I was thinking recently about having someone at work do a side by side analysis to compare the functionality on a few airline websites, and then I came across an interesting article which made me wonder – has anyone actually compared the error handling pages across airlines?

On the web, errors are seemingly inevitable, and there are plenty of best practices for minimizing their negative effects. But what if we treated errors as an opportunity? What if we deliberately designed our customers’ error experience—not just for basic usability and clarity, but with conversion in mind?

It would be difficult to test, as how do you invoke an error screen at will, especially if the airline is using an IBE other than your own. But if it could be done, I’m sure the comparison would be fascinating to look at.

Following on from this thinking (how about sticking a great demo on the error page to restore faith in the complete flow?), I saw that Autodemo, a company I had mentioned positively in the past ( for their work with American Airlines) has made a wide number of demos available. I think you had to register on the site in the past, but right now (not sure if it is a permanent change) you can see not only the work they have done for AA, but also samples from Cheapflights, Expedia, Priceline, Mapquest and a lot more. Very slick, and I like the way you can turn off audio and replace it with on screen text.

So I asked Amy Gesenhues, Marketing Director from Autodemo the following question.

I believe most of your work in creating website and software demos is as a sales generation lead tool, but given the work you’ve done in the travel sector, could you give your views on what it takes to put together a compelling demo to increase customer awareness and adoption of new functionality on a travel website. Secondly, where do you see recorded demos adding the most value for online travel, beyond just introducing new functionality?

And Amy replied with:

Most of the demos we have created for the software sector are leveraged as marketing and sales tools; the web demos we have created for sites within the travel sector (and retail and even online banking sites) tend to lean more toward online help tools that offer direction and drive adoption of specific features.

It’s been our experience that the best way to increase customer awareness and adoption of specific site features and functions is to create a clear, concise, three to five-minute demo that includes actual screen shots synched to a professional voiceover narrating each step of the process. Whether someone is buying a book or purchasing a flight, making a hotel reservation, or renting a car, they want a seamless transaction where nothing is left to chance. If the online user knows each step of the process before having to do it themselves, they are more likely to complete the transaction. Our demos are compelling because they provide the exact information needed to complete the process without a lot of marketing jargon or unnecessary animation that only serves as a distraction.

Something else that plays a crucial role in the success of an online demo for a travel site is where the link for the demo is placed. The link has to be contextual within the site and named appropriately. Users shouldn’t have to search for their help tools…sites need to be intuitive to the user’s needs, providing links like, “Need help finding your itinerary?” as soon as the user has purchased their travel.

As far as recorded demos adding the most value to the online travel market, there are many ways to leverage a demo. If sites have added new online tools, an email campaign to users that provides a link to a demo promoting the new tool would be an easy and affordable way to increase user adoption. Since more people are going online to plan their own travel, the more automated demos available to help those users the better. Customers get the information they want right when they want it and travel companies save thousands of dollars in call center costs since their customer service reps are not having to answer the same question all day long. A demo is a small price to pay when you consider all you are saving by reducing your call center volume.

I’m not suggesting Autodemo is the only company that can make a good demo, but whoever you use, this is one example where putting a demo made yourself with shareware software definitely isn’t going to cut it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a recorded demo on an airline website error page, and it is hardly the first place I would suggest placing it (hopefully your error pages aren’t seen too often!) but whatever you do with your error pages, definitely don’t ignore them.