How collaborative experimentation reinvented the availability calendar
Earlier this year, an improved version of the list view availability calendar was introduced on the extranet, having been developed in collaboration with partners through the Beta Programme. Ahead of the calendar’s final roll-out in January 2020, we caught up with Yolaine Petiteau, Product Manager and Majid Himi, Product Marketing Manager to find out more about the project.
Blog: How did the team embark on developing the new Availability Calendar?
Himi: We started developing the calendar with multiple rounds of research conducted among partners and also Customer Service teams. Each time, we learned something new about how to improve the product - and then we would test again. Once we were confident the calendar was solving partner needs, we built the core features and progressed to testing within the Beta programme.
Partners were invited to participate and we let them test the calendar for an extended period to observe reactions over time. This approach enabled live improvements; feedback received in the first months informed changes that were then tested again while the programme was still running.
Products are often developed with small-step changes, but the disruption caused by multiple small updates would not have been successful in this instance. The new calendar required major investment - and if unsuccessful the risk was significant - so we had to be sure we were going in the right direction. The Beta programme facilitated this.
Having a live test environment was also key. We tested static prototypes with partners last year and in that environment, it was hard for them to imagine using it in reality. Mockups are helpful to a point but at some stage, the partner really needs to experience it in action, in the context of active data and live supply management.
Blog: Does this approach impact the success of the product?
Petiteau: Definitely. The number of enquiries from partners who were unsure how to use the new setup was far lower than previous calendar migrations. In the early stages, continuous feedback loops helped us identify any issues very quickly and prioritise fixes before the calendar was rolled out.
Beta testing helps distinguish between the anxiety around change and issues with the product. Something introduced with little preparation and partner input often comes with a dip in satisfaction, but the long-term nature of the Beta programme helps identify what really triggered that dip. Over time, did satisfaction bounce back and how fast? That’s important. If you judge purely on the initial response - which is often based on the change process itself, and no one likes change - it doesn’t necessarily reflect the product impact.
The Beta programme let people talk, review, consider. Then we could evaluate satisfaction in the context of analytics around the product - letting the data tell us if there was anything significantly wrong. This allowed for multiple perspectives and not just the immediate reaction. Partners who tried the new calendar via Beta not only got the handle of it after a few weeks but were ultimately much more satisfied with it compared to the previous version.
Blog: What problems were you trying to solve with the availability calendar redesign?
Petiteau: Firstly, partners found it difficult to update their prices in the old calendar as it required multiple steps. Secondly, it was not always clear whether a certain date was available to guests or not. With the new calendar, we wanted to simplify how partners identified their availability, using simple colour coding and providing clear explanations on the status with recommended actions where required.
It’s the one tool that helps partners understand whether their rooms are available to guests and we know that partners look at these numbers every single day. Really, it’s about managing your supply - what you are selling, at what price and under what conditions. The calendar also supports bulk action changes which make long-term planning easier. Given that it’s a highly operational tool, we decided to focus our immediate efforts on bringing clarity to the information that the calendar presents and the addition of quick and efficient features, so partners can focus on more important tasks.
Blog: What’s next?
Himi: In the near future, we’ll reinforce the new calendar experience with insights that could help partners maximise their supply setup to ensure the best possible visibility to potential guests. We’re experimenting with marking high demand dates that might influence inventory decisions along with indicating the average length of stay guests look for in the area, so partners can decide if they want to adjust their minimum requirements accordingly. It’s up to the partner to decide - we want to ensure they have this information in their hands at the right time.
Many of our partners also use Pulse to review and manage their supply, so bringing all these improvements and insights to the Pulse calendar is a priority. Not only does Pulse offer the ability to manage availability on-the-go, but it will also provide important notifications for availability inefficiencies when we see - so partners don’t have to be tied to their desk.
- The new list view availability calendar simplifies how partners identify their availability and providing clear explanations on the status with recommended actions where required
- The calendar was developed using the Beta programme, a live testing environment that saw partners use the calendar in real-time with continuous feedback loops informing improvements
- Beta testing helps distinguish between anxiety around change and the product response itself, offering a more balanced perspective
- Partners who tried the calendar via the Beta programme found it easier to use more quickly and had a higher level of product satisfaction