Does customer experience matter when the price is right?

For budget brands like Travelodge and Premier Inn, do business goals matter more than than good UX and customer experience? Or are they risking poor retention rates by failing to pay attention to the latter? 

Last week I had to cancel a booking I’d made with Travelodge. On investigating my lack of refund today I discovered that, as I’d booked a ‘saver rate’ no refund was due, even though I’d cancelled within minutes of booking. 

While the mistake was mine (I’d selected the wrong dates and only realised my mistake once I’d paid), it does leave a sour taste in the mouth and makes it less likely that I will use them in future. 

I though I’d take a look at the booking process of Travelodge and competitor Premier Inn (both of which offer these non-refundable saver rates) to see how effectively the two companies convey this information to customers. 

If you are going to offer non-refundable rooms, it seems the least you can do is make this abundantly clear to customers, so is this the case? 

Are terms of saver rates made clear? 

On the Travelodge site, there is information about what the saver rate means. All you can see is that it’s cheaper, and that it’s non-refundable. 

Premier Inn is similar:

However, once you have clicked through, Premier Inn reinforces the terms with this note under the summary of the booking. This makes it more likely that customers will absorb the information before submitting a payment. 

In addition, and this is key in may case, since I managed to get the dates wrong in the first place, the Premier Inn checkout provides a persistent reminder of the booking details (date, times, number of people etc). 

This ensures that customers can check details before they press to make a payment, and also ensures that the company has done what it can to make the terms of the booking clear, and avoid mistakes where possible. 

By contrast, the Travelodge checkout doesn’t have this persistent reminder, and at the point where you submit a payment, this information isn’t visible. 

This is not to say that Travelodge has necessarily done anything wrong, and the fault is mine for entering the incorrect dates, but I don’t think Travelodge has done all it can to make terms clear, or to avoid customers making such mistakes. 

People skim-read on the web, and that includes on product and checkout pages. If brands wish to minimise customer errors, key information should be made very clear. 

Perhaps this means more money from the people who make the same mistake as me, but it also potentially means quite a few angry customers.  

Maybe this isn’t a problem for the brand, as people will book Travelodges when they need them as there are few cheaper options out there. I can see that having people ask for refunds nearer to date the room is booked would prevent the company selling that room, but when customers try to rectify a mistake immediately to terms do seem harsh. 

It isn’t just the budget brands though. This booking page for an advance saver rate room for £321 on Holiday Inn is as clear as mud. Can you spot the part where it says non-refundable? 

No, me neither. It requires customers to actively click the link to view the terms. Yes, the information is there, but it’s presented in such a way that increases the likelihood of customer errors. 

Awful customer service options

I imagine customer’s anger will be exacerbated by the awful customer service options offered by Travelodge which, as with companies like Ryanair, seem designed to make it as hard as possible for customers to actually speak to someone

The only phone numbers shown are for bookings. Phone about anything else and you will be referred to the website. And it’s 10p per minute to call. Travelodge even charges a £2.50 fee for calling to book. 

I did go through the contact form, and am still waiting for a reply a week later. Meanwhile, queries on Twitter have gone unanswered. 

All I have is this ‘holding email’ one week after my question, which is truly pathetic. 

By contrast, Premier Inn does provide a general number for customer service queries, as well as a contact form which doesn’t require you to jump through several hoops before submitting your question.

In summary

I have learned a lesson here, but i do wonder what effect this has on repeat business for Travelodge, and for general customer sentiment towards them.

While I can’t argue that the information about saver rates and refunds was there on the site, I don’t think Travelodge has gone out of its way to avoid customer cock-ups like this and, judging by the SERPs, there are plenty of customers that have made similar mistakes. 

Premier Inn, though it operates the same non-refund policy, does at least make the terms clear on every page during the checkout process, making it more likely that customers will avoid mistakes and book in full knowledge of the terms. 

Travelodge does remind me of Ryanair. Deals are there to be had, but you need to keep your wits about you to avoid the pitfalls and extra charges that may occur. Also, given the lengths the company goes to to avoid customer contact, it appears this, like Ryanair, isn’t a company built around providing a great customer experience

Maybe this works for Travelodge and Ryanair, but it isn’t a policy I’d recommend for most businesses. 

What do you think? Is a poor customer experience the price of cheap hotels or flights? Or should brands be careful not to lose out to competitors providing better service at the same price? 

Econsultancy’s JUMP event on October 9 is all about creating seamless multichannel customer experiences. Now, in its fourth year it will be attended by more than 1,200 senior client-side marketers. This year it forms part of our week-long Festival of Marketing extravaganza.

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Does customer experience matter when the price is right?

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