- Oct 2020
- 5 mins read
What we learned onboarding 2 million home and apartment owners on Booking.com
Walkthroughs, guided tours, a popover here and there. These things usually come to mind when you think of onboarding. But onboarding can be an ambiguous concept. It means different things to different people. As a result, it has developed in a number of different directions as digital products have developed over time. Some of these directions have been informed by data — most by gut-feeling.
In this article, George (UX Copywriter), Jorden (Product Manager) and I will talk about how we used onboarding methodologies to help over 2 million property owners become successful on Booking.com.
All three of us started working at Booking.com two years ago, in a team tasked with onboarding new property owners. These were usually homeowners that wanted to rent out their place. We saw from data that a lot were likely to leave Booking.com within their first three months. With property owners leaving so soon after they had signed up, it was clear something was going wrong during their onboarding period. We’ll talk about a few of our mistakes and successes as we tried to improve their experience — and what this taught us about onboarding.
Our biggest successes
Replacing generic walkthroughs with contextual onboarding flows
When a property owner signed up to Booking.com in the past, we would show them a long, detailed tour explaining every part of the interface — much of which they might never use. However, we saw that the majority of users were skipping the entire thing. So we removed it through a blackout experiment. In doing so, we saw that more users were completing the tasks that they needed to concentrate on at this point in their journey and fewer were calling customer service.
The tour was created to help property owners, but it was showing them too many features that they didn’t need at this point and distracting them from some high priority actions.
Those app tours with 3 steps and beautiful, animated illustrations might look great, but to be effective, you have to boil them down. Only show the things your user needs to know at this point in their journey. Research what’s stopping your users from getting what they want out of your product. Then look at what you’re currently trying to help them do and how you do this.
Get as much data on your onboarding flow as you can. Measure how many of your users start it. How many drop off. Where they drop off. And what the ones who complete it do differently once they’ve seen that success screen. And finally, how long it takes any of these users to leave your platform.
Then, be brutal. Cut anything that isn’t necessary. Keep things short and to the point. Instead of overloading them with information that isn’t relevant, use your flow to help users find the value of your product on their own, as soon as they can.
Prioritising actions based on your user’s needs — not your own
New property owners used to land on a dashboard full of competing features — not all of them relevant to them at that time.
In the end, these competing features, with their different aims, only achieved one thing: they exposed our partners to all our different teams at Booking.com and the various problems they were all trying to solve. New partners didn’t need these problems solved at this point. The information was important but not at this point. They just needed to know what would help them get their first guest.
So we called property owners that left us in their first three months and tried to find what part of their experience caused them to leave Booking.com. This could have been something like a guest cancelling a reservation, or the property owner not receiving bookings at all.
Not getting bookings stood out as the one event that was most likely to make new property owners on the platform turn away from Booking.com. And it makes sense. It’s the reason they join.
Next, we looked at property owners who got their first booking quicker than others. We looked at what they were doing right when it came to setting up their property on our site. This included things like the photos of their place, their price, and how their calendar was organised.
To make sure we were on the right track, we organised a focus group with home and apartment owners. We showed them a list of actions that we thought would help them get their first booking quickly. We asked them to prioritise these actions based on what they thought they would need to do the most in their first days.
Prioritised actions in hand, it was time to cut anything new partners didn’t need to see. If it didn’t get them their first guest and stop them from leaving our platform, it had to go. We built a checklist of five tasks that helped property owners welcome their first guest. Then when we implemented this set of actions, we measured everything. Every booking, click or interaction we thought was relevant.
Within a month of starting our A/B experiment, we saw conclusive evidence that we were helping new partners get their first booking faster. Our experiment tool directly links to our customer service centre, so we could see the impact our changes were having on the number of calls and emails we were receiving every day. New partners that went through the new, simplified onboarding flow were calling us less.
Our biggest failures
It’s useless showing relevant tasks if users aren’t motivated to complete them
One of the most important tools for new partners is their calendar. This is where they pick which dates guests can book and decide how much they will charge for these bookings. At this point, we thought the welcome screens for the flows should sum up the skills that we would teach new partners in the following steps. So for the calendar, we listed all the terms that the flow would cover and the actions new partners could take on that page.
However, we were seeing that a large amount of potential partners would drop out of this flow on the welcome screen.
Experiment 1: Removing the secondary button (skip) from the modal.
At first we tried to encourage property owners to complete the flow by removing one of the skip buttons on the welcome screen. This increased the number of new partners starting the onboarding flow by over 10%.
Experiment 2: Changing the copy to clarify what the user will get out of it.
As a follow up, we changed the copy so that it focused more on the benefits to the property owner if they completed the flow. Mainly, how learning to use the calendar would help them get bookings that suited them and how it would save them time in the future. These were benefits that both experienced and first-time partners stood to gain. Describing these benefits increased motivation to start the onboarding flow, and we saw an increase of around 50% as a result.
This shows how important it is to get the right balance between design and copy. It’s great having a product that helps our users — but if they don’t understand why they should use it in the first place, it will never be truly effective.
To us, onboarding is the process of finding out what is important to our users when they first join our platform, and helping them to achieve these goals. Put simply, we have to show them what they need to see, at the time they need to see it.
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