Expedia Experiences: Bad CX never wins

This is a true story about Expedia, human error and bad customer experience that ends with a nice bit of karma for the customer… 😉

Next week I’m running a workshop at UX Live in London and being from Manchester I needed to book somewhere in London to stay for the event. So earlier this week I went online to book my hotel. I don’t have a preferred hotel or website that I book with, so my starting place, like many people, is Google. I’m really into using Google map view to find hotels as I can see how close the hotel is to the tube and I can check long it will take me to get there from Euston and my place of work during that time, plus I can see all the prices of the hotels to find something within the budget I’m given.

Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 10.09.51.png

(Image represents the Google UI. This is not the hotel I booked with)

Expedia user error

I’ve been extremely busy this week and I had about 10 different hotel tabs open to compare all the different hotels. Add to this distractions in the office and at some point during this process I accidentally chose dates in November as opposed to October.

What happened?

I used the calendar date picker to select the last Wednesday to Saturday of the month, as opposed to focussing on the dates. I did this in either Google or Expedia, I can’t recall which one it was (probably Google) but it looked something like this:

Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 10.08.37

The realisation

It was the next day, less than 24 hours later, that I was looking at my calendar to book in a meeting when I noticed the hotel was there in my calendar for November! I instantly knew the mistake I’d made.

Expedia call centre experience

The ticket I’d booked was non-refundable because I knew I was definitely going to the event next week. However my mistake was a bit of an odd situation in that I didn’t need my reservation refunding and I wasn’t changing the date because I’d changed my mind – it was simply human error when using the website and it was a genuine mistake. My hope was that if I explained this and they could see it was less than 24 hours since I’d booked it that they’d understand this was a genuine mistake and change the booking.

I called the hotel first but they told me I needed to call Expedia to change the booking. So, I then called Expedia and got through to their call centre. The lady I spoke with said she would call the hotel to check if the dates could be changed, she also told me that if we were cut off she would call me back (I thought this was a very odd thing to say and immediately suspected that she was planning to cut me off despite me being incredibly polite in my request). Low and behold she put me on hold, then about 10 seconds later I heard background noise as if she had picked up the call then I was cut off!

20 minutes later and she didn’t call me back as promised so I called again…

This time I spoke with a different person and I explained what had happened, including my previous call. This gentleman said the same thing to me – that he would call the hotel and that if we were cut off he’d call me back. He put me on hold, after a few moments I then heard the background  noise of the call centre followed by being cut off. He also didn’t call me back as promised.

I called again…

I explained to another lady what had happened and she told me she would call the hotel to check if they would accept the change in dates. Interestingly she didn’t say the line about ‘if we’re cut off I’ll call you back’ so I suspected she was actually planning to help me, unlike her colleagues. Unfortunately, she said the hotel were unwilling to change the dates as it’s a non-refundable booking and I’d basically have to wave goodbye to £300. I asked her for the number she called so I could call the hotel myself.

I called them and they said there was nothing they could do as it was the front of house number not the central reservations number, so the lady had called the wrong number anyway! There’s no wonder they couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t impressed. Yet another Expedia fail – these peeple were useless.

I called the hotel central reservations and would you believe it, they were willing to change the booking dates as long as I paid an extra £30 when I arrived at the hotel. Hooray! Yep sure, no problem! They said they’d call Expedia to get them to change the booking.

Later that day I had a call from Expedia – it turned out to be the last lady I spoke with. She said because of the change of dates I was to be refunded £30 as those dates were cheaper. She also said she was really pleased that she had been able to get a solution for me. Excuse me? Was this woman deluded? She hadn’t found the solution, I had!

This story gets better though…

Later, I received another call from Expedia. This gentleman had a very strong accent and he had to explain himself about 6 times to me because I simply didn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. I finally piece together that he wants to charge me £30 because there was a ‘human error’ earlier by the Expedia lady. Apparently she shouldn’t have refunded me the £30 because the booking was non-refundable.

The irony!

When I made a human error they wouldn’t forgive it and would have happily taken £300 from me. They make an error and they want me to let it go and pay them back the £30.

They put me on hold so I found myself with time to think about this… There were so many great things going through my mind that I could say at this point… should I tell them I have a non-refundable policy like theirs… should I complain about how inept their service team is…

I found myself thinking back to how they treated me in my previous calls; they hung up on me. So I decided it was time for karma to prevail… let’s treat them in the same way they treat their customers and perhaps they’ll learn a valuable lesson…

I smiled to myself and hung up. 

They didn’t call back.

 

The lesson: Customer Experience is crucial to get right and it’s not enough to simply look at your digital User Experiences in isolation of all customer touchpoints with your business. There’s absolutely no chance I’ll ever book with Expedia again!

