camel in Egypt
Does your website distract would-be customers from their intended purpose? Hospitality lessons from the Bedouins can fix this PHOTO: Adam Jang

“It’s not just that they take you in, it’s the fact that there are no questions asked.” I overheard a colleague gushing to her officemates about her recent experiences with a Bedouin host in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

She was referring to the Bedouin tradition of unconditional hospitality. The tradition is similar to other hospitality customs worldwide. Yet the Bedouin apply a unique twist. They honor the guest’s emotional, as well as physical, state. They do not force their guests to change — they allow them to be themselves. 

Only after they have housed, fed and watered a guest for three days do hosts have the right to question his or her origins and plans — and even this must be in a respectful and considerate way.

Your Customers Are Your Valued Guests

Walking away, I had a minor 'Eureka' moment which resulted in a spilled cup of coffee. But the lost coffee was worth it.

I had just completed an in-depth mindset analysis on data from several top-tier travel sites — notably a major airline and a brand-name travel aggregator. On both websites, I found strategically-crucial pages that essentially forced visitors to change their state of mind (or leave if they couldn’t do so.)

This practice, I realized, is completely antithetical to the tenets of hospitality. "These people are our guests," I thought, "we shouldn’t be forcing them to do anything, let alone trying to change their very state of mind."

And that’s when I realized: Fortune 500 websites as a whole, and the travel segment in particular, have a lot to learn from the Bedouin.

Online Customer State of Mind — A Refresher

In a previous article, I discussed how we can transform customer experience into an actual metric. Using online behavioral modeling and advanced monitoring technology, it’s now possible to quantify the emotional intensity that a customer experiences at any touchpoint, in real time.

This is accomplished by measuring and evaluating certain on-screen actions — the customer’s digital body language — that have been shown to correlate with different states of mind. Thus, you can determine whether the customer is uninterested, disoriented, decisive, mindful, focused ... or somewhere in between. 

Here’s what I mean by each of these mindsets:

  • Uninterested: These visitors spend time on the page, gathering information, but don't proceed to the next stages
  • Disoriented: These visitors struggle to move forward through the funnel because they can’t find what they’re looking for
  • Decisive: These visitors work intuitively, don’t think too much and decide quickly
  • Mindful: Visitors who take time to decide, invest cognitive resources and pay attention to details
  • Focused: Mature visitors who’ve pre-filled form details and have been to the page before — they’re ready to buy

Determining mindset allows digital marketers and website stakeholders to transform digital body language into KPIs — and benchmark actual business outcomes against them.

In the context of online hospitality, knowing the mindset of a customer at a given point in his journey means you can make him or her feel more comfortable. And it would seem intuitive that part of keeping guests comfortable — as per the Bedouin — is not trying to change their state of mind. Yet this is exactly what the travel sites I analyzed were doing — and their conversions suffered dramatically because of it.

Anatomy of Un-Bedouin-like Online Hospitality

On a well-known UK-based travel aggregator site, I analyzed data covering over 2.3 million pageviews from nearly half a million visitors. The website’s funnel comprises four primary pre-checkout steps: homepage, travel details and two additional options pages.

On this site, as on others, overall customer mindset played a huge role in conversions. Not surprisingly, disoriented visitors were 7 percent less likely to convert, and uninterested visitors 14 percent less likely. Decisive visitors, on the other hand, were 6 percent more likely to convert, as were mindful visitors (5 percent more likely) and focused visitors (3 percent more likely).

For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus only the three positive mindsets — decisive, mindful, focused — and their movement from the first to the second stages of the funnel: homepage to travel details.

Of visitors arriving to the homepage 15 percent were focused, 30 percent decisive, and 29 percent mindful. By the second page in the funnel only 3 percent were focused, 6 percent decisive and 48 percent mindful. 

What can we learn from this about this website’s hospitality on our informal online Bedouin index? Given the dramatic drop in focused and decisive visitors, and the corresponding rise in mindful visitors — this site is clearly not being a good host.

Forcing Customers to Change Mode of Thinking

A closer examination of customer session replays and page design showed the second funnel page was far more cognitively demanding than the first. Thus, visitors that could apply snap judgements and intuitive decision-making on the homepage were forced to slow down and concentrate on the second page. 

In psychological terms, the second of these funnel pages was demanding a mode change — requiring a significantly higher need for cognition than the first. The page simply wasn’t designed for intuitive, rule-based decision-making — forcing visitors to change their mode of thinking and implement rational thought processes. 

As I’ve discussed before, you don’t always really want your customers to think. On this site, forcing them to do so negatively affected their experience, and resulted in significant dropoff.

The Solution: Let It Be 

The Beatles said it best, although the Bedouin knew it first: Let it be. Visitors who come to your site with a certain mindset need to stay in that mode throughout the funnel. Don’t push them to a place they don’t want to go.

By way of example, a visitor with a clearly decisive mindset on the homepage should not be distracted with extraneous offers and messages on the second page of the funnel. Leave him be, and save the extra noise for the distracted visitors who may need something to catch and hold their attention. The decisive folks know what they want — give it to them. The same goes for other mindsets.

Once we accept that mindset is quantifiable, we can hone the way we treat our individual customers as individuals. Using advanced technology, we can both monitor mindset and adapt experience to show customers — much like the Bedouin show their guests — the respect a welcome guest deserves.

Editor's Note: Hear more of what Liraz has to say about digital body language at CMSWire's DXSummit, taking place Nov. 13 to 15 at the Radisson Blu Aqua in Chicago