Behind the Curtain: Designing A Mobile App for Home Services

Lawrence LloydJune 21st, 2016

Rob Simon draws a quick sketch on the whiteboard during the Mobile 2.0 design process.

The home services industry has traditionally been underserved by enterprise technology, especially when it comes to mobile applications. Although many admire, and would like to imitate, the simplicity of Apple or the omnipresence of Google, companies operating in the home services haven’t had the same tech-savvy ways. As ServiceTitan explores this uncharted territory, there are some serious questions to address. The answers, it turns out, are often found through customers.

ServiceTitan is passionate about customer experience — whether it’s the service we deliver to our customers through an expanded team, or the service that our customers are able to deliver to their customers. In the development of our latest mobile app, Mobile 2.0, it should come as no surprise then that our mobile product team continuously relied on our customers for feedback to further refine it.

What goes into designing an app for the home services industry? How is it used out in the field? How will it affect business? These are some of the key issues that Rob Simon, mobile product designer, addressed in a Q&A with ServiceTitan colleague Greg Croteau about Mobile 2.0, an app designed for the people, by the people.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how the design team at ServiceTitan approached Mobile 2.0? Rob Simon: When you're designing apps for phones, there's a ton of reference points from which to pull. But when you're designing apps specifically for a tablet or for an iPad, there aren't a lot of examples of great enterprise tablet apps out there that perform complicated functions in a simplified manner. We really had to stretch for inspiration. I think that's why Mobile 2.0 has become such a passion project for our team, because it's completely original.

Technicians in our focus groups looked at prototypes of 2.0 and loved being involved from the beginning. In essence, it was designed by technicians. We leveraged prototyping a lot more in this process than I ever have in the past. We built prototype after prototype for video conferences and video chats. We would actually stream the screens and get feedback from across the country. By doing that, we were able to continuously refine our design into something that technicians actually wanted to use.

Q: Why do you think there haven’t been many great software solutions for the home services industry? RS: I think there's a lot of frustrating software out there, and it's not because it was made by people who are bad at their jobs. The designers simply didn't take enough time to actually understand the problem they were solving. We're designing software to provide a solution to a problem. We design it for a person.

Q: Who is the person that you're designing for? RS: One of our common user personas is a technician that may not be aware they actually need or want our app in many cases — at least until they start using it. They're good at their job, and they've been doing it this way for 10, 15, 20+ years. It's a completely new realm for a lot of these guys when they get handed a tablet or an iPad with a fancy Bluetooth keyboard case. We’re designing it with this person in mind.

Thankfully, the amazing people we’re designing for are used to using tools. The great thing about a tool is that it does one or two things really well. Think about a hammer or a screwdriver: it's consistent and it's reliable. You learn how to use it one time, and every time you perform that task again, it just works. It just does what it's supposed to do. We’ve designed this app from the ground up to be a tool that's that reliable, that easy to use, and that consistent.

Q: As a product designer, what do you wish more people knew about the user experience (UX)? RS: UX is probably one of the most misunderstood acronyms in tech today. It stands for user experience. It's begins with understanding who your customer is and who the user is — an important distinction for enterprise software. By taking time to understand each of their pain points, we can start designing solutions to help them overcome those pain points. The “wow” moment comes when you see a user do things a bit better in a manner that they might not have previously imagined.

Q:__ Technicians are often tasked with heavy-duty work and may not have their hands free. How did that factor into the design?__ RS: We designed this tool so that technicians could just pick it up, look at it quickly, and then just throw it back onto their toolbox or onto their sled. It remembers where they left off so the tech can easily resume and go to the next step. The challenge of having to press a button on the screen that's in this giant thick case comes into account, so we designed our whole interface to be incredibly finger-friendly. Guys with big hands that are used to slogging around eight-pound wrenches can literally hold a tablet in the other hand, press one or two key buttons with their thumb, then throw it back down and keep working.

Q: Let’s talk about the look of the app, which looks like something you’d see in the consumer world. Is design important here? RS: I've been adamant since day one that our software has to look good, because It’s important that users actually want to interact with it. So many iPad apps are consumer-based, and users have been conditioned to see iOS software that generally looks pretty darn good. The better the something looks, the more fulfilling it is for a person to use because it instills a sense of value. And at the end of the day, that's exactly what this app does — it builds a vehicle of value around the technicians’ craft and drives that value home when they present their work to the customer.

Q: Does the visual design of 2.0 impact its function? RS: One of the key reasons this app is initially appealing is a direct result of the visual design. When users are bombarded with a high number of choices, it slows down their workflow because they constantly have to think, “should I do this, or am I supposed to do that?” Great software thinks for you at the right time. The secret is being contextually relevant; present solutions as needed that enable the user to focus on higher-level decisions. We're able to intelligently surface the next best step, the next best option. This means the user is able to make just one or two decisions versus having to dig through the traditional hierarchy of five or six tabs, which all have eight or nine items in each menu, which all trigger some overlay that has five or six different inputs, and so on.

Q: From an owner's perspective, how do you think Mobile 2.0 will have an influence on business? RS: Our data shows that as a shop owner, you make more money when your techs spend less time trying to figure out what to do, and more time actually working on what they're there to service. We call it wrench time. Our app allows a technician to be a technician, and spend less time being an office administrator, less time filling out paperwork, less time looking through price books. This app is a cost-effective digital assistant. Your technicians are simply going to be able to complete more jobs per day.

They will likely generate more revenue per job, because they're going to be able to present their solutions as a series of options that convey a proper sense of value to the customer. At the end of the day, Mobile 2.0 is going to create a better customer experience by helping the tech forge a solid relationship with the homeowner. If we did our job right, that one service visit will result in repeat business that lasts many years because the technician can focus solely on providing an amazing service experience.

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