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Rental car companies are in a fiercely competitive industry, with the major players vying for customers in a $22.4 billion market, of which online bookings contribute significantly. The car rental category was a top-gaining online sector even during the economic downturn of 2008, with tens of millions of visits a year, particularly during the peak summer travel period.
As the car rental market has increasingly moved online, the challenge for rental car companies is not only how to compete on features, service and price, but how to move an even larger share of their business online and increase conversions for online visitors. In 2007, Budget tackled the challenge of moving business online head on. It embarked on an ambitious plan to measurably improve the user experience with its Budget.com website and surpass its competition in the areas of customer experience, brand impact and overall customer satisfaction.
Recognizing that its online channel represents a key customer touch point, Budget’s primary goal was to improve the customer experience at Budget.com and ensure that the site was both a reflection of – and a response to – the needs of its current and prospective customers. Specific objectives included:
- Improving customer service, making it easy for customers to quickly search and locate the most accurate and useful information;
- Increasing overall usability, reducing the effort required to find and reserve the right vehicle;
- Improving the reservation process by making it easier for customers to compare different rates, thereby increasing the conversion rate;
- Strengthening the brand perception of Budget.
By focusing rigorously on usability and putting customers at the center of the design process, Bridgeline’s user experience experts worked with Budget to identify the key factors that were driving user behavior on the site. To further enhance the user experience, Bridgeline assisted Budget in integrating a feature that instantly notifies customers via email when a promotion matches their profile. Using the Budget RSS Feed, customers can request instant alerts for special offers for up the three travel destinations. If a lower rate for a planned destination appears in the RSS feed window, the customer can instantly click a link and lock in the new rate.
Bridgeline also implemented a multivariate site testing tool that enables Budget to meticulously analyze consumer interactions with the site and let their opinions drive refinements to the user interface and feature set. Multivariate testing has allowed Budget to test more than 2,000 different permutations of the home page and make both subtle and dramatic changes to the design based on observed user behavior.
Since their original project in 2007, Budget continues to analyze and re-architect its site using this model, making both incremental changes in direct response to user feedback, and fueling a more substantial site update and redesign, launched in late 2011. For that update, Budget wanted to add user country selection functionality, make the controls for their reservation form even more intuitive, and have a more flexible layout than their previous model. Bridgeline leveraged the continuing information Budget receives from its multi-year A/B testing to drive changes in the information architecture on the home page, such as higher prominence for the login functionality. Bridgeline implemented a refreshed homepage experience which reduced the friction of key user tasks and added new functionality in an intuitive and unobtrusive manner. Testing also informed design changes on the home page that drove updates to the entire site.
Budget is recognized today as a leader among branded car rental sites in most customer experience rankings. In the 2008 Keynote Customer Experience Study for rental car websites, Budget beat out its competitors in virtually every user experience index, including overall customer experience, brand impact and customer satisfaction. In its detailed driver rankings, Budget finished first in Customer Support, Reservation Process, Design and Organization, Visual Appeal, Car Description and Details, and Locate Help. More panelists associated “helpful” with Budget than any other website in the study, which included online travel agent sites such as Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz.
Since their second major update, Budget customer feedback has shown additional increases in customer satisfaction. Help requests have been reduced, page speeds have increased, and customers have benefited from usability improvements stemming from changes in the form layout and key user tasks.
By leveraging the multivariate testing, Bridgeline Digital has helped Budget increase their Return on Investment (ROI) by millions of dollars. As a result of just the latest site updates and redesign, conversions for the homepage increased 3.42 percent (approximately $3 million annually).