Software

Keep customers happy: block the primrose path


Calvin SunThe end of August draws near, and with it comes the time to finish packing to send our first daughter to college. Move-in day is this weekend, and we are planning to stay over for at least one night. We have a reservation, but out of curiosity, a few days ago I thought I'd check to see what other accommodations are available.

I signed onto Travelocity, and specified hotels for State College PA for the dates August 23 to 24. Twenty-two hotel listings appeared. Half of them had the following message:

We are sorry, there are no rooms available at this hotel for the dates selected. You may search other dates to find availability.

"No problem," I said to myself, "I'll just check out the remaining ones." All of these listings had a message stating the starting room rate or range of rates. Well, I clicked on the first of those remaining listings, thinking I was going to be able to reserve a room, and guess what: they were sold out as well. On the next screen, I saw the same message that I did for the first group of hotels:

We are sorry, there are no rooms available at this hotel for the dates selected. You may search other dates to find availability.

In other words, I was "led down the primrose path." I understand and appreciate how the bottom half listings were "up front" about their availability, telling me on that first screen that they were unavailable. I felt annoyance, though, that other listings implied they had availability, only to tell me otherwise once I clicked to enter deeper into the web site.

I've run into similar examples with other web sites. A university in Washington, D.C. has a link on their admissions Web page that's labeled "financial information sheet." However, when you click on that link, and open the form, you are told that this form is only for applicants from countries other than the U.S. Another favorite irritant: those links that say "contact us." I click on that link, expecting to see a page with phone and fax numbers, mailing addresses and e-mail addresses. Instead, clicking the link brings up my client e-mail, and opens a new message for me.

What's the key point here? Understand the importance of setting and managing expectations of your customers. Don't give them one expectation and then confront them with a reality that clashes with that expectation. Doing so leads to irritation and dissatisfaction.

How could the earlier examples have been handled differently? In the Travelocity case, why not have consistent messages, so that a sold-out situation is displayed on the very first screen? In the case of the admissions form, how about labeling the link, telling uses that the link is only for foreign applicants? In the last case, how about renaming the link from "Contact us" to "E-mail us"?

Keep your customers happy: block that primrose path.

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

3 comments
LocoLobo
LocoLobo

I read reviews, found a beachfront motel in Cocoa Beach, it said there were vacancies but when I tried to reserve a room there were no vacancies. At first this ticked me a little but then I thought hmm... Next I went to the web site for the motel and there WERE vacancies! At the same price travelocity was advertising too. Still travelocity was good for the reviews. I think some motels reserve rooms for their own use and won't let travel agencies fill all their rooms. Anyway it worked for me.

DadsPad
DadsPad

When you go to sites like travelocity, find the place you want to stay. Sometimes they report no vacancies, but get the local number of the place and call directly to the front desk. Ask them if an vacancies are available and usually there are. Then tell them what price you were to pay with Travelocity (or other sites). The hotel/motel gives a commission to anybody that sales rooms/suites for them. Offer to split the difference between the price for website and what they would pay commission on. Sometimes the manager will offer lower price to get a confirmed custome and not pay full commission on the room/suite. There is sometimes cancellations and no shows, you can get their rooms. Of course, do not tell them that no vacancies were listed on the website. :)

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

Fortunately in my case I was able to go to the motel's website directly and the price was the same. They were low budget but had good reviews and were just 1 block from the beach. But it just goes to show you should watch for opportunities. You have to take the reviews (good & bad) with a grain of salt.

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