The missing artwork: a customer experience case study.

The questions brands should ask themselves:


Mia Fileman

3 years ago | 5 min read

During the Campaign Masterclass, we have been learning about the customer experience (CX), and much to my delight, it always prompts a few a-ha moments and changes to how the participants approach their marketing.

CX is by no means marketing 101 and therefore takes a bit of work to really wrap your head around. So, after a not so great experience with an Airbnb property at the weekend, I thought I would explore CX using a case study.

The customer journey does not end with the purchase and as this case study proves, the purchase was only really the beginning of the journey for me.


With overseas and interstate trips on hiatus this year, we decided to book a long weekend away at Boomerang Beach, on the mid-north coast of NSW. Being our only family holiday this year, we decided to make it a bit shmancy and locked in a property that was $560 per night, $1700 all up.

Marketing is NOT the business of making a product or service come off better than it is; simply put, it’s not polishing up a turd. Marketing is about matching up customer’s needs and wants with the right product or service. There would have been plenty of customers who suited this property but not those seeking a high-end experience.

Customers who pay above $500 per night on accommodation have very different expectations to customers who pay $250 per night. Little things matter a great deal more because the customer constantly weighs up the cost versus benefit in their minds.

The property was a 3-star property, at best, but with a 5-star price tag which left us feeling very short-changed.

So, what was wrong with the accommodation? It had a very musty smell, and in one of the rooms, the curtains stank of mildew. We closed off that room altogether for the duration of the trip. Down to two bedrooms, the cost vs benefit scale had tipped, and not in our favour.

The sliding doors out to the front and back needed a good spray of WD40, which meant every time we went in and out required an upper arm workout. I saw a cockroach in my ensuite, and the bed creaked a lot. Upon inspection, the bed board was not attached to the bed, just pushed up against the wall. Then there was the missing artwork which was very abstract indeed. Dropping something under the bed was a mistake, as I witnessed just how dirty the floors were.

But, perhaps the biggest offence was the fact they had a Nespresso machine (yay) but supplied exactly 5 coffee pods for a 3-night stay. Not enough for one coffee a day for each adult (nay).

The property not meeting our expectations was not the start and end of the customer experience. We must take into account the entire journey, all the moments starting from booking the property and checking out, and all the interactions with the “brand” in between.

The property was described as a “villa” on Airbnb, but when one thinks of a villa, they imagine a cute beachfront property on the Cook Islands, and not a subdivided block consisting of two run-down dwellings. While it technically met the definition of a villa, “a detached or semidetached urban residence with a yard and garden space” this was a gross over-sell.

While the photos on Airbnb showcased all the great elements of the property, the missing artwork and unpainted patches where holes had been filled-in were not depicted, leading to disappointment upon arrival.

The questions brands should ask themselves:
Does my marketing accurately describe my product and service? Will customers feel delighted or short-changed upon experiencing the product? What expectations does the price set up for the customer?

Before arriving (but after I had parted with my $1700), I received several text messages from the property managers. The first was requesting a Guest Registration which was described as a “mandatory final step before arrival to allow us to release the keys”.

As a marketer, I had no doubt that this request was for capturing my information for future marketing. Good for them, but what’s in it for me?

Another message was about noise complaints. One look at my Airbnb profile will reveal that I have all 5-star reviews as a guest, but here I was feeling like I was a naughty child and I hadn’t even arrived yet. It seems we may have gotten off on the wrong foot.

Another more welcome message was to let me know the property was ready for check-in but there were no details about how I would check in. I contacted them for the lockbox information.

Here’s the thing, every text message was sent from a different number signifying that I was dealing with automation and not real people. There was little consideration to timing or experience. This was a holiday for my family and me, but for them it was transactional. Boxes that needed to be ticked.

The questions brands should ask themselves:

We are using marketing automation to send messages but they will be read by real people. How will customers perceive these messages? How are customers feeling before checking in to holiday accommodation? I want to capture personal info for future marketing but why should they hand over this info to me?

After check in, I brought the musty smell to their attention. After supplying a possible explanation, their response ended with “there isn’t a lot that we can do, unfortunately”.

Is there really nothing that could have been done? Perhaps not about the smell but there are other ways to make amends — a voucher to a local pizza restaurant, a bottle of wine, or dropping off a diffuser to the property are some quick suggestions that came to mind.

A recent study found that one bad review is all it takes to undermine a brand’s efforts. Just one negative review decreased purchase probability by 51% on average and raised the chances that the consumer would search for a substitute by 11%. Customers who found and went on to purchase a substitute spent 16% more for it, suggesting that people will pay a premium to avoid the uncertainty triggered by a bad review. So, brands would do well redouble their efforts to please customers who register their displeasure. This should perhaps take priority over trying to cultivate a wave of great reviews.

The questions brands should ask themselves:
If a customer has a legitimate cause for displeasure, what can be done to make amends? How can we reduce the number of customer complaints and bad reviews?

How brands can do better

The technique we use for analysing and improving the customer experience is customer journey mapping. This involves detailing every step along the journey from the initial booking right through to checkout but from the perspective of the customer or user.

Example of a CX diagram for holiday accommodation:


Once your journey is mapped, brands then need to ask a few key questions:

For every interaction, is this positive, negative or neutral?

What moments along the journey matter more than others? (Known as ‘moments that matter’)

What are the pain points for the customer, and how can these be offset?

Experiencing your brand from the lens of your customers is a powerful and enlightening exercise that will help you design experiences that delight and not disappoint.

Thanks to Alanah Purtell.


Created by

Mia Fileman







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