Offline Experiences Can Influence Those Online

We all know that a great online experience is rather pointless if the product or service can't live up to the bells and whistles of its site. But, even though I'm biased toward having the raddest site possible, I do believe a less-than-stellar online experience can be overlooked (to a degree) if the offline offering exceeds expectations.

For example, when I attended webcontent2008 last week in the Windy City, I stayed at one of my favorite hotels -- Hotel Allegro -- in the theatre district. I discovered the Kimpton brand about six years ago when I first moved to Washington, DC, and was staying with a friend in a suburb about an hour outside the city. I decided to avoid traffic and parking by packing up my (one) interview suit and head into the District for a few days, where I stayed at Topaz. I did it solely because it was affordable.

So I was completely surprised to learn upon check-in -- during which I was treated like a celebrity -- that the hotel was anything but cheap. Not only did they have complimentary wine tasting each evening in the lobby as a way to encourage guest interaction, but the entire staff talked to me; actually seemingly went out of their ways to be friendly and conversational. When I had pounded the pavement for hours only to score a single interview, it was absolutely glorious to come back to my intricately-designed, luxurious room, where I recharged before another round of knocking on doors.

When several of my girlfriends and I decided to spend New Year's 2003 in Chicago, I excitedly booked another Kimpton -- our standard room at Allegro surprised me with two bathrooms, which was perfect for our party of four girls. It was a second exceptional hotel experience that made me a fan for life of this environmentally-friendly company that has commitments to programs like Dress for Success.

But, whenever I'd recommend the brand to anyone, I'd always hear the same thing: "Their website is awful." 

Ok, so it's not the BEST website I've ever seen, by any means, but what I can honestly say is that I'm much more forgiving thanks to its incredible offline experience. The booking process is convoluted, and their imagery is slow to load and (in my opinion) doesn't properly showcase their personal design aesthetics and themes they've so deliberately chosen for their properties. But their product has been unquestioningly solid and enjoyable to-date.

So I think, just imagine how people would respond if their corporate site did a better job online of relaying that unique and engaging experience I've come to expect offline -- I mean, credibility and authority are at stake here. Undoubtedly, the result would be more conversions. 

When I submitted my post-stay survey they emailed to me, I mentioned a few things: First, that I loved the chocolate almonds and sparkling water they gave me upon check-in. Second, that I couldn't find outlets easily. Finally, that I wished their website was easier to use (and prettier, too). Within a couple days, I had a personal email from their assistant front office manager detailing responses to each of my items. 

The personal touch goes to further illustrate my point that a tremendous offline experience made me assign credibility that I might not otherwise gather from their web presence. And, when it comes to branding, providing a fantastic, quality service or product always is step one. Step two follows: bring that brand experience truly online.

Stephanie Hay

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Posted in Article Category: #Design & Content
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