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5 ways to listen to your customers

Eye tracking in our usability lab in Amsterdam headquarters. Booking.com desktop usability test

Eye tracking in our usability lab in Amsterdam headquarters. Booking.com desktop usability test

One of our most valued principles at Booking.com is putting the customer at the center of everything we do. It’s engrained into our day-to-day lives, and we’re always wanting to design experiences that our customers love. And this drive towards always creating user-centered design is made much easier by working within a fast-paced experimentation environment. At Booking.com, we have many ways of getting our customers involved directly — daily user feedback reports, usability tests, user research highlights, and even visiting our customers in their homes to see how our products fit into their daily routine. These kinds of sources are our main idea repository when we brainstorm new features or improve existing ones. And as designers, we use this kind of input to correct design decisions, work towards solving important UX issues and improve our products.

Why do we find it so important to listen?

Real people interact with our products. Real people are on the other side of those screens. Understanding what real customers need is the key to improving our product; the customer is king and keeping your customer happy can have a significant impact on your business.

92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising ~ source: Nielsen.com


64% of marketing executives indicated that they believe word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing. Only 6% say they master it ~ source: forbes.com

Think about the last time you had a disappointing experience with a product. How many of your friends knew about it within just a day?

We want customers to always be able to talk to us. We aim to reduce the friction our customers are facing in their efforts to find a place to stay and feedback from our users is a crucial source to find these points of friction. Avoiding friction means reducing bouncing, avoiding drops in conversion, frustration and reduction in word of mouth recommendations.

5 ways we listen to our customers

At Booking.com, we use a range of methods on a daily basis, all with the aim of improving user experience:

  1. Online Survey Tools
  2. Street level user testing
  3. Usability tests
  4. User research
  5. Diary studies

1. Online Survey Tools — concept feedback

Every year, more companies than ever offer online survey tools. They’ve become smarter, better at targeting the right audience and it’s now easier to reach more people with lower implementation costs. It’s an effective way to get feedback at scale from the first day you launch. You can focus on specific parts of the customer journey and run it without leaving the office.

Feedback prompt using SurveyGizmo for Booking.com landers

Feedback prompt using SurveyGizmo for Booking.com landers

At Booking.com we use tools like Usabilla.com, SurveyGizmo to collect feedback from for our app, email marketing campaigns and web products. Those tools can provide high quality feedback (especially for small website improvements), customer journey friction points and interactions that could be improved. Here’s an example of some high quality feedback:

The customer is frustrated, providing excellent feedback about a design element that can be improved

The customer is frustrated, providing excellent feedback about a design element that can be improved

You can’t always expect the feedback to be constructive and usable to improve your products.

Not the most constructive feedback, but an important opinion nonetheless

Not the most constructive feedback, but an important opinion nonetheless

Some of the most popular online tools can be found here.

Site exit surveys (Net promoter score)

Site exit tools let you collect feedback from potential customers who left your product. Customers might need more time than we’d expect to make up their mind, and even if they don’t intend to come back to our site their feedback can provide great insights. Some tools available to try out are Asknicely, Capterra, GetFeedback, 4Screens.

2. Street level user testing

Street user testing is the simplest and least expensive way to get user feedback. You can leave your office anytime with a prototype in your hands and reach out to your potential customers. Inarguable it can be pretty intimidating as you need to approach people and interrupt them from their daily routine, introduce yourself and additionally ask for their feedback. It’s up to you if you can offer some kind of perks when you get valuable insights. From personal experience, in the beginning it was hard to engage the participants to provide feedback. A common mistake was not setting the right expectations meaning if they will need to book a property and if they need to use their own devices. Then with trial and error we adjusted our approach and used the following greeting message:

Hello! We’re from Booking.com and we’d love 10–15' of your time to get your feedback about our website. We’ll provide you with a phone and you don’t have to really book an actual hotel — we just want to see how you use our site and how we can help improve it.

People might easily provide quick less meaningful feedback as a result of wanting to be nice to you or because they probably have more important things to do.

Street user testing is a method we love at Booking.com because no preparation is needed, we have a great park (Rembrandtplein) next to our offices that tourists visit every day and the ideas for improvement have been great so far.

