Pitchup.com

Unlocking value and scale through self-service capabilities

Design strategy, user experience, digital product design

An online booking engine for outdoor holidays, Pitchup.com had gone from startup to Europe's largest provider in ten years. Making the Financial Times list of Europe’s Fastest Growing Companies for a third year running in 2020, the company had ambitions to scale further through their second decade.

  • Brief: Improve Pitchup's client management experience to reduce both client frustration, and account team overheads.
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Role: Design strategy, UX and product design
  • Type: Freelance
  • Collaborators: Lorraine Heller, Content Strategist

Feature bloat and technical debt

Thousands of campsites and leisure parks around the world list themselves through Pitchup. Listings are set up using Pitchup's own client portal - campsite features, rates, availability and bookings can all be managed through this system.

After a decade of organic growth and reactive updates, the portal was suffering from some common legacy issues. Features were sprawling to meet as many client requests as possible. Maintenance was expensive and complicated for the development team, and the user experience had suffered from years of reactive expansion and a build-up of design debt.

"Pitchup knew it was time for major investment in the portal to deliver manageable client growth"

Pitchup engaged me to lead the design strategy, discovery, research and execution of improved portal UX. Working closely with content strategist Lorraine Heller, we would collaborate for 12 months to deliver this important business investment for Pitchup.

Shifting client expectations

Clients were becoming increasingly frustrated by the user experience, which was now falling well below expectations created by travel's big name booking partners. Baseline expectations had risen, and it was time for Pitchup to exceed them in the pursuit of growth and customer satisfaction.

Emerging competition in the outdoor space

Competition in the outdoor accommodation space was also starting to emerge as the sector grew. Pitchup knew it was time for major investment in the portal to deliver manageable client growth and satisfy existing partners.

The cost of a poor client experience

Client dissatisfaction was having an immediate effect on another important group: Pitchup's own expert account management team.

Clients unable to navigate the portal confidently were resorting to telephone and webchat support through the account team. A high cost business overhead, this valuable team were guiding clients through the setup process or completing it on their behalf.

With marginal profit in smaller client sites, this support cost would commonly exceed each small site's projected profit to Pitchup for a year or more.

Not only was this support having an impact on profitability, the complexity of the system meant account team training costs were high. Dealing with frustrated customers could also affect staff morale. Pitchup were keen to openly address this, actively engaging the account team in this project.

Getting immersed in the domain

Spending time with the two key portal user groups would help us build research foundations from which to explore better ways forward. Time spent mapping out current processes and pain points with both the account team and customers threw up plenty of pain points, and highlighted a number of opportunities.

Shadowing account team using the current portal, Top Tasks client survey, mapping the client journey and visiting them on site.

Prioritising strategic aims and tactical tweaks

Research had highlighted area of focus which would deliver the ambitious efficiency improvements the business needed. Mainly focused on making the management of rates better match client's mental models (both in terms of process and presentation), and using familiar language for common terminology.

But there were also less ambitious changes we could make to the existing portal which would start moving the needle in the right direction. Small tweaks to labels, help, and part of the current interface could deliver immediate results and were simple to implement. They would also feed valuable learnings into our more strategic workstream.

Exploring better processes

A solid research foundation enabled us to explore a wide range of solutions to the business problems. Collaborating closely with Lorraine Heller (content strategist), we would work through multiple routes to a better client experience.

"We regularly explored how technically feasible our new concepts would be"

Success would require clients to feel comfortable with portal terminology, the presentation of important data, and the integrity of their work-in-progress being maintained. Working closely with Pitchup's technical team, we regularly explored how technically feasible our new concepts would be given the target timescales, budget, and technical stack.

Exploring better processes, client journeys, and interface designs

Prototyping a new data capture experience

There is unavoidable complexity in the data required to list with Pitchup. Clarity and a comfortably paced on-boarding experience could make capturing this data a less frustrating, and easier to manage experience for clients.

"Big milestones achieved through a series of smaller steps in the design process."

Our ambitious designs needed to be validated ahead of development, de-risking the cost of implementing these new concepts. Early tests showed promise, but our terminology and presentation of rates data was missing the mark - further iterations were needed, and were spun up at speed by working closely with one of Pitchup's front-end developers.

Through a process of prototyping, testing and learning, we arrived at point where we had the confidence to start implementing parts of the new portal into the product. Big milestones achieved through a series of smaller steps in the design process.

On-boarding process concepts and prototypes.

An investment de-risked

The new portal experience is an ambitious departure for Pitchup, and the cost of implementation is reflective of this. It was essential to validate these bold ideas ahead of serious development commitment - not only because of associated time and cost, but the build would also divert engineering talent away from the customer website roadmap.

Validating design decisions

Several rounds of prototype testing with clients and the account team uncovered important learnings. The course of the project was corrected multiple times, each iteration proving a closer step to a viable investment for Pitchup.

"The engagement nurtured a Lean outlook to product development - prioritising learning through every step of the process"

Launching to a target test group of clients in 2020, our work on the portal experience continues as we learn from initial test groups. This engagement not only resulted in design which will deliver on key business outcomes, it also nurtured a Lean outlook to product development - prioritising learning through every step of the process to date.

(Masthead photo by Peter Thomas on Unsplash)

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