Take a step back to enable a leap forward. It might seem counter-intuitive in a world that looks for design and development teams to deliver more features more quickly but real business value comes from intimately knowing your customers and providing solutions to meet their needs.

Creating an experience strategy through research and communicating this through a journey map helped the team at Virgin Holidays prioritise their product roadmap and accelerate the delivery of new digital initiatives. It also aligned their digital activities to their mission of being the UK’s most loved holiday company.

A map not only shows you the landscape and orientates you to know where you are it also, and most importantly, shows routes to your destination. For Virgin creating an omnichannel experience map let them clearly and confidently set their digital direction and enabled the acceleration of delivery of new features and functionality.

The Results

A new conversion model

The experience map not only gave an agreed omnichannel view of the customer, but it also redefined how as a business Virgin Holidays use analytics to more accurately measure the potential bookings.


Digital transformation

This project shaped digital output for the next 12 months. It forged a common understanding of complex customer behaviours and empowered cross-discipline teams to design new features under a shared strategy.


A prioritised delivery pipeline

The research and experience map identified key opportunity spaces. It avoided the waste of resources and budgets by delivering new features targetting the un-met needs of the customer.


The Full Story

How can you uncover the needs of the customer?

Many organisations focus their digital research activities exclusively around evaluative testing using analytics and usability testing. Whilst this is clearly valuable, we knew for the success of this project we needed to get a deeper understanding of all the stages customers went through when imagining where to go on holiday - from getting inspired, through to shortlisting destinations and finally to make a booking. Finding out how, when and most importantly why customers make holiday purchasing decisions could better be done with more formative research techniques. This approach allowed us to gain a holistic view and understanding of all the decisions and decision-makers, information sources and timescales involved in booking a holiday.

We undertook a month of research activities with two teams. The first team carried out 40 in-depth interviews, both remote and in-person, with customers across the UK. In the sessions, customers were asked to recall a recent longhaul holiday booking and using a version of the Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) framework we collated notes on their triggers, motivations and behaviours. It was important to discover how customers thought about holidays and made purchasing decisions without being limited to just existing Virgin Holidays customers.

Building on the enormous amount of customer insights in the organisation the second research team interviewed, observed and ran workshops with customer-facing staff and mined analytics data to understand how people move from consideration to conversion.

A month of interviews, workshops, call listening and store visits leads to a huge amount of raw information. The best way to make sense of it is to find a large space, make it visible, and as a team collectively look for emerging themes and patterns.

Throughout the project, we continually exposed the information we were finding out to the wider team. After research activities had been conducted, the researchers and Virgin Holidays project team collated insights, challenged theories and added new questions to ask. The draft map was drawn and redrawn numerous times as we gained confidence in the inputs and found better ways to articulate our thinking.

Crafting the map
Crafting the map

How do you make a map and tell its story?

We knew we wanted to make a physical experience map that facilitated ongoing decision making by people across Virgin Holidays. The challenge was to find a way to express a complicated purchasing journey in a memorable manner.

Our design started with context and location. We had spotted a breakout space used as an open plan meeting room that had a large wall space and many people walking past it. This location allowed us the visibility we were looking for and would allow for teams to congregate around the artefact.

In synthesising the research we had the start of a structure. We knew we wanted to show the customer journey (including information sources, decision points and emotions) and how Virgin Holidays fitted into this sequence (including omnichannel touchpoints and performance metrics). However, we felt it crucial to express the density of information in a style that made the information attractive, digestible and memorable.

We played with shapes to reinforce the findings that purchasing was not just a conversion funnel but included other distinct phases. Making any research stick for any length of time is an interesting design challenge in itself. Using the power of visual communication we deliberately used bold and contrasting shapes for each key phase in the pre-booking holiday experience. We knew we had the seed of traction when we heard people within Virgin Holidays without prompting describe the shapes and talk about the consideration loop.

We layered over the map an emotions curve to highlight where customers felt pain and pleasure. This provided an instantly visible gap analysis and highlight spaces in the journey where opportunities existed.

In designing the map we also wanted to create ongoing engagement with it. To encourage this we deliberately included empty post-it note size spaces to let teams add in their insights overtime.

Over time, more and more people came to drop-in sessions where we walked through the map. A mixture of word of mouth and an appetite to know how customers make purchasing decisions led to sessions where we had people spilling out of the breakout space.
Chris How Author
Chris How Principal UX Consultant

To get value from research requires the insights uncovered to be communicated and used to inform future work. Although we had documented the findings in a detailed report we knew creating change could best be done by being more proactive and conversational.

We held a series of presentations to show the map and walk through the information on it. Holding multiple presentations really helped to seed the key messages and to build an organisation-wide understanding of how customers go about considering and booking longhaul holidays.

Telling the story by walking teams through the map
Telling the story by walking teams through the map

How do you turn research insights into action?

The purpose of doing the research and creating an experience map is to have a robust tool that can identify where the team’s efforts and energies will have the most impact.

As a decision-making tool, the experience map helped to shape a roadmap of prioritised initiatives. It can be used by both the leadership team to identify opportunities and plan streams of work, and also by project teams to give context and shape to their outputs.

The experience map helped identify specific initiatives, features and functionality to better support customers when considering and purchasing a holiday.

The projects inspired as a result of the experience strategy and journey map range in nature and size. They include launching new features and radically re-imagining content, through to changes in how new opportunities are prioritised and outcomes are measured.

The thread that runs through all of the projects on the roadmap is in knowing when and how they support customers as they move from passive looking, through active consideration and onto booking a holiday.

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