We talk a lot about martech and strategy, and customer-centricity, but sometimes it’s just nice to examine a user journey in detail.
Here’s one. I booked a hotel room in London via Laterooms.com. Because I am a chump, I booked the wrong date. Never mind, I could cancel the booking and get a refund.
I clicked to ‘manage my booking’. A little pop-up told me the telephone number I would have to call. A minor inconvenience – after all, that’s the payoff for being a buffoon.
I got through to the call centre without delay. The person I spoke to was great and told me I would get an email confirming cancellation no later than 24 hours before the trip date, and that the refund would be processed in five to seven days.
I got the cancellation email just one day after I had called. Great, the subject line said “Refund” and the big bold text said: “We confirm the cancellation of your hotel.”
Without a keen eye, though, I might not have noticed the adjacent yellow text – a little hard to read in my opinion – which said: “Choose how to receive your refund.”
Scrolling down, beneath the ‘fold’ on the screen, I got a choice of a voucher or a refund via my original payment method. If I were being churlish I might wonder whether it was a coincidence that the voucher option was uppermost.
Scrolling a bit further down the email, there was another yellow box. Yep, that’s right: “If you do not make a selection [in the next 7 days] you will automatically be refunded by voucher.”
I cannot recall the call centre operative mentioning anything about the option of a voucher or a choice that I needed to make. I had just assumed the refund was already on its way to my account after the phone call. If I had ignored the email, that refund would not have arrived.
I should add that I do see the value in a voucher for some customers – for example, they may want to book again without yet more money coming from their account. In hindsight, I probably would have chosen this option if I hadn’t already rebooked in the interim.
My overriding feeling, though, is that, whether by design or not, this user journey will result in some people who actually want a refund to their bank account instead defaulting to a voucher.
It seems businesses are very happy to talk the talk of user-friendly digital, without really walking the walk.
One of the ironies in the whole process of my cancellation was that I got an automated phone call not long after I had spoken to the call centre (but before I received my cancellation email). The automated call was a customer feedback mechanism, asking if I was satisfied.
I must admit I hung up before I could hear much of what was required. At the time I was very satisfied with my experience. However, if I had been asked for feedback after I had received the email above, I think I would have taken the time to explain my concerns.
Do I have a point here? I am still happy with my experience. I would use the website again.
But if we are really serious about sectors such as travel moving away from offline channels, and if we really believe that customer-centricity is important for brand-building and loyalty, we need to keep shining a light on these awkward compromises in user experience – what many might call a ‘dark pattern.’
Travel is a tricky sector. Look at British Airways, for example. Consultant Dan Barker shared a screenshot of a booking screen on Twitter recently and wrote: “Some odd things going on here from British Airways: 1. It presents being able to buy food on board as a benefit of Economy Plus (of course, you can also buy it with basic). 2. The Business ‘dedicated check-in area’ doesn’t actually exist.”
The Competition and Markets Authority has taken enforcement action already this year against some holiday booking sites that employed tactics such as pressure selling and misleading discounts. All sorts of businesses are trumpeting lines about the customer when there is clearly work to be done. And if we cannot trust businesses to weed out dark patterns online, what else might we be missing?
It seems businesses are very happy to talk the talk of user-friendly digital, without really walking the walk. To get back to more prosaic advice for marketers and their C-suite seniors, being familiar with your product and its many customer journeys is more important than ever.
Short-term growth may just be too good to be true.