Conducting research in the hospitality industry | Service design, user research, prototyping

Project: Service Design

Client: Trail app

Sector: Hospitality

Responsibilities: User Research, Expert evaluation, Identifying key issues and priority areas for improvement

The challenge: We were engaged by Trail to conduct on-site user testing and a heuristic evaluation of their platform in order to identify key issues and priority areas for improvement. Over two months we visited the sites of 14 different customers of Trail, these encompassed a range of sizes from single site operations up to large, UK wide organisations. At each site we spoke with employees who were frequent users of the Trail app in order to gain insight into their needs and gather feedback on the service they were receiving.

Intro

Trail is a platform that replaces traditional paper processes for those working in the hospitality sector. Team members access Trail from any device to help them run their operations. From opening checks to cashing up, the Trail app makes it possible to manage and run restaurants, cafés, pubs and hotels whilst never having to fill in a paper form. The app also allows the audit of tasks by management teams, so those at a head office can keep up to date with tasks that have been ticked off.

We immediately fell in love with the Trail team, because it’s clear that theirs is an organisation that understands the importance of customer needs to the success of the business. For Trail, success starts with those on the ground, if people using the service everyday are not happy for whatever reason, then they’ll find reasons not to use it and it will not succeed.

Our research

Central to our research strategy was our ability to immerse ourselves not only in the features and functions of the Trail service, but also in the day-to-day lives of the service users. During the two months of research we visited restaurants, cafés and pubs of all sizes. We interviewed chefs, front of house staff and managers in the places they carry out their duties. We interviewed people new to Trail and seasoned pros, we spoke to those new in their role as well as experienced team members. Understanding daily tasks, mindsets and behaviour modes was our mission!

Immediately it became apparent how different everyone’s experience was, from the busy chef preparing for a lunch service, through to the team leader starting a shift in a London pub. The changes in pace, the number of tasks and the situational aspects of someone’s role meant the management of daily tasks varied wildly from person to person.

Formulating a discussion guide during COVID times

We were very aware that Trail is used in challenging working environments. Staff are expected to frequently switch between taking orders, preparing orders, carrying out health and safety checks, cleaning, managing stock levels, completing administrative tasks and managing customer satisfaction and wellbeing.
In order to help frame our questions and better understand the holistic picture of how staff are using Trail, we focused our discussions around 5 pillars:

By using a combination of interviewing and observing them in their normal work environment, we were able to see how they integrate the app into their work routine. We also gathered more detailed feedback on how they perceive Trail and where they have run into issues in the past. We made sure to keep in mind that all of our research was against a backdrop of a pandemic. In addition to the usual challenges of working in the service industry, considerations such as increased hygiene checks required by COVID-19 legislation, business uncertainty leading to staff shortages
, and a general atmosphere of stress and anxiety due to the pandemic were all very much apparent.

Analysing our research

Once we had completed all of our site visits, we organised, transcribed and sorted our interviews using Dovetail. We combed through each interview in detail, pulled out key insights and quotes, and added them to a Miro board. Looking at all of the insights together in one place, we could clearly see some key themes emerging.

Overall there was a very positive perception of Trail and most users agreed that it improved their working lives, however there were a series of common app issues that either increased stress or caused annoyance for users. Once we had identified these issues we put our ux expertise to use by performing an audit of the problem areas of the app and suggesting improvements that could be made.

To wrap it all up we put together a detailed presentation deck, breaking the research insights down by category with supporting quotes and suggested improvements. Then we presented this to the senior stakeholders at Trail and finished off with a discussion of our key takeaways and the priority next steps for the organisation.

Conclusion

We loved working with Trail on this project. We have done very little in-person research over the last few years due to the pandemic, instead utilising zoom for one-to-one interviews. Getting back to on-site research where we can not only speak to the user face-to-face but also see how they operate in their own space, reminded us how much is added to UX research by being in the user’s environment. You get the opportunity to notice the little interactions and usability insights you might otherwise miss in a virtual interview.

The outcome is a perfect example of the power of conducting research with real users. For many organisations, user research is an afterthought, but in our experience the potential impact far outweighs the additional effort. If you need support conducting user research for your product or service, give us a call! We would love to chat about your needs.

After 4 years developing Trail, we realised we were too close to the product. It was hard to see problems clearly, and we’d lost touch with our users. Furthermore ran a series of research sessions, interviewing users on site and watching them interact with the product. They compiled critical insights into tangible, actionable feedback which our product team could implement. The result has been a significant uplift in our NPS score and retention rates.‍ — Wil Grace, Co-Founder of Trail
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