Spirit Of Tasmania

The Truth Is In The Data

This is a story about how harnessing live data to solve complex business logic ensures the best results for users’ experience and brand perception.

In late 2014, Sprit of Tasmania decided to take action on a business problem. As operators of a complex booking system, they had identified that their user experience needed an overhaul.

These users were not only distinct in terms of location or socio-economics, but also in their interaction with and perception of Spirit of Tasmania. From here on out, we weren’t just dealing with the user experience of a booking system. We saw an opportunity to improve brand perception by changing the way pricing was structured and how customers saw it – but more about that later.

Put the existing product to the test

Only after putting the existing product to the test we realised the magnitude of the task at hand. The system we were designing for was robust and complex. But its interface was cluttered and overwhelming, causing confusion and tripping users up at almost every step. With Spirit of Tasmania’s main competition being airlines, all of whom were offering solid online booking processes, it was clear a step change was required.

Usability testing is core to our process and we tested regularly in our Sydney testing lab to ensure we were validating solutions worked behaviourally. We made trips to Melbourne and Tasmania to test with actual customers from both territories to ensure we were meeting our goals also from attitudinal perspective.

Early stage user testing

Learning Through Data

Building a ticket to sail on the Spirit presents several complex layers with their own nuances — from passenger fare, vehicle fare, accommodation and offers with each of these elements affected by availability.

To work at speed we worked in integrated sprints with Spirit’s development team, allowing us to build rich data-driven prototypes. With the complexity inherent in the pricing algorithm it was essential to validate our solutions with live data. We realised early on that even sample data was not enough to expose the nuances of the booking system.

We prototype from day one of any project. It makes things real and testable. Prototyping is commonly an iterative process of refinement, but in this instance we used divergent prototypes to explore many solutions to a single problem.

Early stage wireframes were then coded in HTML and linked to live data for testing.

For all the discussion and work put in by the team to build a shared understanding around the ticketing system it was only when seeing live data fed into our prototypes that we truly understood how the system was truly working.

Experience Impacts Brand

With over 80% of bookings made online and the insight that many customers are using the booking platform as a research tool for many customers it is their first touch point with Spirit of Tasmania’s brand.

The original booking platform presented ticket pricing as an inclusive per person figure. Combining fares with accommodation and vehicle pricing did not provide customers with transparency. At worst this created a sense of mistrust towards the booking platform and in turn a negative effect on the brand. (Note: our testing showed that the cheapest price the average person could find in a given date range, was more than double the actual cheapest on offer, creating a mistrust in the platform for those that knew and a perception that traveling by Spirit was a lot more expensive than it actually is.)

We built a new flow around the idea of a simplified conversation with the user. Spirit’s call centre have been optimising and A/B testing their booking process for many years over the phone. The team headed to Devonport aboard the Spirit of Tasmania to spend an afternoon in the busy call centre.

Spirit Of Tasmania Call Centre Visiting Spirit of Tasmania’s call centre revealed insights that informed the structure and messaging you see on the live site today.

The call centre team work from a script that helps them to remember the many steps they need to take a customer through, but we also observed various individuals patter for up-­selling and guiding customers to the best options for their trip.

This led us to introduce more steps into the booking process, incidentally in direct contrast to the original brief, and allowing us to simplify the conversation with the user at each step. Ultimately this allowed us to educate users through the booking process so that they walked away knowing they had got the best price available for them.

New Booking Flow Providing users with full visibility of their ticket price

Our new flow embraced the concept of building a ticket with a dynamically updating header to give users full visibility on how their ticket was being priced. Beyond user experience, this is an area we were able to strategically affect how they represented their pricing — moving from a per person model to a per item model.

We built a full availability calendar to surface the tapering pricing structure and help people find the cheapest rate. This had been previously hidden by the interface and in particular for last minute bookers gave the impression that the service was astronomically expensive, when in fact significantly more affordable prices might lie a few days or weeks away.

The original date picker solution was technically powerful but overwhelming for users.

The Final Product

Looking back at the initial brief, it is fairly removed from what was actually delivered. Through a collaborative, agile, iterative process of designing, prototyping and testing with real-life data we learned quickly and pivoted often, each time getting closer to the best solution.

An integrated approach to design and development allowed us to make sense of complex business logic by feeding real data into early prototypes.

We redesigned the conversation Spirit of Tasmania were having with their customers online. Instead of creating shortcuts to booking tickets, we made the process longer, yet clearer and more digestible.

We collaborated to find a balance between user needs and business goals, making strategic sacrifices along the way. The result was a more transparent service offering, a simplified, more successful booking system, and an improved brand perception amongst consumers.

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