with Bharat Batra, Caroline Gilbert, Rafael Jamil, Radhika Kaistha, Carolina Peroncini, Dhawal Tank, and Rohan Kumar Tripathy — students in Markus Giesler’s MBA course Customer Experience Design at the Schulich School of Business.
“Our life is frittered away by detail... simplify, simplify.” - Henry David Thoreau “Choice can no longer be used to justify a marketing strategy in and of itself. More isn’t always better.” - Barry Schwartz
Philosophers from Epicurus to Henry David Thoreau have urged the value of simplicity. Today, the science of happiness is confirming it. To create happier customers, companies should inject the philosophy of simplicity into the design of everything they do to create happier customers (Schwartz 2006).
When it comes to the travel industry, booking flight tickets, car rental, and hotel reservations is a painful experience for customers. Countless websites encourage consumers to price shop for the best deal. Customers are presented with hundreds of choices in the form of reviews, alternative routes, price alerts, and timing constraints before even arriving to their destination.
The result of too much choice?
Highly dissatisfied customers who fear they may have not “optimized” enough and have left value on the table—the fear of having missed out on a better deal, a nicer hotel, a more convenient itinerary, etc. The culture of unlimited choice breeds customers who shop based on the lowest cost—a quick race to the bottom (Tews 2014).
What if companies approached this differently and created a travel experience to maximize happiness? What if this meant taking away the host of choices, and as Thoreau says: “simplify, simplify”?
Artificial Intelligence can reframe the travel experience.
Ninety-four percent of people have abandoned an online travel booking because of dissatisfaction with a website’s booking experience (Charlton 2015). To reduce abandoned carts and increase loyalty, companies should simplify the customer journey by designing curated travel experiences, not just encouraging consumers to search for the best deal.
Advances in Artificial Intelligence make it easier than ever to provide mass customization. AI technology, such as IBM Watson, can parse through online and social user behaviour and location tracking to automatically predict places of interest and make suggestions based on preferences—including budget, cuisine, accommodation type, and acceptable transit time. Using AI, customers could have fewer, and better, options to choose from. By asking less and knowing more about consumers, travel companies remove unneeded barriers from the booking process and deliver value-adding customized itineraries that inspire brand loyalty and happy travelers.
Shortening the customer booking journey is another important simplification strategy. Millward Brown conducted a study for Expedia and found that in the 45 days prior to a booking, a consumer will conduct 38 visits to travel sites. Reducing the booking journey is crucial to retaining customer attention and improving ease and convenience of booking. By auto- populating user reservation forms with their personal information, knowing users’ calendar dates to predict when they can and cannot travel, and inferring approximate travel budgets, travel booking websites can make the customer journey less stressful and confusing (Freeman 2012).
Lastly, simplification should not only be based on content—it should be visual. This means that travel websites should use powerful images that inspire travelers and tell a story without the use of redundant words and information. Images can tell stories words cannot, and provide a portal that allow users to imagine themselves in a different place. After all, according to Shonda Rhimes, “in a world of unlimited voices and choices, those who can bring people together and tell a good story have power”.
It’s time technology marries philosophies to create happier customers, and indeed, travelers. By making the booking experience easy and customized, sites like Expedia could reframe online booking so that it becomes a welcome extension of the travel experience.
- Charlton, Graham (June 2015). “How Hotel Websites Can Improve the Booking Experience”. Econsultancy.
- Freeman, Spenner (May 2012). “To Keep Your Customers, Keep it Simple”. Harvard Business Review.
- Schwartz, Barry (June 2006). “More Isn’t Always Better”. Harvard Business Review.
- Tews, John (2014). “Highest-Ranked Online Travel Agencies Excel in Effectiveness of Website; Price Continues to be a Key Driver of Customer Satisfaction” J.D. Power.