3. Usability tests

Usability tests can provide fast and high quality feedback on your product. The customers follow their natural behavior while the session is being recorded and guided by a moderator.

Booking.com usability lab in Amsterdam headquarters

Booking.com usability lab in Amsterdam headquarters

The success of usability tests depends on many factors, chief of which are the experience of the moderator and the quality of the participants. The most common approach is to outsource the selection of participants to a local recruiting company. Participants are invited into a friendly environment because making them feel as comfortable as possible will promote natural behavior.

If a company doesn’t have an in-house usability lab then this can be a significant additional cost to organize a usability test.

Usability lab is a very powerful tool that we all have access to at Booking.com. During every usability test we work with our researchers to help us extract the best quality feedback possible. A moderation training is essential for everyone that wants to moderate their own sessions. The training is necessary to avoid common mistakes like asking leading or closed questions although extensive experience is needed in order to master the art of moderation.

User testing through remote moderation tools

UserTesting.com allows you to connect with your customers remotely, assign them tasks and observe the results through a recorded video. It’s a great tool to conduct a usability test without having to invest on creating or renting a usability lab. The cost of each video is around $45 at UserTesting.com.

We also use this tool at Booking.com, especially when we want to approach customers in isolated parts of the world where it’s hard to have access to a usability lab.

Neuro-usability testing

At Booking.com, we’re always interested in trying out new, innovative methods of user-testing, and discovering how we can better understand our customers is a never-ending process. Neuro-usability is a way of measuring the Anxiety, Frustration and Excitement of the customer when they interact with our products, and, since this technology is available, we gave it a try:

Customer interacting with Booking.com Desktop room selection. Increased level of frustration

Customer interacting with Booking.com Desktop room selection. Graphs reflecting Excitement, Frustration and Attention

We have future plans to experiment with other forms of neuro-usability tests monitoring the levels of sweating and skin contractions that can be interpreted into meaningful emotional responses. Scientific and rock solid methodologies to understand user behavior will arise as technology evolves and we want to be on top of it.

4. User research

User research produces excellent quality feedback and in-depth insights. It gives you the opportunity to observe customers using the product for extended periods.

At Booking.com we do more than 120 research studies every year across the planet. Each user research focuses on specific personas depending on our business needs and growth strategies. For example, you can’t perform the same research for family travellers and business travellers. As the needs of different types of users are so different, your conclusions often can’t be easily consolidated. It’s incredible to see how differently the customers in China and India are interacting on the same product. Cultural differences change the perception, understanding, and expectations of the product.

Mumbai India user research with primary focus the slow(2G) internet connection

Mumbai India user research with primary focus the slow(2G) internet connection

If you are an observer in a user research session, it is very important to focus on the bigger picture of the product. It is easy to draw false conclusions when observing a user just because your observation is aligned with your initial intentions to refine the product. By observing a behaviour you might believe that your idea is validated by the user.

Every user research session comes with a detailed report accessible to everyone in the company. The report that we mostly use as designers at Booking.com is the Research Highlights.

Mumbai user research highlights. Highlights are separated into meaningful categories

Mumbai user research highlights. Highlights are separated into meaningful categories

5. Diary Studies

Diary studies at Booking.com. Results are exposed for inspiration.

Diary studies at Booking.com. Results are exposed for inspiration.

Our research team at Booking.com performs diary studies as well. Diary studies are a form of a long-term research with the same participants. The participants write entries with their activities, their thoughts and frustrations they face along their journeys.

The results of the diary studies are exposed in a prominent place in our headquarters to provide inspirational ideas for the relevant frontend teams.

The exposure of the results is a great example of feeling closer and listening to our customers. As the issues become personified they become more engaging.

Wrap up

All the suggested tools and methods are effective and work. It’s up to you to start with the most affordable and least time consuming method if you need some proof that it can help you create a better product.

A free trial is usually available to test drive the tools available in the industry. Find the most effective for your product or service and give it a go. A mix of several tools would be optimal but at least some kind of feedback tool should be living in your website or app.

Ideas that come from real customers when using your product are already validated and are more likely to give you successful results. Start listening to them.

In the end, it comes down to this simple question: How can you optimize the user experience of your products if you don’t know what’s wrong in the first place?

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