Designing User Experience Across Media

Priceline is in the cruise business, and they have (what look like) some pretty cheap cruises.

They also have a usability problem.

If you heed their urging and call 800-735-8000, because “vacation consultants are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help you plan your next cruise”, don’t expect to actually reach a vacation consultant. Instead you’ll get a voice-mail menu asking you to press 1 if you know the extension of the party you’re trying to reach…. Know the party’s extension!? How would I know the party’s extension!? I’m responding to an appeal on your web site to get help from these consultants who are standing by 24 hours a day. Press 2 if (blah blah blah)…

The problem here is not merely that voice-mail menus are inherently much harder to use than menus we can read, although that contributes to the user’s difficulty. The problem is that no one has designed the user experience across media1. The phone number is not set up specifically for the purpose of taking someone to these “vacation consultants”, but rather is a more general-purpose phone number for Priceline.

The creation of incoming phone numbers needs to be considered as part of the user’s navigation of a company’s information space. This includes web navigation and phone voice-mail navigation, and ties them together as one single multi-media web of information.

When I’m promised that calling a number will take me to these “consultants” (salespeople, really), I expect it to take me directly to them, and being faced with a series of decisions based on vague information is frustrating to me and going to kill the process and therefore likely kill the sale. (Since I’ve never been on a cruise, I want to be able to talk to a real person about what to expect, rather than sift through carefully presented marketing material which will tell me almost nothing of what I need to know to make an informed decision as to whether this is something for me.)

This is almost identical to what some news sites do when you click on a link on the home page that purports to take you to the complete news story, but instead takes you to another page full of links to other stories, amongst which is a link to the story you wanted to read2. It’s frustrating when the user makes a request (by clicking on a link or by calling a phone number) and then is faced with a whole new set of options, and must once again find their way to the thing they’d already requested. Those who do it may think you’re going to “buy” more of their product this way, like grocers who put their milk in the back of the store so you have to walk by all the other junk food they sell. But maybe you’ll just go shop somewhere else3.


  1. Yes, yes, of course I realize that the word mediausually refers (most of all) to the journalist-industrial complex, and (secondly) to their collection of materials used for propaganda, but hey let’s think this through together. Media is the plural of medium, and in Brandon’s Collegiate Dictionary medium is defined as the substance or (metaphorically) the conduit through which information passes.
  2. I think netscape.com used to do this, but it seems they’re not doing it now. Perhaps that changed when netscape.com began simply forwarding to netscape.aol.com.
  3. For my part, I prefer Trader Joe’s over Meijer any day, even though I feel some faint connection to the latter by way of my Dutch-ness. TJ’s doesn’t pull this kind of shenanigan, they have healthy products at lower-than-Meijer prices (and way lower if you compare prices with Meijer’s “health food” section), and it doesn’t require miles of walking to find anything in the store. (So much for an economy of scale!)
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