In its early days, the online travel industry focused on speed, ease-of-use, and cost-effectiveness. That was a great start but it didn't go far enough:  Travel is a complex and often daunting purchase decision — one layered with conflicting emotions like aspiration, excitement, and even fear. How has the industry evolved to deal with the emotional aspects of the travel experience? 

Scott Jones is head of user experience design for online travel giant Expedia.  Scott will be one of our featured presenters at our CXSF 2016, October 20-21. In advance of the event, we sat down with Scott to explore some key aspects of his role and Expedia’s CX strategies.

How has Expedia evolved its user experience to address the complex multidimensional context of travel planning?

Jones: Several years ago, in the wake of a rapidly changing consumer tech landscape, we recognized the critical need to make heavy investments in new technology and intelligence to stay innovative, relevant and nimble.

Since then we implemented a “test-and-learn” approach, which allows our teams to propose an idea, build the hypothesis behind it and implement a small test to understand the customer response. This approach, coupled with our expanded user experience research capabilities, has allowed us to learn faster and better understand the “why” behind our customers’ behaviors.

We have also built an innovation research lab on our property to conduct tests directly with customers. Using eye-tracking and facial-movement technology, we can now measure what and where people look at and why. This allows us to get a more nuanced understanding of what customers want and how to move them from browsing to booking.

The goal of the research conducted at our innovation lab is not only to make our various sites and mobile apps more efficient and user friendly, but ultimately to increase confidence and delight, so our customers can focus on making their vacation fantasies a reality.

For many CX professionals, trying to quantify the emotional state of its customers at given moments in their journeys can seem like more art than science. How has Expedia attempted to quantify its customers' emotions? What benchmarks do you use to track emotional engagement?

Jones: Our UX researchers regularly use electromyography (EMG) technology as we study customers using our products.

We place small sensors on the cheek and eyebrow of our test subjects and the sensors will record tiny changes in the user’s facial muscles.

Our researchers then track the changes in the EMG readings, similar to a graph on a lie detector test, to understand the real-time impact that the experience is having on the subject as he or she navigates our websites and apps.

Paired with eye-tracking and other more visual and verbal clues along with a Q&A, we get a sharp read on exactly where the user was looking and what s/he was doing. This allows us to detect subconscious changes in their response based on even minor changes to the experience.

Test subjects are so surprised at our ability to probe on these subconscious changes that they often joke, “it’s like we are reading their minds.” This information is then entered into a growing database, which is analyzed by our research and design teams to help us make better product development decisions.

Can you give us a specific example of a change in Expedia's CX or UX that was driven by insights into the emotional context of your users' travel experience?

Jones: One of the most interesting insights we’ve gathered is around decision-making.

Planning and shopping for a trip can be hard and nerve-wracking. The amount of options available for our customers can be overwhelming and the tradeoffs to balance can leave customers frustrated and even paralyzed.

We found that we could see tangible pleasure when customers could see the list of the hotels or flights they had been considering. “Yes, that one with the fantastic pool slide. I love that one.”

However, we didn’t expect to see such a spike of delight when they actually decided against a hotel. “No, that one isn’t close enough to the beach. Get rid of it.”

The act of deciding and deleting a choice moved them that much closer to booking the property they wanted and progressing further towards their trip.

This insight not only helped us develop our Scratchpad product, but also enabled us to understand just how we can improve the business by giving our customers the confidence they need to make more informed travel decisions.


To register or for more information on CXSF 2017, please visit the Forum website.