Now and again you see a website so different to the norm that you can’t help but be intrigued. Lings Cars reverses perfectly in to that space.

The easy option here would be for me give the site a good going over with a usability stick, but I wouldn’t be the first to do that and quite frankly I don’t want to have Ling Valentine breathing now my neck and boxing me into submission….

Instead, what I want to hopefully do in this article is identify a wide range of persuasive, psychologically rooted design techniques that this website uses to a) build trust and then b) encourage you to hire.

Stay with me on this, I know when you first see the site you may well have a WTF moment and wonder how anyone would/could find their way around the site, but if you don’t know already Ling shifts quite a few cars over the course of the year: £35m in 2010 in fact.

Challenges with your first impression

When you first arrive on the site you have some ‘pretty significant’ challenges to overcome.

These may include wondering where the hell the search facility is, not having any indication of where to actually start or just simply trying to take in the variety of in your face banners, flashing icons and multitude of ‘click me now or else you’re doomed’ calls to action.

A really interesting and critical part to all of the content provided is that there is, in the most part, a specific reason why that content exists and is promoted. In a word, persuasion.

If for a minute you take the very concept of usability out of the equation, this site is absolutely packed with a wide range of persuasive design techniques which are quite clearly influencing thousands of visitors to hire a car from this website and not one of many others available at the click of the back button (presuming you can’t even face clicking on anything for fear of your computer blowing up, or something like that).

Trust and ways to build it

When you’re considering taking out a hire agreement, it’s not something the average consumer will do lightly.

It may well be the first time they have considered this route for their next car, and one absolutely critical ingredient for them to have the confidence to commit to a hire provider is trust.

Common hire terms are three or four years, and we’re not just talking about a small commitment in terms of monthly price or the purchase of a commodity item. Hiring a new car will for most consumers be the second biggest amount on their monthly overheads spreadsheet after mortgage or rent.

Pillars of building trust

Key pillars for how brands build trust online are:

  • Providing a professional, usable online experience.
  • Answering key visitor questions.
  • Providing transparency to the consumer.
  • Demonstrating social proof.
  • Providing industry recognition.
  • Showcasing personality.
  • Demonstrating recency of information.

In the next section I have detailed just some of key techniques that Ling Valentine and her team employ in order to build consumer trust in their brand and proposition online.

Persuasive techniques adopted to build trust and persuade visitors to buy

You can trust me!

Directly under the logo and business overview, there is the small but powerful statement ‘You can trust me! … In 2010 I rented over £35million of cars (at RRP)”.

Now this isn’t to say that all visitors will actually see this statement due to it having lost the ‘do what you can to grab attention’ battle many moon ago, but those that do will immediately get a sense of the scale of operation and amount of other consumers obviously hiring from this website.

Not just 1,500, but 1,500+ customer letters

In the primary navigation, there isn’t just a customer tab but you actually get some colourful confirmation of how many customers have chosen to write a letter, presumably thanking Lings Cars for a fantastic service and great hire price.

You won’t fall off your chair when I say social proof is a really important and powerful technique to help persuade consumers to do something, and you’re under no illusions on here that boy does Ling have social proof.

Live and kicking (your ass if you give me any sh!t)

If you want an example of a brand or in particular the person behind/running the brand engaging with consumers and prospects, Ling Valentine is fantastic.

Not only does this really bring out the personality of the brand (more on personality to come) but it clearly demonstrates that this hire provider is very much alive and kicking, compared to some quite soulless car hire company websites I’ve been on.

Bang up-to-date with the latest deals

More messaging that is contained within the homepage focuses on demonstrating that they are constantly adding new hire deals, with the aim of saying to visitors ‘if you want the best and latest deals, count on us to keep bringing them to you’.

I’m out – who needs the dragon’s money anyway?

OK so Ling has previously been on Dragon’s Den. You can’t beat a bit of name dropping to enhance credibility, and the carefully selected quotes from Duncan, Richard and Deborah plus their mug-shots, help to demonstrate some of Ling’s business acumen and charisma.

Did I mention personality already?

It’s all me me me and my larger than life personality

As the saying goes people buy people, and as you look round the site you are under no illusion as to who you are hiring from.

From the opening message ‘I live inside this website Monday to Friday 9am-6pm, to give you the very best service and make your experience a happy one! – I am Ling, accept no substitutes’ to My Cheapest Leasing Deals and ‘Hi! I am Ling Cheap Car Leasing – WAH! from Dragons’ Den. I lease cheap new cars!’ not to mention the About Me tab in the navigation (adorned with some more creative treatment) the website screams personality.

Who said you don’t get anything for free?

Who would have thought you could get a free collectors badge from your chosen hire company? I’m not saying this will be a deal clincher, but people like free stuff and well, a collectors badge is free.

Who said hiring cars has to be boring?

I don’t know actually, but not just content with providing a plethora of distractions on the homepage, visitors can also spend time not browsing cars but actually looking at Fun Stuff from the primary navigation.

I wonder what other car hire companies would even consider providing any fun stuff for visitors, especially with a smiley face emblazoned too?

It’s a family business

You don’t just get Ling’s advice throughout your online experience. Hover over most of the car deals on offer and you also get baby Ling giving you some timely advice on which to buy.

In all seriousness there is of course no actual insights provided here, but it’s another element that delivers an experience that is rich in personality.

Understanding the true running cost

Along with the monthly hire cost, Ling also provides a cost for the true running cost per day. Clicking in to this area provides a whole page of information explaining how the cost has been calculated.

