Lessons from Europe
Lessons in good and bad ways to interact with your users from a summer road trip across Europe.
Good and bad experiences with apps, services and websites while travelling across Europe remind us to remember to focus on the user, where they are from and where they are when they use your services. Secondly, there is no excuse not to get the basics right in every web app service interaction. Everyone has solved items like sign-up, pay, password management, and translation.
Getting the basics right and thinking about your users can help you improve your customers' satisfaction and tap into the considerable spending potential of people travelling to different countries.
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Here in the Northern Hemisphere, it is Summer, which means holidays. Holidays mean a new set of apps and services to help organise and go on our holidays. We get used to using apps wherever our home is and knowing what they’ll do. As product managers, we think we do an excellent job of understanding our users and providing a good experience.
However, I have had a very different experience planning, organising, and then going on holiday. It offers lessons that we should consider in building and maintaining our products so they work for our customers.
The essence of the challenges are:
Do you know your users, where are they from, and where are they when they use your product?
Have you got the expected basics right?
Let's explore the evidence (both those who missed the mark and those who hit the spot), the challenges this poses for customers and product managers and what you might do to increase customer satisfaction and user engagement.
Gathering the data
The adventure took my better half and me by road, rail and ferry across the UK, France, Italy & Switzerland to the south of Sardinia and back. We have used a variety of websites and apps to plan and book the trip.
We used search engines, two different accommodation booking websites and their apps, two travel provider websites, four additional websites for advice and the purchase of permits for driving in France, Italy & Switzerland and three different navigation apps for directions by car, on foot and by bike. Plus, all the usual apps and websites to stay updated with non-work life.
Airbnb - Finding and booking and then communicating with the owner of my accommodation in Sardinia:
Automated translation allowed conversations between the host and myself when I had questions, and they had information to share. The experience between the web and the app has been seamless.
Waze - Car journey directions
Automated route changes directed us around significant traffic problems in advance, so our journey was smooth and pleasant. The app experience has been great.
RAC - Car Driver Support
Excellent, clear, country-specific advice and up-to-date links (to get all the permits and passes needed for a trip) are what was required.
Not so hot
Waze & Google Maps - Road directions
As a tourist, I want to follow a specific route, not just go the fastest way. When I choose a road, I will want to have control over this even if there is a quicker way - Please take note of Google Maps and Waze. These routed us on significant distances, up to 15km just to turn around!
MooneyGo - Parking app
You needed to deposit to make a payment. (The deposit was more then the parking cost, and I am unlikely to use the balance soon as I am not about to park in Italy again soon.
Strava - Exercise tracking app
Maps that keep dragging you to a route miles away whenever it feels like it while you are trying to check you are taking the correct route on a mountain bike trail.
The NorApp (Exploring the Roman ruins of Nora, Sardinia)
The QR codes the app was designed to scan had faded on the tour, and the online map had no GPS to help you find out where you were so you could understand what you were looking at.
Various - Online restaurant menus
Covid has made restaurants move to online menus; this also helps with more flexible pricing. However, the online menus had to load all the data every time you opened up the browser, making choosing dessert a lengthy experience,
The popular UK website uses geolocation to lock you into the local experience. TopGear, I am trying to look at you here. You send me links to read stories in the UK but direct me to TopGear.It, where the story isn’t posted and even if it did, no translation is offered.
GNV - Ferry Company
The ferry company cancelled the home leg of a booking and then expects us to print the new ticket - Did you pack a printer this summer? - You may need to. 😀
Know your user
I initially observed that these services either understood their user or didn’t.
The accommodation booking company knows there are often language barriers between visitors and hosts, so they take care of this.
Honestly, working in product, this wasn’t a surprise to me. Airbnb has been working out loud, talking about the updates to their product, focusing on their users (hosts and customers) to improve the process, and it shows.
The parking app hasn’t considered that many potential users will be from outside the country in the summer months.
Parking is a business with multiple stakeholders who influence the product offering. Parking apps are add-ons that car park providers contract with. So, the car park owner should be asking providers to meet the needs of their customers, and in turn, apps that don’t win business will shrink in favour of those that do.
The ferry company hasn’t considered what happens to users when schedules change and expects you to travel with a printer!
It was obvious that the ferry company puts a lot of effort into marketing its service and tries hard to make the onboard experience good. However, great organisations make sure that the difficult is easy.
Like many travel providers, your experience starts when you are far from the ferry, plane, or train. Get this right, and travellers arrive in a reasonable frame of mind; make the difficult easy, and they appreciate the effort and will come back because they know you care.
The shorthand for the above examples is to know your customer but take it up a level to consider their situation and location and what language(s) they speak.
To bring this to life, let us consider the ferry company. They will have mainly local users year-round, but there will be many tourists for the holiday season. Those tourists will be booking from their home country. So, supporting several languages is a must.
However, now you want to capture that language as a preference and surface that in your data and website. Using the data, they can then understand their customers' situations.
The second part is to put that data to good use and create a service blueprint to help bring the customer's experience to life both on the happy and unhappy paths.
Not getting the basics right.
My second observation was that many of these services got the basics wrong. They were introducing user friction from step one. They needed to recognise that app, web/service savvy users compare the experience between apps, not just how it was to the previous version.
The parking app encapsulated this; it felt to me as a user that they were comparing themselves to other parking apps and hadn’t compared their experience to other app-based services that their customers regularly use.
Let's look at four problem areas:
The sign-up process - Asking for a name, e-mail and consent should be right the first time every time for everyone now. You should allow for autofill by the device, you should allow for temporary e-mails, and you should allow for a variety of sign-up processes that suit the users.
Payments - We have established payment methods for Visa, Mastercard, Amex, Apple Pay & Google Pay. These are tried, tested and secure. Why does your website/app have a different payment method set-up than the others? These basics keep users on to use your service.
User Names and Passwords - We want to be secure when we travel, so why do the sign-up processes now allow for the automatic generation of user IDs and passwords and let you store these when you do so?
Translation - Browsers and mobile phones of all flavours offer translation tools, but websites, apps and services block these from working.
Again, I want you to check your products for the basics. While you may be happy with your customers' process, they may not be. Ask them if this is better or worse than they expect. For these basics, the standard is so high that when you miss it, it sticks out and will cost you, customers.
But What Can I do?
Some questions to consider?
Does your website/app enable clear communication with the user regardless of the language?
You could provide a translation.
You could build it so that current standard translation tools work for users to give you broader language coverage.
You could use the user's language preference to customise the experience.
Where is the user when they are using your service?
They might be at home in a different country
They might be in your country trying to get info / complete a transaction.
What are they doing when they use your service
Are they trying to get there ASAP?
Are they trying to follow a planned route?
What data do I have on where users are from and where they use the service?
Do the product team and stakeholders review this?
Does my research include these user groups?
How does my service compare to the basics:
Do I offer all payment options
On sign-up, can it autofill
Do I just request the basics to get users going
When I ask for a username and password to sign up, does it securely support password generation and storage/recall of user IDs and passwords?
In short, go with a critical eye this summer and see your experience with services, apps and websites when you engage with them in different locations and situations. Observe how they do the basics and compare your experience across various apps and services.
Then, when you are back and rested this September, think about what this means for your service. And remember, in 2019, the average spend for an intra-country holiday was €702/person/trip, so this isn’t just about scores and ratings but also about winning part of that market; this might just give your service the edge in a competitive market.
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