Consumers are better informed today and more distrusting of products or services than ever before. Old school marketing techniques have pummeled consumers for years causing them to do their homework because they do not always trust what is being told to them. Being even mildly misled online can be a frustrating experience.
Recently we planned a holiday with my wife’s parents to Fiji. I booked accommodation online with the Starwood Hotels & Resorts website staying at the Sheraton Villas for 5 nights. To cut a long story short, the Starwood Hotels & Resorts site is not particularly easy to use and the links referring to taxes are far from prominent. Clauses on the site are not easily understood unless you go through the full booking process. For a group as large as Starwood, this surprised me. I saw a number of complaints about Sheraton Fiji tax additions on Trip Advisor, which tells the real story; it’s not clear enough. There are very few websites that conceal information like this today because they have learned it does not pay.
To make things worse, I received 3 confirmation emails, all about 1 hour apart. They were identical, which was confusing to say the least. I scanned over one email looking for the total amount so I knew what to expect on my credit card. I saw a sentence saying it would debit “1912.50 FJD” from my card. Everything else aside, this should be the amount debited. Nothing more, nothing less. Even if I didn’t work it out with a calculator and read the confusing information that accompanied the email, I assumed the total shown would be the exact amount debited from my card. Fair enough? I think so.
It was only when I looked at my credit card statement weeks later that I found they had in fact debited 20% more than the amount shown in the email – due to taxes. I didn’t care about the charges, what started to annoy me with this whole online experience was the apparent hiding of taxes. Whether intended or not, it annoyed both my wife and I. Sheraton sent no remittance for the actual total deposit so I would be aware of what to expect. It can only mean they expected me to work this out and in today’s world, this is not good enough. Even with a clause saying taxes “may” be charged, the amount debited was not $1912.50 FJD. I mean, the sentence says this exactly so I stopped there and closed the email. Is this easily misunderstood? Yes. Could I have worked it out if I took time to do so? Probably. Is it still right that they do this? Hell no. I’m a customer and I am paying for the privilege of staying in a hotel; I want professional service for my money and to be well informed of the amounts I spend.
Air New Zealand went through a period – as did some other airlines – a few years ago where they thought it was fine to conceal the taxes that the government had added to airfares. They, like Starwood, said they were not doing this intentionally. In their marketing emails they would imply cheap prices for fares then add tax right at the end of the online payment process. You had no idea what the taxes were until you got this far. You then realised the fares were not that cheap after all. This cost them dearly. Air New Zealand became distrusted by many and it took many years before they gained public trust again.
It’s the age of the customer not the company. Like me, millions of people are tired of being mislead. By providing completely honest content on your website you will gain trust and, in turn, repeat business. If you damage your audience by misrepresenting some or part of your service or products, you not only lose business at the time but you make them more cautious and less likely to use you again.
Honest content breeds website trust, propagates better business online and makes the web a nicer place.