When branding and customer experience is off

By May 23, 2016process, web

I recently took an Allegiant Airlines flight. This is the story of our survival through terrible online experience and mismatched branding. 

Pam (Forge and Smith Digital Marketing Strategist) and I were heading to Social Media Marketing World. Thankfully Forge and Smith helped cover the conference ticket but additional expenses fell on us – so we were as economic as possible. Allegiant Airlines had an unbeatable rate for flights from Bellingham (a 40 minute drive from Vancouver over the US border).

The online booking experience was terrible. We ended up paying an extra $12 USD by mistake for selecting a seat. We were confused how that happened but flew with it (pun intended).

We were warned and prompted with every possible additional cost you could imagine:

  • $8-15 to select your seat
  • $12 for priority boarding
  • $18 for each carry on bag (I’ve never heard of that before)
  • $25 for a checked bag
  • $5 if the airline had to print a boarding pass for you

There was noticeably no option to be that last person who strolls through the now empty aisle of the plane with all the other passengers buckled in, scowling at you, take the last empty seat right as the plane begins to taxi. I want that option. There is an opportunity airline companies! I’d pay for that.

I was terrified. I’ve flown with budget airlines before, but nothing like this. The purchasing experience made me think we were in for a disaster comedy sketches are made of:

The online check-in 24 hours prior was just as frustrating. Again we were warned and prompted to pay if we wanted additional bags (but the charge had now jumped from $25 to $45). The iPhone app crashed. Online check-in wouldn’t complete. It wouldn’t allow us to select seats next to each other without paying (because any seat apart from your assigned seat is apparently a premium). It seemed like a bad omen for things to come.

But we made it this far. We were committed.

The initial $69 flight had almost doubled. I didn’t mention there was a $30 fee to pay by credit card (our only option being in Canada). I was worrying more additional costs would add up, and we might as well have paid for first class.

I imagined being pinged for each and every misstep:

  • $40 fine for bags 20g over the limit
  • $20 to talk to the Allegiant representative ($50 if they made eye contact)
  • An additional $8 per question
  • $18 fine for stretching my legs into the aisle
  • $22 for an in-flight drink

I was expecting the worst…

We got to the airport. All passengers were as annoying as all passengers always are. Boarding was a hassle. That didn’t change. That was expected. That was flying. What happened next went beyond:

The seat was comfortable. I had leg room. The flight attendants were delightful. Their service was great. The in-flight snacks and drinks were reasonable. I was, nervously, happy.

Sure, there was no in-seat screen to watch the latest flicks. And the seat didn’t recline – which was an added benefit as a tall person who seems to end up behind ‘that’ person who reclines ten minutes after take of.

I purchased an on-flight beverage with a pleasant smile and a swipe of my credit card. It was a pleasant flying experience. I was confused. How was everything up until this point so terrifying?

I felt like I had entered a secret club. A secret club that meets just across the border to go on vacation. Saving hundreds of dollars.

Call it branding, call it UX call it Customer Experience (or “CX”, the latest trending term), whatever you want to call it – it wasn’t making sense. Their website experience didn’t match the real-world service.

When prices are significantly lower than any other airline – why not make the booking experience difficult? The motivation for users to complete the purchase is the price.

Just because you are the budget option – doesn’t mean you can’t invest in design. There are so many examples of great branding, great UX and great design on a budget.

Not investing in well thought out design will make your business forgettable. With “CX design” becoming the next thing, how will your business stand out? Invest in your brand, invest in design and invest in your customers experience.