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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? 

I didn't spot it intially, though it is there on the left at the bottom. It could hardly be less prominent in the context of the page as a whole. 

For any detail, the site 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.

Graham Charlton

Published 27 August, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (28)

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Simon

I think both sites make it clear enough.

What made you pick Travelodge for your hotel booking over Premier Inn?

Worth also noting that Premier Inn charge £2 fee for booking a "Premier Saver" rate, which takes you £79 up to £81, compared with the "Flexible" that you can cancel up to 1pm, for only £82.

Not really worth going for the cheap rate in your case...

On the Travel Lodge website, did you click on the links to read the terms and conditions, or just blindly click the box to accept them?

And have you seen "This is a saver rate. This rate is Non refundable. You can amend them up to 21 days before arrival for a £5 fee." if you click on the text about the "saver rate" on the iniital page? Sounds like you shouldn't have cancelled at all, and could have just changed your choice and paid £5 (penalty?) for your mistaken order?

As for a cost to book over the phone, i suppose that's down to business model. People phoning up must take a lot of time (and a lot of people on the phone dealing with the calls), where as the website doesn't have that restriction and can handle as many people as the server(s) can manage. I'd never phone a big brand hotel to book something like this and would prefer to make sure I'd got it right on the website, along with print outs of the pages to confirm it.

about 3 years ago

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Simon

Additionally on the Travel Lodge site after clicking "book" next to the cheap rate it brings up a page offering "Room Cancellation Insurance" for £1.50 (pre-selected instead of the option not to take it), so if you'd have gone for that option maybe you'd have lost out even less than when you had to completely cancel to correct your mistake?

about 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Simon - I am guilty of, first of all, booking the wrong date. I'm not sure how i did this, and only realised the mistake once I'd paid. As the site allowed me to cancel without warning of no refund, I did this rather than attempting to amend the booking.

I only realised later about the non-refundable thing, when it was too late.

As I explain here, people skim read on the web and don't necessarily read every piece of text. (After all, who ever reads T&Cs?) This means that companies, if they wish to minimise customer error and therefore frustration, need to make key aspects such as this abundantly clear.

BTW - the insurance thing is not what it suggests. As far as i can gather, it only applies to illness. And who has the time to go through this for a £50 hotel room?

http://support.travelodge.co.uk/link/portal/15071/15090/Article/975/How-do-I-make-a-claim-using-my-room-cancellation-insurance

about 3 years ago

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Claire

Great article and thanks for sharing!

I think there is significant argument for both sides of the story, although in my on personal and business experience customer service is always vital to business growth and sustainable custom (i.e. repeat bookings and referrals).

The fact that the likes of these hoteliers demonstrate clear financial value and special offers that are clear - lets be honest here that they are not competing at the level of the Hilton or Ritz for customers either so their marketing collateral obviously reflects this/ as does the budget.

In terms of customer experience versus value, I don't think that argument will ever win in terms of building growth and developing the business potential fully - A company is only known by its actions in terms of customer satisfaction and I agree with you that if that is lacking, customers will not repeat buy, in any industry.

almost 3 years ago

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Jeremy Swinfen Green

I think this is an excellent article and demonstrates the contrast between good and bad practice. As the author says in the comments, people skim read online (especially on mobile devices) and it isnt sufficient to make information available. Key information needs to be persistent and obvious: very few people read ts and cs and it is disingenuous to rely on them. And the opportunity to amend the booking for £5 should have been stated overtly (surely this would increase conversion) as well as during the cancellation process.

almost 3 years ago

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John

Sounds there are 2 separate but related issues:
1. The site needs to be better, not only warning you at booking but also when you are about to confirm the cancellation. It would be easy for them to put in a stage of 'Are you sure you want to cancel and get no refund? The alternative is to change dates for a £5 fee.' etc
2. The damage to the brand from poor customer experience. To say Travelodge don't care about customer experience must be wrong given the amount the spend on communications. The negative publicity that this and social media sites generate about poor customer service is very damaging and Travelodge must be looking at it. They probably just haven't figured out yet how to handle negative comment at low cost (p.s. it's not difficult!).

