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Leaving the lobby. Most hotels offer broken digital user experiences online.

April 14, 2016

The customer journey of booking hotels

When booking a hotel for leisure or business purpose, the decision journey often includes Google searches; comparing hotels on services as Tripadvisor or Hotels.com; looking up Airbnb or HomeAway for alternatives or asking followers and friends on social media for advice. This happens all the time on big, medium and small screens. At home, at work, and on the go.

A simplified user journey from need to the visit on the own website hotels

The one touchpoint of the journey hotels should be able to control

An important and frequent step of this journey is a visit to the hotel website. This is the first touchpoint where hotels own the channel. It is the equivalent of the hotel lobby: impressions, wayfinding, welcoming messages, personnel. (In good hotels) Everything is designed with intent to provide a good experience. The same should be the case online as it is the first and maybe only chance to tell a convincing story of promised value. It might even be here the customer makes the final decision to purchase the dream of a pleasant stay at this hotel.

First impressions last, but not for long

Convincing the customer and making them book requires several efforts. Design, photography, messages, words, interaction design, social media presence and other efforts to provide a sense of trust and brand feeling. Once this is in place, the customer goes ahead and books. Right there on the hotel site. The price is the same so why shouldn’t she?

For the hotel, it also pays off. When the customer books directly on their site it has two apparent benefits: 1. you don’t have to share the profit (up to 25%)* with booking sites or external partners. 2. you get to design the experience for the user all the way, including the opportunity to sell loyalty membership or benefit packages, that could add additional profit and enhance the customer experience.

So booking should work the best possible. But this is actually where the chain almost always breaks.

Hotels don’t get online. Even less so the mobile part of online. Why is it so hard?

The missing formula for hotels online

We are fascinated by how great hotels to build strategies, architecture, organizations, systems and culture to create that exceptional service and customer experience during a guest stay. We expected to find great examples of consistent user experiences across platforms offline and online, but when we tested it, we were quickly surprised.

We had a team of experience designers perform an expert review of the top 30 best ranking Copenhagen hotels — according to Tripadvisor — looking at the following: Responsive/mobile functionality and UX; Overall visual communication; First impressions / welcome feeling; UX in the booking flow; Voice and tone and Social media integration.

Based on this review we identified some often neglected issues of concern with the tremendous potential for improvement.

How bad is it? Our main findings.

Overall Experience

The verdict

Far too often the hotel website does not appear as an overall integrated experience. There might be beautiful pictures, nice typography, and the visuals might be appealing, but there are several serious broken links, that ruin the experience. Often the navigation is complicated or the feature to book a room confusing. Pictures are often professional but irrelevant, boring shots of a neat room that seems too polished to be true. Animations and transitions are often included for the sake of the effect, adding no value for the user.

Could be a great experience once you get there right? Or it could be very cold. Or full of screaming kids
Possible actions

An intense experience requires smart interaction design, beautiful aesthetics, and functionality that create immediate value. Add to this user flows, that are purposely designed to convince users by communicating the benefit and unique value of this particular hotel. If any elements fail during the user's journey on the website, chances are the customer will drop out.

Start solving this by performing user tests with interviews and review every touch point possible of the site including before and after a visit. Map out any customer touch points, be clear about the KPI’s of the site. Highlight areas with identified pains, prioritize your content and adjust accordingly.

Work in prototypes, not static glossy Photoshop layouts: This will allow everyone on board to see, try, test and discuss the solution early in the process, so the next time you know what experience you are actually providing.

The Mobile Experience

The verdict

Most hotels we looked at had a mobile version of the website, but often this version was in a really poor state when it comes to design and overall experience. We had serious trouble with booking procedures, as basic usability issues were not in place. This is pushing customers to book through partner sites, and the hotel loses the connection to the customer.

Possible actions

Mobile use of the Internet and online services has recently surpassed the desktop computer (http://www.theverge.com/2015/10/8/9480779/google-search-mobile-vs-desktop-2015). These days mobile solutions have to match the standards of solutions for larger screens regarding experience. There is even an added potential for integrating mobile-specific elements such as easy social media integration and geolocation-based features. If the hotel can’t meet this requirement for technical or financial reasons, at least be open about it. Then communicate around it and be sure to provide great experiences for all other touch points.

‍Four random mobile experiences from our survey. Three of them had no responsive layout, while the last tried, but was not exactly a beautiful experience

Booking experience

The verdict

The main issue here is the frequent use of rather poor out-of-the-box booking solutions. In most cases, a clear and visible call to action for booking was presented on the pages, but only with date fields and no data about availability or the like. A user could start here but was then led to either a plugin or a new website window with a formula in the new design. The experience breaks from what the customer just saw on the hotel’s website and the user is left insecure: who receives my Mastercard info? Also when no rooms are available, you are left with a message to start over. Nobody to call, no alternatives from the hotel. This is where most leave for Booking.com (= leaving the hotel lobby, frustrated) and hotel revenues are reduced or even lost.

