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Field Reports

Equitable Access As Experience Strategy

How OJO Labs' Larcombe Teichgraeber used dscout to inject empathy into the home-buying process and support an equitable experience design.

Words by Ben Wiedmaier, Visuals by Thumy Phan

Larcombe Teichgraeber is the Director of Brand Strategy and Insights at OJO Labs. The platform supports home buyers throughout their journey—whether they’re finding the perfect house, locating a trusted agent, or learning about financial resources and opportunities.

One of the company's key initiatives is to bring empathy for the first-time home buyer into the product design and messaging. They want their platform to be accessible and useful for anyone, regardless of their background, experience, or prior knowledge about the home buying process and system.

Larcombe wanted to find a way to infuse and centralize the experience of the new buyer, one who might not know what they don’t yet know. This offered her team a chance to ask important questions about equity and inclusion, and how OJO could drive strategy with diversity in mind.

They aimed the study at understanding the different cohorts of "everyone,”—seeking context on how and why homebuying might be experienced differently for different people. “We set out to fill in our known empathy gaps. We have a lot of people at OJO who have purchased homes but we work in tech, with competitive incomes, etc. What's the story for those we don't represent?” Larcombe explains:

"We had an awakening last summer [2020] and it led to the question of what is the role we can play in creating, in shaping a more equitable society. It wasn't about equality. It was about equity and how real estate can play a part, what sort of driver might it be?"

She wanted to show engineering, design, product, marketing, and leadership the experience of being a home buyer, no matter their starting point (one day, first-time, next time) and regardless of platform.

In this way, she could pair quotes, archetypes, and stories with the rigorous quant and AI data OJO was already using to help make decisions. Together, she felt OJO could make—and keep—a commitment to creating an equitable platform experience without compromising our business objective of selling more homes. Having used dscout in a previous role, she knew she could use the platform to show context, user moments, and rich media.

"We know that the journey feels particularly unfair sometimes for some people, but how? Why, what causes that? So luckily I got to use the same piece of research to kind of answer both questions because our identity shapes our journey. So understanding and asking those journey questions. You have to understand the context of identity."

The approach

OJO's robust quant practice could offer a window into what might be happening once a person is engaging with OJO's experience, but what was less clear was how any one person's history, knowledge, and motivations were shaping those interactions.

The journey Larcombe wanted to trace was that of the home buyer (during COVID times) and what fears, concerns, and goals they had. The sample comprised diversity in buying timelines and financial situations (e.g., down payment amount, credit history, etc.). This was important to capture a wide lens in what is a wide experience.

She and the team knew about distal variables like existing debt and credit-worthiness, down payment ranges, neighborhood preferences, and employment outlook affected the process. She and her team wanted to start tracking these moments and comparing them to OJO's offering to find overlap and opportunity.

"dscout lets me have a week where I can control my workflow to, for example, shape and create a customer story in a week but without traveling to get to people and spending all of my time scheduling with folks; I'm not blasting people with emails. I have access to really quality candidates who can express themselves confidently and honestly. As a researcher, I feel really confident because folks are saying because the moments are exclusive and are often moments that an interview can't surface."

They created a two week, unmoderated design whereby 22+ participants showed moments along their home-buying journey. They wanted to know: What tools were they using? What motivated their use? What did they learn? They also wanted to dig into: What competitors are they using? Where does OJO fit?

Layered on top of this was a series of prompts focused on surfacing structural inequities through questions about fairness, concerns, or regrets participants were feeling in addition to their tasks. After sharing these home-buying journey moments, scouts participated in a brand-purpose activity (including a co-creation aspect) and concluded with a reflection opportunity to dig more deeply into their identity and the process of home buying.

"It's making home ownership more accessible for everyone. We exist to ready the world for home ownership and now we're starting to lock in on a brand purpose, sort of like our tagline for OJO. It is now the fundamental foundation for our purpose, for our messaging platform, and when I think about it, where we're going with our entire positioning. We captured that through a single project, which is critical for our scrappy team that needs to deliver ongoing, rapid insights."

This design created two benefits for Larcombe and her team. The first was a collection of real, non-leading moments of what constitutes a "home shopping moment." By relinquishing control of what the journey or process might or should be, participants had agency and the space to define it for themselves, offering a critical window into areas where OJO might not have considered supporting.