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Don’t use one way mirrors for ux research

Do you use one way mirror labs? Do you value research that gets you the best results? Then you might want to re-consider using one way mirrors. Here’s why…

Talking to users is fascinating! It’s something I still love doing despite having conducted thousands of them over the last 10 years. When it comes to location, you can test almost anywhere but there’s one place that I now advise against, and that’s one way mirror labs.

What is a one way mirror lab?

A one way mirror lab (also known as two way) consists of two adjoining rooms with a mirror between them. One room is used to interview people and the mirror functions as a normal mirror from this side. On the other side of the mirror is the observation room where people watch the research taking place, from this side the mirror behaves as a window, enabling the observers to secretly observe what’s happening in the research room.

The negative consequences for research

I’ve used this setup many times and I’ve sat on both sides of the mirror. These are the problems:

Nervous users

As a researcher you should always tell the participant that there are observers behind the mirror. However, if I say to you now, don’t think of a pink elephant, the first thing you think about is a pink elephant. In psychology we call this the Ironic Process Theory or the White Bear Principle and it refers to the human tendency to continue to think about something after being told not to think about it.

So we’re ethically bound to tell people there are people behind the mirror but by doing that their attention is being drawn to it. Many users are fine with this and they’ll forget about the mirror. There are other users who will interview ok but afterwards they will mention how they felt like they were being watched and finally, some people simply do not interview well. They may appear nervous, glance at the mirror throughout, whisper some answers to you because they don’t want the people behind the mirror to hear any negative feedback, etc. And the mirror is a difficult thing for people to get over once they have a problem with it, because it’s such a huge object in the room and therefore a constant reminder.

Ask yourself, wouldn’t you feel uncomfortable knowing there were people watching you behind a mirror in the room?

Positively biased responses

If you knew there were a group of people watching you behind a mirror wouldn’t you be more inclined to give positive responses and to withhold negative opinions? But it’s really important that we understand negative feedback in order to make things better.

Sound leakage

Your observers need to be relatively quiet. I’ve seen labs provide headphones so that observers can turn audio volume up without sound leaking into the testing suite.

When two rooms are next to each other, it’s impossible to soundproof them completely. If the observers next door get quite loud, the sound can leak into the adjoining room. This can be fatal if they laugh and the user hears this. In some labs, the doors don’t close quietly either – this is then another reminder to the participant that there are people watching them.

Noisy cameras

One way mirror labs almost always have cameras that can be controlled in the observation room. These aren’t always silent though. You might be in the middle of a really interesting insight when suddenly you hear the buzz of the camera. Off-putting to say the least and yet another reminder to the user that they are being watched.

Dark, uninspiring observation room where no one speaks

Observation rooms in labs are awful places really. There are no windows and therefore no natural light, the lights have to be turned off (otherwise you can see straight through the mirror) so it’s a dark, dull, uninspiring room to be sat in all day. In one way mirror labs sometimes the observers can be much quieter than in labs without a mirror, because you can see how close the participant is to you.

The problem is these are great setups for observing research, especially focus groups, not UX research. If you have a team of designers observing research, the one thing they’re guaranteed to want to do is sketch, but how do they do that well when they’re sat in a dark room? It’s not an environment that encourages team collaboration, makes a team feel energised, inspired and creative. Conversation and teamworking should be encouraged – now’s the perfect time for the team to collaborate and get to work on designs.

Ironically, no one really observes what’s happening through the mirror!

We spend most of our time watching the TV screens, which give us consistent detail, clarity and control. The glass, for all its glamour, doesn’t always fulfil its worth.

In UX research, the most important interaction to focus on is that between the user and what’s being tested, and in this regard you can’t see anything through the mirror, the detail is through the cameras pointing at what the user is doing. Therefore, the majority of the time, observers are focussed on the tv screen – where the action is. Compare it to UX design…if you want the users attention to focus on something you might give it a more central position, make it bigger, put everything else around it. So when the UI is the most important thing for people to observe, why do labs show this on a small tv screen and give the highest visual prominence in the room to the mirror? It’s crazy!

The solution

The alternative, better solution is to use two rooms that have all the same technology to record and observe the user and their interaction but in the observation room, there are TV screens and no mirror. GDS (Government Digital Services) also use this setup which you can see here. Without a mirror, you’ll get better insights from your more relaxed users and the observation room can now be a creative haven. You can turn up the lights, have natural daylight (windows), have dynamic team discussions and work together on sketches and ideas.

It suddenly becomes an exciting and inspiring workshop to turn user feedback into better designs! And this, is the whole purpose of user research.

A note from me:

This is a post I recently published on Linkedin Pulse. If you like it, you can follow my future posts or connect with me Linkedin