Monday, May 05, 2003

Good Experience Live III

Elizabeth Peaslee: What I Learned in School

Elizabeth Peaslee is vice president of customer experience at Travelocity. Here is a rough transcript of her talk at Good Experience Live:

Someone once referred to Travelocity as the old lady of the Internet. 18 years is a long time. For 11 years we had a product called EasySaabre, which wasn't so easy. If 18 is old, I'm in trouble, so I changed the title of my presentation from "Growing Old Gracefully"
to "What I Learned in School."

After launch, we had a pretty basic page, a branding person's dream given the size of that logo. There were some ads, and there were four buttons because there were four things you could do. In 1997, we added a search tool for low fares. There were five prominent buttons. I refer to these as our Crayola years because everything was very colorful. Travel is colorful and fun.

In 1998, we moved to a standard two-column design, what I call our junior high "studious wallflower" years. In 1999 we added a third column. We wanted to get everything people could do on the home page. We had a rather industrial-looking set of buttons. By the end of that year we moved back to a reverse two-column design.

In early 2000 we bought Preview Travel. Interviewing people about what they liked about Preview Travel was that it was fun. So we added more color. And with the merger, our home page started looking like an org chart. People asked us why we had everything on the home page when all they really wanted to do was go on a trip.

So senior year for us was about consumer research, customer interviews, and lots of user tests. This was a project we kicked off in 2001, and we decided we could take our time. We didn't want to rush our next redesign. Interviews with customers led to our next design phase. We picked three designs we thought were pretty good, and we took those to user tests. We could get 200-400 people in less than a week rather than eight in a day. We needed facts. We needed to be able to go to people and say this is why we should do something.

One of the three designs came back far exceeded the other two. Now that we knew what the page should look like, we had to add the functionality. People said personalization was very important, so we added a fare watcher. We went into another phase of testing. This was not a quick project. We tested the new home page design against our current home page design, as well as the home pages of our two biggest competitors. It was viewed much more favorably.

We rolled out that page at the beginning of 2002, a year after we started. One of our goals was to get people off the home page. We measured that throughput and bail out. We cut the bail-out rate off the home page by half. 100% throughput isn't realistically attainable.

This is the design we've had for about a year and a half. And the measurement we've been able to do has gotten the rest of the organization focusing on customer experience. Usability testing didn't use to be a discipline. We've shown people that usability testing, focus groups, and talking to your customers is important and useful. Graduation is really just the beginning. We've made a few tweaks. We improved our search tool. We reduced the number of ads. We put the personalization front and center. It's slightly fluid.

What's next? We are constantly looking at the home page. It has a little bit of visibility. Everyone looks at the home page. What's the value of something on the home page? How many people click on that? Do we make any money off of that? Maybe something should be taken off the home page. We use research and testing to justify the changes we make. We have data behind it, and we're able to show results.

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