Many people would say that price comparison websites like say Travelsupermarket.com; skyscanner or carrentals.co.uk do customers a huge service – by allowing them to choose the cheapest deals without having to do a stack of time consuming research. At its most basic level this is absolutely the case.
But, they focus people totally and utterly on price. Mercilessly.
By exhibiting a bunch of deals side by side with virtually no branding alongside they are a brand marketer’s nightmare. (All that cash spent carefully trying to differentiate your product from a competitor’s is just stripped away and levelled down to a price with little else.) And they quickly drive customers to think about nothing but the best price. Ever found yourself thinking 'hang on we're talking about £5 difference in price here!'
Some comparison sites do add back some extras into the mix – but the ultimate aim is to smooth all the products into virtual ubiquity so that people can make swift choices between them – driven by price and nothing else.
I wonder how great they are for customers too? This really commoditised marketplace is about cutting cost rather than innovation. Everyone is effectively selling the same stuff and spending much of their energy on the supply chain – cutting costs remorselessly to be able to compete more effectively on price.
But it’s not just about price is it?
A holiday, a flight, a hire car – all of these things are about way more than just a simple product and a price. (Particularly if things go wrong!) I think it’s time people started really thinking about customer service and what it could add back into the equation.
I look a lot at the financial services industry and laugh at the idiocy of it all at the moment. So crap, so commoditised, so tied down by regulation, so stiffled of innovation. Ironically, all the banks have to differentiate themselves with is customer service. So they try remorselessly to convince us that they are 'on our side'. And fail to deliver because they don't make real fundamental changes to the way they do business. If you're going to do customer service you have to do it from the top to the bottom of a business and be fanatical. Not enough to trot out some old tired cliches like the banks do.
But - travel is a 'real' people business and the touch points for delighting customers on say a package holiday are myriad. Customer service should be absolutely critical. What would it cost to add proper customer service back into the mix? A price differential of say £10 onto a booking of £100? I have no idea, but if you did it the smartest possible way and used technology to do it really efficiently… how much would it really cost? And - how much harder would it be for a competitor to copy you if you did?
The internet-fueled obsession with lowest cost and lack of balls to stand out from the crowd and say in the words of certain beer brand ‘we are reassuringly expensive’ is I think slowly screwing the industry.
And you know what, price comparison sites are so DULL. Holidays should be fun, inspiring and exciting - and that includes the purchase of them. Price matters... but there should be so much more to buying a holiday.
The only brand I can think of really selling on service right now is Virgin Holidays. Can you think of others?
Would you pay more for better service or does it have little or no influence on your booking habits these days?