I went to Travelocity today. At least I thought I did. Turns out that my modicum of confusion was because Travelocity completely updated their site. I was there yesterday and it didn’t look like that. I can’t find anything on the Way Back Machine, though looking back to Travelocity in 1996 shows they have traveled a long way in the past 8 years.
And while this is not a largely serious rant against their ability to manage change for the customer, I think that companies need to understand something: Unless you are making small, evolutionary changes to your Web site that most users won’t notice much, you really need to prepare people for the change.
I will bet that Travelocity did usability on the new version of their site, but usability is not enough. Managing change for customers is important, and if done transparently can often increase customer satisfaction in a brand (this is a reputation risk moment for all you riskophiles).
Tribe.net is a site that springs to mind. I think you have to be signed up to see it, but they are in the middle of a site redesign right now. There is an image link on the user homepage to view what the new user homepage will look like. At the top of the new view is an opportunity for the user to take a short survey on how they feel about the new design. Tribe.net is evolving their site, but they bring the users along with them, and even involve them in the change.
Again, I don’t have a big problem with what Travelocity did, but I am just taking it as an opportunity to point out that while usability results of 5, 10, or 30 people, even over 3 to 4 iterations is only enough to introduce your new design to those participants. Unless your site has extreme usability problems, it’s best to get your user base involved and let them know a change is coming.
I realize there are some opinions above so I will be looking for some relevant research (whether it supports or refutes my guesses) to add on as an update to this post. However, if you know of any research that supports or refutes, please share via the comments.
Update: About 2 hours after I posted this, Tribe.net unveiled it’s new user homepage. Timely and poignant.