Kotahi is New Zealand's largest supply chain collaboration
We worked with them to help small importers and exporters book containers for shipping
UX and Visual Design
We worked with them to help small importers and exporters book containers for shipping
These stories always seem to start with a personal connection and again this one is no different.
Matt Wright had just started as the GM of digital at Kotahi - a great win for the team there. He had come from a strong Fintech background and had been given a strong mandate by the board to see Kotahi become a tech company that specialise in moving stuff.
He began hiring top digital talent (including a few faces we have worked with previously) from within New Zealand and around the world. From there he aligned them with the industry experts inside Kotahi to create a wonderful environment ready to innovate on the supply chain.
He had seen what we have been doing in the Finance and Business space over the years and was a fan of the work we had done for many clients.
We were tapped on the shoulder to be a part of this wider team, predominantly in providing some external design thinking and to ramp up some of the execution in development.
The first call went a little like this:
It was our chance to prove to Kotahi that we could apply modern digital thinking within the logistics industry and demonstrate our ability to execute product together moving forward.
Traditionally Kotahi had worked at the top end of town servicing large scale companies mainly in the export market (Fonterra and Silverfern farms being two of their key customers).
Meat and dairy account for a huge amount of exports in this country so without a doubt these two behemoths are a massive focus for the business.
But they were also very keen to help service the smaller importer and exporters who were increasingly enquiring about whether or not they could leverage the Kotahi supply chain.
Here is where an opportunity existed...
How could Kotahi uncover a cost efficient way to help service the small and medium enterprises?
This is where the concept of a personal shipping assistant was born.
Along with finding an opportunity to service a new market segment, Kotahi were interested in having us help them kick-start a digital journey within the business. Matt wanted us to help deliver that, but also have a finished product that could be showcased at their annual customer conference… in three months time. Yeah, we can’t say no to a challenge like that.
Having set a pretty lofty goal with this product, we got to work researching and collecting data on what we knew about the import and export sector in this country and identifying key wants and needs for a customer set. We had relatively limited data to mine so had to go through more of a qualitative approach in order to discover what a roadmap would look like.
Many times our clients have fantastic knowledge to help the kick-off of a project, this was very true for Kotahi and we were pretty keen to work closely with them to use that knowledge. Collaborating with Kotahi and tapping into their industry knowledge meant our thinking and ideas could be challenged and iterated quickly early on. It was great to have them to lean on to help us understand the shipping industry and business. It provided a perfect way to help validate we hadn’t made assumptions or missed key details.
Through our research and by talking with customers we found that the process of discovering and booking containers was currently a very manual exchange via email and often took a number of days to uncover the best routes to then book.
This customer problem became the focus for our MVP and the challenge was to reduce this process from days to minutes and make booking shipping containers smooth sailing.
With this problem in mind we sat down with Kotahi and set out our vision that we would use as our ‘North Star’.
To re-imagine the freight booking process and give small businesses access to a digital solution which streamlines and simplifies their shipping experience.
With a better understanding of the customers and their problem, the team shifted focus to looking at the different approaches that could help deliver value for this customer segment. This meant taking a deeper look across existing digital products and solutions that might help shape and influence our approach.
We were looking for a solution that could help simplify what was a complicated process for customers. What type of product would best suit to take a mix of data entry, searches and comparisons and create a seamless and easy to use experience?
Inspiration started to come from a number of different products including Air Bnb, Google Flights and Uber Eats. In particular, we started to like the idea of a conversational approach. Looking into this area, we started to find some great apps like Lemonade, Quartz and Ada. We wanted to get a better understanding of how conversational apps solved customers problems and if it might inform how we solve ours.
While assessing potential product approaches, we also started mapping out the customer journey for small business owners who import/export goods from overseas to New Zealand.
The shipping industry is incredibly complex, so mapping this also include us having to take a crash course on international and domestic shipping with the help of Kotahi. We now know what a “Reefer” is and how no two countries seem to have the same processing documentation.
Building an understanding of a market or industry is an integral part of trying to build customer empathy, which is key to understanding a customers problem.
The combination of a customer journey breakdown and understanding the benefits, limitations and highlights of other digital products gave us a solid platform to start looking at UX designs. However, first, we needed to plot a preferred direction for how we would approach the design.
This is where our design team got on board and started to get an idea of how we could conceptually tackle the customer problem we had discovered. A concept of what design format to use isn’t always clear up front on a product. Sometimes, exploration of different concepts and what approach will deliver the most value back to customers is required.
For Scout, the team looked at three different design concepts; Simple Form, Fun and Icon Form and Conversation. Our team of product designers and developers combined with the team from Kotahi to came together and find which of these felt the most intuitive for their customers. Discussion is always a great catalyst for iterating ideas and it was great to have a strong relationship with Kotahi that allowed them to provide feedback on our recommendations. This meant their customer and shipping knowledge was kept at the heart of the solution.
These discussions meant the conversational interface approach was chosen for two key reasons. Firstly, it provided a solution that simplified a complicated process. Secondly, it would create a scalable platform Kotahi could easily integrate further products features into. The vision was for it to become a scalable conversation that could start with one set of questions and continue to grow with more as needed.
The support that Kotahi give their customers is amazing. Day in and day out they deal tirelessly with requests from their customers and are a great face for their business.
Our assistant had to have this same approach, but still allow customers to know they were using a virtual assistant. Along with that, the app needed to have a user experience that was intuitive and simple to allow customers to discover their shipping routes, provide details of cargo and request a booking.
