The story starts with a bit of "Insta vs. Reality". The Insta-dream... heat rising from the tarmac on the runway, balmy olive groves, Aperol spritz, a morning dip in turquoise water, orecchiette drenched in olive oil, pizza fresh from an authentic outdoor oven, pure quality time with my pals while all children sleep peacefully. Prego! Get me to Puglia right now. But the reality of how the holiday starts is far from dreamy and a demonstration of getting the customer experience badly wrong.
For me, and presumably many others, it has been a long, long while since I booked a holiday, so it isn't surprising that things seem to have changed. Online holiday operators are doing things differently to how I remember. Lots more what I’d describe as 'small-print' information is available (as a result of Covid presumably) and it also feels like there are more choices to make on the particular package you need. I am now firmly in the family traveler camp, so things I would previously have considered, like non-direct flights and hand luggage, are a thing of the past. The less time spent with two children in a car, at an airport, on a plane, and actually booking the holiday in the first place, the better. I'm also on maternity leave and making more frugal choices.
Considering this, my customer experience of arranging flights and accommodation was very mixed depending on the operator, and how well they appeared to understand the needs of those travelling with a young family. It was at the point of booking flights that I started to wonder whether my Italian fantasy was really worth it. Without going into the minutiae, here’s what happened in our house during the booking process.
The booking process:
- Extreme price increase between initial flight cost and final cost at checkout
- Very high level of confusion
- A confused husband got a second computer out to check some different pricing setups, with different add-ons and ticket 'tiers' (it’s possible to select cheaper, basic tickets with no benefits, or more expensive tickets with benefits included)
- Feeling deliberately confused in order to be ripped off
- Continuing to check different pricing setups to make sure we only pay for what we need
- Redoing basket
- Boredom and frustration set in. I feel like my limited downtime is being wasted
- Accusations thrown around about which of us has got the basket wrong
- Huge row with husband
- Eventually book and make friends again
A poor customer experience
All I could think was how useful it would be for holiday operators to see how quickly this potentially positive and exciting holiday-booking moment could turn into arguments and confusion. And for me, certainly a loss of goodwill towards the brands that didn’t show understanding towards my time, needs and circumstances. I wondered two things…
- Were operators taking advantage of captive audiences by upselling extras and options at every possible opportunity, actively aiming to confuse to maximise basket price?
- Did they genuinely think they were offering an appropriate amount of choice to customers, to make them feel they can book an experience tailored to them?
If the first, how depressing and outdated. If the second, I would argue several operators have a real opportunity to better understand the needs of the family traveler segment and improve the online booking experiences for customers.
Simplify the booking process!
As more of us re-familiarise ourselves with booking holidays, it's clear to me there is a job to be done to simplify and minimise choice overload, as other industries have learned (remember when Dave Lewis cut the number of items Tesco sold by 30% to make a purchase decisions easier )? Ultimately this would be more likely get customers through the checkout page with their holiday dream alive, still excited about going away, still open to using the operator they are booking with in future.
I confess at this point, booking a second holiday with a different operator and finding the whole experience a delight (FYI, Lanzarote, nice hotel with creche). My learning: more choice does not equal personalised. Nor does it equal a great customer experience. A digestible amount of choice on the important things - like travel date and time - made the Lanzarote experience much more positive because I felt like they were helping me make the most cost-effective decision.
I will, however, still take my chances on going to Italy...