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End of tenancy experience redesign: negotiation

My contribution: organising and leading workshops, researching, creating wireframes and prototypes, conducting usability testing sessions, handling assets to developers.

Overview

Flatfair is a deposit alternative provider for renting a property. Instead of paying a traditional deposit worth 5-6 week's rent, with flatfair tenants pay a small, one-off check-in fee worth one week’s rent. After the tenancy is over, the landlord or agent has the possibility to submit charges against the tenants for any damages done during the tenancy. Once the agent or landlord submits all of the charges, the tenants are liable to negotiate the amount or agree with all of the charges and pay. If the charge can't be resolved, they may raise a dispute directly through flatfair.

I was re-designing flatfair charges negotiation experience between tenants and landlords or agents (depending on who is managing the property).

Why is this project important for users?

End of tenancy experience can be very stressful for both tenants and agents.

For tenants: It's a once in a tenancy experience. The smooth end of the tenancy charges process helps to build trust with the tenants. This could be the reason for tenants to choose flatfair again and spread positive feedback to their friends.

For agents: Most of the time agents are managing properties let by flatfair and they have to go through the negotiation process quite often. Having a quick and easy experience could save time and encourage them to sell more products to their clients.

For landlords: Build trust in letting their properties deposit-free.

Goals

  • Increase the percentage of agreed charges. Make the experience of negotiating and paying for charges as stress-free as possible and fair to both sides.

  • Decrease average flatfair's liability size. The bigger the amount of the charges - more flatfair risks to cover if tenants don't pay.

  • Decrease the amount of time that the customer support team spends on dealing with the questions regarding the negotiation process.

  • Decrease the percentage of adjudication (third party resolution when parties don't agree). If landlords and tenants can agree without third parties - it usually results in a quicker, smoother and more pleasant experience.

Initial research & workshops

In order to create a new experience, we had to analyse our current flow.

1. I tested our current charges creation flow, took screenshots and mapped all of the experience on Miro.

2. I gathered all of the customer feedback about the end of tenancy experience from the customer support team.

3. I analysed relevant data on Metabase and Hotjar recordings

4. I organised the workshop with the end of the tenancy team to analyse our current flow and gather current pain points.

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a) Current user flow

5. I also organised a second workshop with the main stakeholders to discuss our current pain points and brainstorm a few possible solutions.

6. I researched examples from the competitors and other companies that could be beneficial to this project.

 

Pain points and hypothesis

  • The low open rate for emails sent to tenants about submitted charges for their damages. The charges team have to chase users if there is no response.

  • Tenants and landlords don't know their rights and responsibilities. Since the end of the tenancy comes after a while when the tenancy starts and tenants/landlords are being familiarised with all of the terms and conditions, contracts, etc. It's easy to forget your rights and responsibilities. It makes it easier for any of the parties to start taking advantage of one another with or without knowing.

  • The terminology/copy used in the emails and flows is too complex for some of the users. During the interview with the customer support team, we found that some of the copy is often misunderstood or users need some extra information in order to understand it correctly. It creates frustration for the user and increases work for customer support.

  • Some users don't understand how to negotiate. Currently, it is way easier to Accept the charge than negotiate because you have to go to the details page in order to negotiate. There is no information on the page on how to start the negotiation. Some users have to reach out to customer support to find out how it works.

  • Some users accept the charge by mistake. There is no way back if the user accepts charges by mistake and it creates frustration for some users and more work for customer support when trying to solve this issue.

  • Users don't know what are the timelines for negotiation. We only mention the timelines in the emails and with the open rate being quite low - some of the users don't get this information or simply forget.

  • Some users don't understand why they can't pay once agreed with one charge. Currently, users can only pay after agreeing with all of the charges due to complex accounting and legal processes. However, there is no explanation on the flow other than the "Awaiting other responses" status that some of the users mistake with the button.

  • Hypothesis 1: By reducing the negotiation time - we would increase flatfair's debt recovery rate (proven wrong).

  • Hypothesis 2: By reducing the amount of counter - we would increase flatfair's debt recovery rate (proven wrong).

  • Hypothesis 3: By making sure that users understand how to negotiate - we would decrease the number of cases going through the adjudication process (third party dispute resolution).

  • Hypothesis 4: By notifying guarantors about submitted charges and the negotiation process we would increase the percentage of paid charges.

  • Hypothesis 5: By making the evidence when negotiating mandatory - we would increase the percentage of paid charges.

Solutions

Based on the above problems identified, I worked on addressing them by coming up with potential solutions:

  • Introduce sms notifications in addition to emails in order to increase the open rate and reach more users. Various sources report SMS open and response rates as high as 98% and 45%, respectively — in contrast to corresponding figures of 20% and 6% for email.