Needless to say, our UX designers were rubbing their hands in glee to tackle this problem.
The tough challenge was that we needed to simplify a complex and detailed process so that it worked with a conversational chat approach. Finding the right balance between an intuitive form and an easy to follow conversation wasn’t easy.
We had to consider a number of factors including questions, information entered by a user and the conversational flow. We didn’t nail it in the first iteration, in fact we spent a number of design iterations debating everything from the placement of each component to individual words.
Again, this was were Kotahi’s knowledge of the shipping processes and requirements were a huge help for us. Using their knowledge we could sense-check what we were designing to make sure it made sense for a customer. Through design iterations and feedback from Kotahi, wireframes began to take shape and a product came to life.
As our conversational assistant started to take shape, we began to see a roadblock in how it would be branded. The debate centred around if this product was something that lived under the Kotahi name or if it was a seperate brand that would live on it’s own. Not only that, but what personality and feel should this assistant have?
To answer this we dived into branding workshops with the Kotahi team to create and test different approaches. The challenge here was that this was uncharted waters for Kotahi. We needed to be mindful of how it could influence future products for them and also stay true to their current brand and who they were.
Through workshops with Kotahi we began to distill down a set of brand archetypes and characteristics that felt right for the product.
From those workshops Kotahi decided to create a unique name for the product, but keep it under the Kotahi brand. This certainly wasn’t a snap decision and it took input from across Kotahi and Roam to reach something that felt like it would not only work now, but more importantly in the future. This journey was how we finally arrived at the name of, Scout by Kotahi.
One of the things that can always be tough when creating software is lining up two seperate pieces of work to seamlessly come together ready for launch. To build Scout we worked collaboratively with Kotahi to integrate in their new API’s to provide the data we needed. This tricky process was navigated with constant daily communication and catch-ups.
Kotahi really impressed us in this stage of the project. They didn’t do their work in silo away from us, instead they embraced our practice of constant communication and collaboration. Questions and issues were discussed daily and bi-weekly demo’s meant both teams got to sit down and review the work completed. It meant decisions and work flowed quickly between everyone, nice one, Kotahi 👏
Thanks to that communication and collaboration the API and backend components from both teams came together with the grace of two SpaceX rockets landing simultaneously.
As we reached the final stages of the project, it was full steam ahead! We not only had the final backend, API and iOS development being finished, but branding tweaks, animation refinements and witty conversation being added to Scout. Sometimes, you just can’t predict how a project might finish when it comes down to crunch time.
This did mean everything wasn’t smooth sailing. We faced issues trying to find a smooth animation for our chat interface, finalising key details and getting the transition between chat and user forms to feel right.
Sometimes those small details can really make the difference between a product that frustrates and one that delights customers. We definitely prefer to nail the latter, so we kept at it, trying to nail those final components and details. We certainly could have cut some corners or compromised on details, but we had a vision of how Scout would be and we didn’t want to let that vision fall flat.
In the end the extra focus on the details and a massive effort from the product team paid off. Scout came together as a beautifully designed and intuitive conversational app. Each step of the process flowed simply and took a manual and frustrating task for customers and re-imagined it as a simple conversation with Scout. Scout was ready to set sail.
On the 5th March 2018, after a whirlwind few months of discovery, design and execution, Scout by Kotahi went live on the app store. Kotahi now had a new innovative digital product that would be showcased to their current customers and available to new ones looking for a simpler way to ship.
Scout by Kotahi will provide customers with a new shipping assistant that can help them find schedules for their cargo from over 200,00 port pairs around the world. Using a conversational UX flow, it guides customers through each step needed to create a schedule booking request with Kotahi. It replaces an old and frustrating processes for customers involving multiple emails and phone calls with a new simple digital journey.
We’re pretty excited to see it go live, but we know the work has only begun. We believe great products aren’t finished on launch. In fact, the hardest work starts after launch and the challenge now is to find what will help Scout provide the best value for customers. A journey that has already started in fact.
Working with Kotahi again, we worked to start iterating on Scout to continue building the value it gave customers. On August 1st 2018, a beta pricing feature was added to Scout to show real time pricing on some shipping schedules. An experiment and iteration that we’ll measure and evaluate with Kotahi before we take another step in growing Scout and helping change how shipping is done around the world.
It was great to celebrate with Kotahi as it went live on the App Store. We’re stoked with the result of Scout and to have also helped Kotahi take a step towards their journey as a digital company. The journey wasn’t all smooth sailing, but the end result was well worth it.
Creating a well thought out and intuitive UX design isn't easy. It takes time and persistence to get right. Rush it, and it that creates the risk that you create a product that users don't find easy to use and then it doesn't solve a problem, but creates one. Working on Scout it was great to be reminded that at the end of what can be a frustrating and time consuming process, is the discovery of a great product that solves a true problem for customers.
It sounds simple, but it's not always easy to execute. This was a fast moving project and that always creates risk of things not going as you planned, especially with two companies located in different locations. One of the best ways to mitigate that risk is to have great communication channels. Kotahi came to the party with us on that. From daily Slack communication to design reviews, the communication in this project helped reduce risk, refine the product and allow for the successfully creation of a great product. Luckily, Kotahi didn't mind our emoji filled chat firing off all day long. In fact, we're pretty sure they loved it... 🚢 👍