Lessons in understanding a two-sided marketplace

A UX study of Thumbtack’s customer app experience

Photo cred: Aral Tasher

My Story

I’ve taught yoga on and off for the past couple years. Earlier this year, a friend suggested I use Thumbtack to attract new customers. Thumbtack is an app that connects people who need to accomplish a project (Customers) to service professionals with the skills to accomplish it (Pros).

The sign up process was simple, so I eagerly filled out my profile with reviews from past students, and in no time, I started sending out custom quotes to students interested in practicing.

And I waited. And sent more quotes.

And waited.

After researching best practices on Thumbtack’s FAQ, I found out my quotes and response time were relatively average. I set out to investigate if something was missing in the connection between Customers & Pros in Thumbtack’s user experience or if I (gulp) was the problem.

tl;dr: In an age of filters and on-demand results, the Thumbtack process was unfamiliar to first-time users who were expecting an immediate list of Pros filtered for their needs. This was quickly amended, though, by the Professionals’ lightning responses and excellent customer service.

Design Process

I used IDEO’s Human-Centered Design and Lean UX philosophies to figure out opportunities for connection between Thumbtack’s Customers and Pros.

Empathize

I decided to focus on the Customer user experience to explore insights I may not have had as a Pro on the app.

Thumbtack’s Values

Thumbtack has revolutionized the hiring model to give more power to Pros. Their website is full of Pro success videos and their marketplace model is built on the foundational idea that everyone has value to give. The process looks like this:

  1. Tell Thumbtack what you need through a form
  2. Review 5 free quotes from Pros within 24 hours
  3. Hire the right Pro for you

This makes sense because Thumbtack’s financial model is driven by Pros buying “credits” to send out quotes instead of taking a service fee, so Pros are their main revenue stream. It’s brilliant.

Usability Testing

I tested the customer experience of needing to hire a Pro for a specific service with six first-time users.

Define

Synthesize & Analyze

I first synthesized and analyzed key insights from the six users. I then categorized these insights into 8 major themes.

To prioritize values and risks, I placed the major pain points on a 2x2.

This research clarified a couple major pain points for customers based on a common theme: Customer expectations did not align with results.

Pain Point #1

“This is frustrating having to wait 24 hours for any results.”

Pain Point #2

“Oh, I was expecting to see a list of people who fit my needs after this form.”

In an age of filters and on-demand results, the Thumbtack process was unfamiliar to first-time users who were expecting an immediate list of Pros filtered for their needs.

Here is Thumbtack’s current task flow outlining major user pain points.

Current Task Flow to Hire Pro (red squares outlining major pain points)

Ideate

How might we solve these Customer pain points while also sticking to Thumbtack’s core values?

Pain Point #1

“This is frustrating having to wait 24 hours for any results.”

Solution: Give customers a walkthrough (step-by-step instructions) before they spend time filling out the form to align expectations and reality.

Pain Point #2

“Oh, I was expecting to see a list of people who fit my needs after this form.”

Solution: Give users more autonomy in the decision making process, keep custom quotes, while keeping Pros with the power in projects they quote.

Here is the solution task flow outlining solutions to user’s pain points.

Solution Task Flow (green squares outline possible solutions)

Prototyping Possible Solutions

Here are my first proposed prototypes to solve user pain points 1 & 2.

Solution #1: Give customers a walkthrough (step-by-step instructions) before they spend time filling out the form to align expectations and reality.

Solution #2: Give users more autonomy in the decision making process while keeping Pros with the power in projects they custom quote.

Validate

While validating my solutions, I received some humbling feedback:

  1. Users were expecting to take action after each page in the walkthrough.
  2. Users were still unsure of progress throughout form.
  3. The purpose of the “Pro” tab was unclear.
  4. Users weren’t sure of the differences between the Pro tab and Project tab.

With these new insights I knew I needed to simplify. Here are a few iterations based on user feedback.

Try Hiring a Thumbtack Pro in my full clickable prototype.

Changes

  1. I changed the walkthrough to a single explanation screen
  2. After the form, users are sent to their Project tab and prompted to Pick their favorite Pros.
1 & 2

To simplify the experience, I took out the “Pro” tab and added it under Projects. Users now only have two options formatted into a slider.

  • Pros: Users can browse Pros based on ratings & number of stars.
  • Quotes: Users can see their custom quotes from their favorite Pros.
3 & 4

Conclusions

The ultimate question in this experiment turned out to be:

“How do we better connect Thumbtack’s service professionals and customers while keeping the power in the hands of professionals?”

People don’t mind the custom quote system in exchange for high quality service, they just need to know about it ahead of time. It’s much more difficult to establish a marketplace connection if the customer is expecting a different result after they put valuable time into a detailed form.

People today expect access to full information. I think that giving users more autonomy in who they hire would help close the empathy gap between Customers and Pros. This system also gives Professionals more confidence in their business by getting inbound requests from users.

After working on this case study, I’ve concluded I wasn’t hired because of the number of quotes I sent and the quality of my service. The professionals who responded in usability testing were on top of their game with quick response times, personalized messages, robust profiles, and a genuine desire to help. They’re the real Thumbtack champions. It’s time to step up my game.


Note: I am not affiliated with Thumbtack. This is a personal project. In hopes of understanding both ends of this marketplace, I offered to take the Pros that responded out for coffee for usability tests. More to come!