  • Make sure that users get enough information to choose the right action for their specific case by using a clear "human language", adding additional notifications, descriptions and tooltips.

  • Create a clearer visual form hierarchy by grouping related fields.

  • Make sure that users know where to find the button for negotiating.

  • Make accepting the charge by mistake more difficult by adding an additional modal.

  • Make making mistakes more difficult for the agents by blocking them in the flow if necessary, showing clear error validation messages and guiding with notification boxes and tooltips.

  • Add the timelines for negotiation.

  • Show the summary of all of the charges.

  • Remind the agents/landlords to upload check-in and check-out reports in case they are missing.

  • Make sure that users have access to common questions about the end of tenancy with flatfair without contacting our customer service by guiding them to the help centre.

Design process

1. User flows. I worked on user flows to make sure that all of the new documents and required steps are included in the new flow. I gathered feedback from the product team and the main stakeholders.

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b) New user flow

2. Basic wireframes. I quickly created some basic wireframes to establish the layout. I started with mapping all of the different states that users could be in during the negotiation process and then created loads of options for the potential layout to display charges. After choosing the layout, I gathered feedback again this time including some developers.

3. High fidelity mockups and prototypes. I started working on high fidelity mobile and desktop mockups to establish a visual hierarchy and layout for a new end of tenancy negotiation experience. I started by creating loads of options for the potential layout to display separate charges. I chose to display them as separate cards and created different states for these cards. After several feedback loops with the main stakeholders and product team, I iterated on my flow and created the final version to test with the users.

Old experience

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New experience
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c) Full new desktop experience

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Testing

I conducted 5 usability testing sessions with potential tenants to learn if the user is able to understand how to accept and negotiate charges using the new negotiation flow.

The overall impression was very good. Users were able to accomplish their tasks quickly and efficiently. Actions were clear and they didn't need to think for long before choosing the right action. Users liked the minimalistic layout, felt guided through the whole experience, told that the whole process is very straight forward and the app is easy to use. Few people mentioned that they liked separate sections for "Pending your action", "Pending landlord action" and "Agreed". Few users mentioned that the mobile experience is very mobile-friendly.

Improvements
  • Copy and educational elements should be improved. Few users told that email copy is too long and too abstract and sometimes the action button is hard to find. Some of the modal copy felt threatening and some of the information regarding the payments was missing. Also, since the adjudication process is unfamiliar to the tenants, they need to be reminded and educated about it. Solution: Reviewed the copy with the copyrighter and our trainer to make sure that the communication is easy to understand and consistent throughout the whole flow.

  • Lacking instant feedback. Some users were lacking instant feedback about their actions after "Accepting" or "Negotiating" the charge. Some of them didn't notice their charge moving to "Agreed" after accepting it. Solution: I added the empty "Agreed" state that is being shown straight away after opening the screen. This way users will be familiar with this section before starting the negotiation process. Also, we have to create a new instant feedback component that would appear on the screen after "Accepting" or "Negotiating".

  • Timers/Expiration dates are not clear enough. Few users mentioned that they didn't understand what the expiration date is referring to and what they have to do in order to avoid the consequences. Solution: updated the copy of the timer from just showing the "X days left" to also adding what's going to happen after x days. Example: "You have X days to respond or charges will be accepted automatically."

  • Having a status box could be unnecessary for the tenants. While talking to the users, it didn't look like the "Status" box was needed to complete any of the actions and only created more visual noise (it doesn't exist on mobile). Solution: I decided to remove it from the desktop flow too.

After working on improvements, I prepared all of the files for development and did a final presentation and estimation session with developers.

Outcome and learnings

This project was implemented quite recently, so it will take some time to see how it is changing our user's behaviour.

However, we can already see that:

The amount of time the customer support team have to spend explaining how to negotiate decreased;

We have received positive feedback from agents about the possibility to upload multiple pieces of evidence at once, saving them a big amount of time;

The number of charges accepted by mistake decreased to 0.

Key learnings
  • Start testing early. Since there are some drastic UX changes, testing them quickly without getting too much into UI details could help to early see how these changes are received. Of course, testing the experience with the people who have nothing to lose is completely different from the real tenants with real money at stake. However, if you keep this obstacle in mind, these tests are still very helpful.

  • Document all of the bigger design decisions. In such complex and multifunctional projects, where there are so many different states and dependencies, it's easy to forget why we did one or the other thing. We got better at this in the middle of the project.

  • Involve engineering upfront. Understanding the technical limitations upfront helps to make design decisions.