The secret delight of the business traveller

Innovative technology that can tell what you are looking at and for how long and whether you are delighted or annoyed is helping Egencia make visits to its platform smoother, quicker and more fulfilling. The company’s eye tracking technology uses unobtrusive infrared sensors attached to a computer screen to see exactly where you are focusing and how your eyes move between elements on-screen.

The goal? To help users of the Egencia platform, no matter when and where they are using it, have the best user experience possible.
Egencia and its parent company Expedia have a team of in-house user experience (UX) experts helping carry out this ground-breaking research. “There is considerable value in having someone on the inside who knows the business, knows the tools and knows the users deeply so that they understand what they are seeing,” says Kyle Russell, Egencia’s user experience research manager. Kyle is fascinated by how we see the world. “The eye is an amazing optical instrument. It can refocus rapidly, from something on the horizon to the screen in front of you in just a third of a second,” he says. The widely held view that our eyes just capture light from around us to form a complete picture of the world is not quite right. The central area of the retina, the foveal system, is the only part of the eye that allows for completely clear and distinct vision. The area surrounding this is less distinct but our brains do not perceive this fuzziness.

“When reading text, we can only see one or two words clearly at a time. Everything else on the page will not be so clear,” says Kyle.

Egencia, like its parent company Expedia, uses eye-tracking technology to help create a silky smooth experience for visitors accessing its services via smartphone, tablet or desktop. There is a subtle difference between how it is used in the companies.

“In the corporate travel space, the focus is on efficiency rather than, say, inspiring people to take a trip to Paris,” says Kyle. “At Egencia, eye tracking is being used to make sure that people can find what they are looking for and that it is working well,” he says.

There are a number of different types of eye-tracking technology. One popular type uses so-called heatmaps which aggregate the eye tracking across a number of users, resulting in a map whose colours are “hotter” where people are looking the most and “colder” where people are looking the least. Heatmaps are often used in digital marketing.

For the Egencia team, visual flows or videos that show exactly where an individual user is looking are considered more useful. These systems follow the darting of your eyes between things you observe in the world and focus on them briefly. This information is presented as a series of lines (the darting) and dots (the focusing). The size of the circles represents how long users are looking at that particular spot before their eyes move on to the next thing.

The gaze plots that come out of the system typically show that users flick their eyes between schedules and prices, with less time spent looking at the header information. Egencia uses a tracking system called the Tobii Pro X2-60, an infrared sensor that is velcroed to the bottom of the screen. Other eye tracking systems use goggles but this system is less intrusive, meaning that users act naturally when using it.

The Egencia mobile experience is tested in a slightly different way, using a mobile device stand and a video camera which records how people interact with the site and how their fingers move over the touchscreen.

The research is usually carried out at the client’s office rather than in a lab. “We work with our account management team to identify customers and then set up a mobile lab in a conference room at a client site,” says Kyle. “People are in their own context and are comfortable and more natural in their behaviour. They are way more open than in a lab setting where they might feel the need to ‘perform’”.

Both business travellers and arrangers are used in the eye-tracking studies. “Depending on the topic there might be more of a traveller or more of an arranger focus. We want to make sure it works well for both,” says Kyle. They tend to be existing clients and most are regular business travellers on the road for several trips each year.

Different cultures and nationalities behave in subtly different ways, the team has found. “There are definitely more similarities than differences,” says Kyle. “I have seen that the excitations can be different on the site as people have different tolerances for the system working in a different way.” Egencia’s research finds that those in Europe tend to be more focused on rate types, rules and constraints than those in North America.

Good design is always the starting point for Egencia.

“You make sure you have a design that works well and is validated and will be a good experience. You come up with that by understanding what the customer requires and having a good design strategy,” says Kyle. “You then look to A/B testing to see how you can improve this design, which enables you to test different variants and incrementally improve the site,” he says. This is where eye-tracking is invaluable.

So what does the UX team use eye-tracking technology to study?

One of the tests the team has asked people to take part in is to ask them to find out how long it would take to change times at a railway station on a journey involving a change of train. “What we found is that people were not even noticing that train change time information,” says Kyle. “We were able to darken the change times to be visible to users.”

Egencia’s mission is to make business travel better by making it more connected and complete. By putting content, technology, service and reporting in one place and making the experience of using these effortless, we are putting the traveller at the heart of travel.

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