The second was a focus on developing a brand purpose, what Larcombe described as, "The thing that drives us...the reason we exist." That component was supported by the reflection activity, where participants opened up about the process they had been documenting.

The project allowed the team to better understand where people were starting from, how far along they are currently, and how various aspects of their identity shaped their starting point and progress. Larcombe credits the distance offered by mobile as a way to spur those moments of authenticity.

"The power of anonymity helped people be very honest with me and I loved that. My subject position didn't influence any're asking and being someone who just wants to listen. I think that's why I got such candid answers... the power of not leading folks toward a particular response so that people feel comfortable sharing their stories."

The participants were just sharing their experiences and steps, not talking with a "researcher" about a process in a sterile or clinical way. In addition, Larcombe recruited using the dscout panel and was able to source a diverse and broad group of folks from across the country. Again, equity and inclusion were important parts of this project, and Larcombe enjoyed the control and reach she had to include critical groups in the work.

The impact

The organic home shopping moments helped Larcombe surface new resource opportunities and new ways OJO can step in and anticipate a need. The journey moments and participants' reflections on perceptions of equity spotlighted areas where OJO could do more, expanding their ring of would-be influence and supporting folks earlier, before they're setting on the home-buying journey in earnest. The research ultimately impacted the research team and company as a whole across product/services, partnerships, brand, and internal workflow.

In terms of product/service, OJO Labs is working to expand mortgage info and educational content on their home search site, Movoto by OJO. The team has also begun making significant investment in offering Spanish language support to primarily-Spanish-Speaking buyers/sellers with a new call center and team in Mexico.

After learning more about the financial hurdles this audience faces in their home buying journey, the company is partnering with Ovation, a credit repair agency, to provide better services to customers with credit issues.

The study also spawned additional research studies including a quant survey (n = 440) with even cohorts across race/ethnicity, a qual study around compromises made in retrospect, and a report on credit's impact on the buying journey that was featured in Inman and HousingWire.

"It was so cool to give personality to a stat, especially when standing up a new offering or feature. We had the business case, and now we had the human case. There is certainly optimization that's based on our quant data, and now we're injecting the story to ensure we're not missing anything, not overlooking anything because of our standpoints."

Using moments from this study also had an impact on the team’s workflow. It helped clarify the jobs folks were looking to hire, and showed Larcombe the gaps in expectations: spaces in which design, product, and engineering love to iterate and build.

The depth of the stories and the stickiness of the data worked as a repository for Larcombe. She shared the project with external partners thinking about strategy and the data science team to help them sharpen their storytelling practice.

The repository nature of the project has allowed Larcombe to manage more fieldwork concurrently. Launching a media-rich survey not only helps recruit participants, but also to build interest for the forthcoming fieldwork and, as Larcombe put it, "what's to come."

Teams can port dscout data into their preferred tech-stacks and start making use of it whether that's quotes, video, or light quant...all delivered by Larcombe's team.

"Stacking workflows helps me generate empathy via the data and create demand because folks see—they experience—the speed at which our scrappy team can deliver insights.

That is the power and brilliance of dscout: the context. We are an ML- and quant-heavy organization. Every day our product and CX teams usually start with the metrics: You're opening dashboards to try and unpack engagement drivers. But if you don't understand why someone is engaging, why they might be stalling in the middle of the process for example, you won't help support a customer to their goal. The reason a person lands on a particular page might be captured in metrics, but their goals and how those goals shift given the experience, that's not as clear."

Maybe most importantly, Larcombe described the research as showcasing just how many facets of life home ownership touches and implicates: Wealth creation, debt inequity and access, notions of family and togetherness...all of these facets were revealed more clearly through this work, offering Larcombe and the OJO team a resource to return to when and if they are ready to continue evolving and iterating the experience.

What started as an investigation into archetypes of potential home buyers with a focus on equity and diversity unfurled into insights around identity, access, and the importance of meeting folks where they are at an important step in life.

"It is important throughout this work to ensure the homebuyer is the star of the show, the hero of this journey. There are all sorts of other players: agents, lenders, brokers, even the house, but with all of this work it's critical to us that the people on the journey have agency over the moments and what they mean to them. This work is helping us both create brand and product experiences, but keep the home buyer at the center of it all."

Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.

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