s needs are. A good salesperson isn’t simply ‘selling’, but rather they are starting a conversation and then ‘listening’ with the intention of learning as much as they possibly can about the needs, pain points, and hopes from a potential customer. Armed with that information, they come back to the Product team with a list of needs to improve our product.

There are many ways that a company can learn about what the needs of their customers are and improve over time. For Urbandoor, all of these come back to having Empathy for the customer. While it is easy to ‘talk’ about Empathy, having the ability to truly share and feel someone’s pain or struggle is more difficult than it sounds, especially when it comes to booking a Serviced Apartment.

At my last company, Strava, our software tracked your bike rides, runs, and hikes, and then allowed you to share them with other friends. As Strava grew from just a few users to its current state of 10’s of millions of global athletes, maintaining empathy for a growing user base was increasingly more difficult. In the beginning, it was easy as the company primarily hired runners and cyclists. We used the product all day, every day; sharing our commutes, our workouts, and our weekend adventures. Mondays would be full of ‘we need to think about this’ or ‘what if we added that feature?’. As Strava grew, maintaining Empathy for our customers around the world became harder. The 100+ people working at Strava were not necessarily indicative of our global audience. So we had to come up with new ways to truly understand our users and their needs.

At Urbandoor we face a similar challenge. While our team has a background in software, hospitality, corporate housing and design, we aren’t booking Serviced Apartments on a daily basis. We aren’t dealing daily with the stress and issues that come up when you need to manage complex relocation needs and source Serviced Apartments efficiently. Despite this, we still need to ensure that our team and our platform, continue to learn and have true Empathy for our customers in order to deliver the best possible experience along the way. Below I’ll talk about three very different ways in which we address this at Urbandoor and continue to hold ourselves to a high standard of Empathy.

Customer Feedback

Our sales and platform success teams are constantly listening.  After each phone call, meeting or interaction, they are gathering feedback and trying to determine signal through the noise. The wrong thing to do is to build everything that every customer asks for. Our process is to synthesize this information and make calculated decisions on what to work on next. One way we track this internally is through a #Slack channel called #personas. Anytime someone has a phone call, meeting, interview or interaction that yields an insight, they post it in this channel for the entire company. We use hashtags “#” to be able to search for groups of customers like #mobilitymanager or #provider.

This process gives us a real-time, searchable index of feedback that our product team can look to when they are making decisions. Whether it be for prioritization, feature selection or when trying to solve a complex user interaction, this #Slack channel is a key resource for the entire company.

As an example below is some input I received at a BAMM conference and a dialogue with our lead UX designer making sure he understood the insight.

Data. Data. Data.

Data is at the heart of everything we do. When you sign in to Urbandoor, your interactions with our software tell a story. Data makes it easy to aggregate interactions and see how our customers are using our platform. While everything is anonymized, we can still look at interactions across our users and learn from every click and search. We merge these analysis using tools like Google Analytics, MixPanel and Intercom and we merge these into our applications with Segment, which simplifies integrations. This suite of tools gives us the ability to track interactions across our apps, and throughout our users’ transactional cycles.

QA Parties

To ensure that the entire team is intimately familiar with our platform, and also to improve the quality of our product, we have regular quality assurance or  ‘QA Parties’.  This is something I’ve done at previous companies and it’s a great tool for bug finding and company culture. Here’s how it works at Urbandoor:

We’ll take the entire company and set up a testing process. Because we are a marketplace, our transactions actually include three parties: The Customer making the booking, The Provider, delivering the serviced apartment, and the Guest, who’s actually staying in the apartment. We divide the company into three groups and test the complete cycle. One team (Customers) makes booking requests, another team (Providers) responds to those requests, and the third team (Guests) confirms the bookings. Again here we use #Slack to post bugs and issues we find. You can see below that the activity level in that channel is quite high during our QA Party.

The outcome of this is threefold:

  1. We make sure that the entire company is deeply knowledgeable about all aspects of the product and can actually feel the issues and frustrations that our Customers, Providers, and Guests might feel.

  2. More eyes = more likelihood we’ll find hidden issues. We offer an internal ‘bug bounty’ reward for the team member who finds the most significant bug.

  3. We build on our culture of teamwork and Empathy while having a little fun. You can imagine that with the entire company rallying around this, some laughter ensues...

This cycle is an exciting part of developing a product - releasing, getting data, QA and market feedback, and then taking that feedback to make updates to our product. Then the cycle repeats. It never ends and it’s this process of continual delivery, discovery, and improvement that drives us at Urbandoor.