You have to wonder about an industry that seems intent on making customers miserable. Just look at the new developments in aircraft seating that literally packs people in front-to-back like so many sardines. The only difference is that fish don’t pay dearly for the privilege.

But the problem extends far beyond rampant discomfort on airplanes. Rafat Ali at the site Skift came up with a new hashtag, #hate-selling, while trying to book a trip. Not that he hates selling, but because travel companies seem to hate their customers.

The term "hate-selling" came out of my frustration of juggling between horrendously designed car rental booking sites, being hit with all kinds of surcharges for booking on, over-aggressive upsell by on airline sites (specifically with the most passive-aggressive "restrictions" overlay I have ever seen), to being bombarded with "buy-now-or-else" false-sense-of-urgency prompts on online booking sites.

If you’ve done any amount of travel and booked your own arrangements, none of this will be a surprise. And things keep getting worse. Some airlines have pulled out of the online travel sites (Southwest never provided their information in the first place) because they don’t want consumers to be able to comparison shop. With options come negotiating power and pressure for better services and pricing.

Almost all the service providers deconstruct their pricing and offerings for two reasons. One is so they can present a “base” price that seems more competitive. The other is to provide greater opportunities to upsell things that, not long ago, a reasonable consumer might have expected as part of regular service. (For example, just why does any luxury hotel still charge for Wi-Fi?)

All businesses want customers and need to make sales, but there comes a time that your very effort undermines the entire business and leaves it vulnerable. As Ali put it, online travel sites show that strategies to convert visitors to buyers are out of control because they become the entire basis for the interchange. Everything becomes “only 2 seats left at this price!” That may or may not be true, but it eventually becomes the company that cried wolf.

Creating artificial urgency is a form of trying to create fear. Ali provided another example via Twitter of an airline (Delta, he alleged) trying to use fear to get people to pay more for seats:

Such tactics may work well in the comparative short run. People spend more, bean-counters are happy, and upper management assumes that they’re on the right track. However, when you rely on such tactics, they become your brand. Your company is one that hates customers, wants to manipulate them, and doesn’t care whether they realize it or not. That means you’ve just set yourself up for major disruption. It might not happen today or tomorrow on next year.

But eventually someone will come along with a better idea and knock your legs out from under you. At that point, you might remember (if you ever really understood) that a company’s relationships with people — most importantly customers and employees — are the most valuable asset they have. It will be too late, though, because your relationship is an oppressive one. Who will stand by you then? No one with an ounce of common sense or self-respect.

Published on: Aug 10, 2015
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