This type of additional information provides visitors with a much richer amount of information from which they can make a much more informed purchase decision. The word which sums up this approach is transparency, and it’s quite refreshing to see.

What you get for your money

Many sites still don’t provide the right amount of transparency when it comes to telling the consumer what you get for your money, but this is one of the areas where Ling tries to really deliver on, including jems like this “I send you a sexy first aid kit for your Mercedes A-Class glovebox (limb amputation size)”.

When will someone be there to help me buy?

Hidden within the content is at least information about when Ling is personally available, as well as a useful side panel providing visibility of who you chat live at the current time.

Due to the nature of what visitors are potentially looking to invest in I’m sure live chat will be a very important part of the customer journey for many prospects, and although its competing with many other elements it at least stays with you as you scroll down the (how feckin long?) pages.

Up-front restrictions

When you get to the stage of actually choosing a make and model, the product page for hiring a specific car is packed full of information.

One of the many elements are the ‘restrictions on this deal’ which is repeated throughout the page. One things for sure Ling is providing transparency, which if like myself consumers read down these product pages as you go through the decision making process you can’t help but see.

No hidden fees

Along with providing transparency around any restrictions for a particular deal, the website also provides details of any additional costs which on other websites may be ushered in the back door as hidden fees.

Along with many of the elements I am detailing you do truly get the sense that Ling isn’t going to con you in to a deal where you suddenly get presented with hidden fees and nasty surprises – a critical area for consumers to build and maintain that sense of trust prior to purchase.

Additional expenses clearly promoted

Without looking at other hire websites, I can well imagine that the additional expense to consumers if they go over the annual mileage limits won’t be that well communicated. Dare I suggest its an area where car hire companies regularly make extra revenue from their customers?

In keeping with the ‘all cards on the table’ approach for this website, once again there is no question that you are being kept in the dark, although ‘between 4 and 10p a mile’ isn’t the narrowest of ranges!

Price and value will continue to be a primary driver for many consumers

This website screams cheapness (I mean with the terminology goddamit, nothing else), so there is no denying that part of the strategy here is to demonstrate that you’re going to be getting a great deal if you hire from Ling.

Who doesn’t ‘want a cheap car leasing deal’? I certainly would.

3 + 35 =

Along with providing transparency of the proposition in spades, another key area that the website delivers on is answering potential visitor questions.

For the first time hirers, even down to understanding what 3 + 35 means has been given a straightforward answer.

Full menu of links to answers on…

At the start of every offer page, there is a sub-menu of links which allow visitors to choose what questions they want answering, from explaining prices to saying who can drive the car all the way to what happens when you want to return the car and what happens for MOT’s.

What happens if I click the beautifully bevelled, flashing ‘order now’ button?

So what happens when a visitor has read enough and has been persuaded to hire from this website? Well the main call to action is the flashing ‘order now’ button, but to many visitors clicking this is the equivalent of taking a leap of faith.

Lings Cars handles this by providing a panel ‘what happens when I press “order now”?’ four times within a deal product page, ensuring that visitors have every chance of seeing this crucial information as they are digesting all the information they are being presented with.

The wording used too also reduces the amount of commitment users have to make at this initial stage whilst providing the clarity of when they will make their final commitment.

How to visualise and get excited about BHP

Ling dedicates quite a big area within the ‘Questions, Questions’ section to telling the story of what you’ll be getting ‘under the hood’ with a particular car.

I love the photo of the engine, not to mention the personality being brought out with the likes of ‘rip-roaring turbo direct injection diesel engine!’ and “It has 6 cylinders and 24 valves. This means it kicks out 241bhp and torques (but no one understands what a torque is). Jeremy Clarkson would be proud of me!”

Recognising the purchase decision probably won’t just be made online

Along with the primary call to action area being repeated four times down the page, visitors also have the useful option of printing the current hire details for viewing offline, or sharing with others who don’t aren’t in a position to view the website (whether its their choice or not).

In some respects the printed version of a deal page provides a less intensive viewing experience, whilst still containing most of the key elements that the website provides. Long live printable pages I say.

Car or coronary? I’m Lingin’ it!

Another one of the aspects of a hire detail page is where Ling compares the daily running cost to a eating a few Big Macs, every day.

The clincher for me was knowing this doesn’t included the cost of fries. This is another superb example of Ling’s true personality in all its glory, and I’m Lingin’ it!

It’s all about the conversion baby

In amongst the plethora of information each product page provides, what is ultimately the primary goal of the site, to get visitors to choose to hire now, is regularly repeated down the page.

By regularly asking for the sale, Ling is aiming to catch different visitors at different stages of the understanding and consideration phase.

In some ways it reminds me of the new membership promotion page on this site, which also features an extremely long selling page, but never loses sight of what the aim of the page is for  – converting visitors to buyers.

So, would you consider hiring from Lings Cars?

I’m really keen to hear what people have to say about this website. The more time I spend on the site the more persuasive techniques I could have featured in this article, but it’s not exactly short already so I had to draw the line somewhere…

To summarise my thoughts, once you climb over the first hurdle of ‘wtf’ first impressions and actually find a potential deal you are interested in, the amount, type and style of information which is provided is quite simply a breath of fresh air.

Many, many retailers can learn a lot from the wide range of persuasive techniques on show here to encourage visitors to become buyers.

Now, if only a few more basic usability principles could be factored in, that would be something pretty special…

(This article is a follow-up to a previous post on how Booking.com deliver persuasive design practice. Paul is also the trainer for Econsultancy’s E-commerce and Usability best practice courses.)