Please post a follow up if you hear from them - you should!

almost 3 years ago

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Jamie Dickinson

I too think that the vital info is pretty clear. That being said in your mind you thought you were booking the right date, so even if it flashed up in massive red letters that it was non-refundable you'd still made the booking since you thought the dates you entered were correct.

You are correct in that people skim read; perhaps it may be more fruitful to remind the user what they are booking, ie reminded you of the dates you had booked and to check if they were correct. But again you get a similar problem, in that you know what (you think) you entered, so you'll just bypass as quickly as possible to complete the transaction.

I'm a fairly cynical user and don't trust these kinds of retailers so I tend to read things a little more carefully. But we've all done it, few weeks ago I sent an Amazon order to my old address, as it was still listed as default. Interesting observation nonetheless and opens up an interesting discussion about how far these services can go before we have to start re-educating ourselves.

almost 3 years ago

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Ali

Simon, are you a Travelodge employee??

almost 3 years ago

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David c

Showing my age - again(!) the three axis of winning companies still hold true (I believe) from the work done by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema in the 1990's - Customer Intimacy, Product Leadership and Operational Excellence. Good companies excel in one, often nowadays two. So I'd guess that budget organisations excel in Operational Excellence and are pretty damm good at product/service leadership so Customer Intimacy (which would embrace the experience) is at a level "fit for purpose".

I'd argue a similar model is working brilliantly for Aldi - whose pricing and quality are driving a coach and horses through the supermarket ecosystem. No loyalty schemes required because they're 40% cheaper than their rivals without a commensurate reduction in quality, customer experience "fit for purpose".

:-)

Dave

almost 3 years ago

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leo

You set up an interesting and important question. The web has spawned a plethora of new business models. In this case, and Ryanair's, it's one that eschews the brand in favour of sales - pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap, and it naturally scares all of us whose careers are in advertising / branding etc. It's too early to say whether this model will work over the longer term. Consumers, all of us, are all slowly learning a new rules, like no refunds and travelling light, and I suspect that in the end we'll all choose cheaper travel and a cheaper bed for the night over the businesses that remain riddled with flab. But who knows ...?

almost 3 years ago

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Ritchie

I completely agree with the sentiment regarding 'small print (t's & c's). More than this I feel there is an fantastic debate to be had about the responsibilities of a vendor to clearly highlight key elements of that small print. For example, consider the financial services industry. There is a clear requirement for an adviser or broker to make clear certain specific elements of the small print that could have an adverse effect on your decision making.

That said in this instance I have to agree with Jamie here. The issue is not that it is unclear you cannot cancel your booking. In fact, I doubt it could be any more explicit. In your own mind the dates were correct and therefore you could not envisage any reason you would ever need to cancel.

almost 3 years ago

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Richard Hamer

You need to take a look at the National Express and try it on a variety of browsers plus tablet. Chaos!

And when you do get around to booking you get the option to sign up for National Express discounts. Click the box then a month later find £15 missing from your bank account because you've actually signed up to a savings club (sorry I can't remember the name of it).

A quick search and I found thread after thread of complaints but at least the company involved refunded my money, and the person I spoke to sighed (in an amusing way) when I told him what had happened; I'm guessing he was pretty fed up with it all.

almost 3 years ago

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Ewan Murray, PR Manager at The Wine Society

It doesn't surprise me that Premier Inn comes above Travelodge in this respect, because it does in every other respect too. Having travelled the length and breadth of the UK on business for many years, I would never again choose Travelodge - not only is the website not clear, as mentioned as the crux of this article, but cleanliness, levels of service from staff and quality of food and drink are all lacking too.

As with Ryanair, the culture at the top permeates down to the rest of the company. Premier Inn & easyjet every time, from both physical and digital angles.