Possible actions

This really should be simple. We have some rooms, a calendar and prices vary accordingly. Hotels should require that the service solution they team up with, is flexible or will work with customer experience teams to fit the solution to the hotel for an appropriate customer experience. This experience is the hotels chance to provide a great experience for the customer, take the full profit, upsell products and even have users become fans. On partner sites, this opportunity is lost.

‍D’angleterre is a renowned luxury hotel with long history in central Copenhagen. Storytelling on the website works okay, although readability and other issues could be improved. When the customer decides to book a luxury, though – one of the most expensive in the city – the experience breaks completely. Old fashioned table based layouts, small images, of Danish and English and long, tedious forms to fill out. And if you jump back to the hotel site, to maybe consider a particular package, you are prompted with error messages upon returning. If the hotel treated its guest like this offline, people would get fired.roommix

Integrated Media

The verdict

All of the subjects of our survey presented apparently professional pictures of the hotel and surroundings, the rooms and other hotel facilities. Too often, though, the images were portrayed as small sized illustrations, and all of them were within the same genre of “boring hotel pictures” of empty rooms, lobbies, restaurants and lounge areas.

Possible actions

Inspired by contemporary lifestyle magazines, we suggest a touch of action, social atmosphere or aesthetically appealing images pleasing the senses. Have the stories come to life with videos, 360-degree views of the hotel, a tour, or other content that tell stories about the great experience? Keep the feeling and the dream you show alive, all the way through the booking process.

Keeping customers in the lobby

There are hotels out there, that have appealing solutions, but just ignore the fact that you can't just book (purchase) quickly. It feels like hotels are giving up. Look at themayor.dk. A beautiful (and probably expensive) intro movie, helpful pages and neat design. But the packages provided can’t be purchased, and you have to call. And if you book, you are taken to Best Western general booking website, with the message of no availability and an entirely different old school user interface. Same goes for Fellah-hotel.com: you see some beautiful storytelling and get an authentic impression of everyday life at the hotel. But try to book, and you are left with a massive Excel-looking sheet of possibilities. It is bad experience in that most crucial moment when I had my Mastercard in hand. Back to booking.com!

Conclusion

Great customer experience is the mix of several ingredients and the result of a team effort. It is not only about fancy animations, cool pictures and expensive videos as much as it is about empathy and logic: knowing and providing whatever the user needs to see and do along their journey to becoming your customer. No more and no less than that. Fix the broken points, so the next customer, that walks into the lobby, will happily stay.

Call Room Service!

Granyon is all about great experiences. We plan, conceptualize, design, prototype and execute great digital experiences. In short, all that is needed to build great experiences and enhance the profitability of online. Please contact Granyons Mikkel Noe Westh on mnw@granyon.com or call at +45 60 52 29 62 It is the beginning of many great experiences.

***

About the review.

We analyzed the following hotels, all located in Copenhagen, Denmark:

Savoy Hotel, D’angleterre, Nimb Hotel, Absalon Hotel, Andersen Boutique Hotel, Hotel Bethel, Avenue Hotel, Copenhagen Marriott Hotel, Babette, Guldsmeden, Copenhagen Island Hotel, Hotel Alexandra, Hotel Kong Arthur + Ibsens hotel, BEST WESTERN Hotel Hebron, Scandic Palace Hotel, BEST WESTERN Hotel city, Wakeup Copenhagen, Charlottehaven, Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers, Bertrams Guldsmeden, Adina Apartment Hotel, Ocean Hotel & Konference, Bella Sky Copenhagen, Stay Copenhagen, First Hotel Copenhagen, Hotel Rye, Copenhagen Admiral Hotel, Tivoli Hotel, Skt Petri Hotel, Comfort Hotel

And we then scored them on a scale of 1–10 qualitatively on Welcoming feeling, Responsive / Mobile, Overall Visual Impression, Social integration, Booking flow and Voice and tone. The top scorers were Skt. Petri Hotel, Avenue hotel and Copenhagen Marriott Hotel who all came in on average 6.9/10. Every single hotel had major user experience flaws, though.

Need to see the full review?

For details on the full expert review, and ideas on how to tackle the challenges, please contact Mikkel from Granyon. He will gladly tell you more. mnw@granyon.com or +45 60 52 29 62.