More generally, T&Cs that are pertinent to the operation you are carrying out online should always be clearly displayed, especially where potential charges are concerned - it's just common courtesy, more than anything else - and ultimately leads to better customer satisfaction, gaining repeat business.

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Ritchie I agree that I was at fault. The main issue is the lack of a persistent summary which meant that i wasn't able to check my dates were correct before I paid for the room.

Also, if you are going to allow a customer to cancel and therefore forfeit a refund and any chance of rearranging the dates, then I think some kind of warning is in order.

Of course, Travelodge doesn't have to do this, but a company that wishes to avoid customer problems like this should make such terms clearer.

I do wonder how much the company makes from customer mistakes like this. Similar charges at the hotel (for instance, failing to register your licence plate when parking incurs a £15 'admin fee') make me wonder whether this is more about maximising revenue.

almost 3 years ago

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Richard Fox

Seem perfectly clear to me with the 'non refundable' (are you dumb!? LOL) - but a fine piece of marketing for getting people to switch brands to Premier Inn (which is a typically is better place to stay anyway).

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Richard Can you see in the article where i state that the non-refundable thing isn't mentioned? No, nor can I.

The point is that is isn't made as clear as it could be, and that therefore, human behaviour being what it is, mistakes are likely to be made, which then has an effect on customers' perception of the brand.

This isn't a piece of marketing for Premier Inn, I'm merely making the point that that company makes it much clearer.

almost 3 years ago

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dave c

was going to add Graham that I felt it was a tad unprofessional to use this blog as a mechanism for your own gripe...think it would have engendered more insight if you'd kept it a little less personal in this particular case. I think the good point you were attempting to make got lost within the sub text of "the sods!!!!"

dave

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@ dave c That's not what I was trying to do. We do write about our own experiences online here quite often, as that's how we get an insight into how businesses look from the consumer perspective.

I do admit in the article that I'm at fault here for not reading T&Cs closely enough, and I'm not accusing Travelodge of misleading me

With plenty of experience of ecommerce sites, I really should know better, and I don't expect to get a refund by writing this article. That's not the purpose.

The point I'm trying to make here is that, if businesses have clauses like this which are liable to annoy customers, then they should make all efforts to ensure that customers are fully armed with the facts when they click to buy.

In this case, I think Travelodge (Holiday Inn is worse btw) should be making more effort to ensure that this information is clearly presented as this will avoid customer complaints and bad feeling.

almost 3 years ago

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Mike

It's horses for courses I'm afraid! Travelodge are usually by far the cheapest option when looking for a budget room and by their own admission not in the (full service) hospitality business! They are budget retailers!

It's not unreasonable to expect "good customer service", but acceptability of service standards vary with price-point and according to market forces! Even comparison to Premier Inn is a little unfair as typically their rooms will be £10 + more per night, which is often around 20% higher!

Personally I'm not a fan of Travelodge and I do not enjoy staying in their properties. The comparisons with Ryanair are perfectly valid as there is almost always something lacking when you buy cheap! In Travelodge's case one such area is customer service!

almost 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Graham

Isn;t what you're asking diametrically opposed to the normal sales funnel thinking - which is to NOT put obstacles in the way of getting the buyer to the last button.

Eg - that's why Insurance companies don't put on every basket page 'if you cancel this insurance in the first month you'll still have to pay for 3 months cover'.

Clothes retailers don't put their return policy text into the checkout pages.

> I only realised later about the non-refundable thing, when it was too late.

Both sites said 'non-refundable' clearly, right there in your top two screenshots.

I can't see anyone criticising those pages for hiding the word.

So you seem to have compounded several mistakes (don't feel bad, we've all done similar online!)

i) got your dates wrong
ii) something caused you not to digest the obvious and clear references to non-refundable
iii) when you came back after realising your date mistake ; something caused you to not look around to amend the order, but to grab at the first Cancel option you saw.

Overall, sounds like
a) you were in a rush doing it
b) the sum of money was small enough that you were comfortable rushing through it (and/or it wasn't your money at all).

There's nothing a website can do really - as rushing means that much of what is in the page is missed anyway.

Like I said, don't feel bad - we've all done similar!

But I'm not sure there's any new lesson here for the hotel industry and their handling of non-refundable rooms.

almost 3 years ago

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Frank

I think you are wrong about the Holiday Inn booking dialogue.

There is a box in the lower left-hand corner which clearly states that your deposit (described in the Your Rate box) is forfeited on cancellation.

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Deri Oh, I've clearly made a mistake in the booking. The point is that these mistakes are easy to make and , if you Google 'Travelodge refunds' then you'll see that plenty of people have done something similar.

The question for Travelodge is given that customers are going to make these mistakes, is it better to try and avoid them and the customer discontent they cause (even if the mistake is the customers) or to try and minimise these errors through clearer messaging?

I would argue the latter, and the Premier Inn example, with a persistent summary throughout checkout and a clearer spelling out of the fact that these rates are non-refundable would minimise customer errors while not being an obstacle to progress through the checkout.

The article is also about the appalling customer service post-sale, which would deter many people from using such a company.

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Frank - yes, it's there on the page, but easily missed. I'd imagine an eye-tracking study would highlight that.

The point here is that people skim-read web pages, and look for the information that takes them to the next step in the process.

They are more likely to be looking at the address and payment forms, and focusing on the call to action when that is done, so small text on the left of the page can be missed.

http://i.imgur.com/CADUDSi.png

If companies want to do this, that's their choice, but they do risk annoying customers, who will vent their spleens online (rightly or wrongly).

Here are just three such examples on TripAdvisor reviews for Holiday Inns:

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g186220-d281808-r132730262-Holiday_Inn_Express_Bristol_North-Bristol_England.html

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g186220-d498102-r58843626-Holiday_Inn_Bristol_Airport-Bristol_England.html

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g29144-d120068-r85089546-Holiday_Inn_Express_Hotel_Suites_Aurora-Aurora_Colorado.html

almost 3 years ago

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Eddie Prentice

In answer to your question Graham, I would say "Yes" on a personal level but the evidence suggests "No".

You mention Ryanair when comparing your Travelodge experience. I have never booked with the latter but my experience with the former is a key reason why I make at least 8 trips a year with Easyjet.

Pricing comparisons are so difficult given nothing is completely transparent. Ryanair process seems designed to deceive by stealth rather than enlighten. For savvy and determined bargain hunters who are interested ONLY in price then they accept poor service is the quid pro quo. Ryanair's success shows they have a market. I'm just happy I not in it!

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Eddie I've used budget airlines, but don't think i'd bother with Ryanair. I'm a nervous flyer as it is, but there's the nagging suspicion that, if Ryanair is so keen on cutting costs, where does this end?

This sort of thing doesn't help my confidence either: http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/exclusive-safety-warning-as-budget-airlines-such-as-ryanair-cut-fuel-levels-for-flights-8749046.html

Doesn't stop Ryanair making money though.

almost 3 years ago

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Ruth Kidson

I'm sorry to say that this ties in with my experience of Travel Lodge. Some years ago I booked into one and found that, although there were towels in the bathroom, there was no bathmat. I went down to reception, and was told that if I wanted a bathmat, it would cost me another £2 - something else that wasn't made clear on the booking form!

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

To update this thread, and give credit where it's due, Travelodge did get in touch with me to talk about the issues raised here, and to offer a goodwill gesture by refunding my charge.

Travelodge is apparently looking into how the terms are communicated, as well as the customer service issues.

almost 3 years ago

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adam grannell

Hi a great article on customer experience. I think customer experience matters whatever the case is. Repeating booking info and what the next step is going to be is reassuring to most people.

I booked for one night with travel lodge a while back and actually got charged twice for the same booking. At the time their website had problems and it was a bit difficult getting a refund. I only chose them because the place was close enough for the event i was going to.

almost 3 years ago

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