Hate-Selling Our Students

A post on Skift introduces a new term: “hate-selling”. You see it in travel where “conversion managers have run amok” and you are charged absurd combinations of little charges at the precise amounts analytics says you will tolerate.

Some examples of hate-selling in the travel industry from the article:

  • Car rental sites with crazy surcharges (a 17.25% premium location fee)
  • Low fare airline seats, “hate-sold” to you in such a way they say — “Here’s what you don’t get with your cheap seat, you idiot” in an attempt to upsell.
  • Buy-now-or-else prompts in the buying experience – “We’ve unearthed this special offer/upgrade for you only available if you click here now.”

The author shares some screenshots and receipts. It’s truly horrifying to look at. The author concludes:

This is what happens when you let conversion marketers run amok with customer experience. They made it a science, but forgot being human.

The problem, as the author points out, is that hate-selling works. You can mathematically prove it. You A/B test a gate-checked baggage fee and revenue goes up or down. You take away the free inflight soda from Economy class and give it to a special Economy+ class. You choose the way that maximizes the revenue.

But revenue isn’t the only metric. The long term outcomes to your business are determined not by quarterly revenue, but by customer experience. Just ask Blackboard, which made a mint hate-selling the LMS to institutions only to find itself in a desperate state when it encountered a “one price gets you everything” competitor.

Blackboard now wants love, but all people remember are baggage fees and upsell.

Are we innocent of this? Maybe not. It’s worth asking if this is what we are doing to our students, as we enter the age of the self-paced course designed by analytics teams. We know what the A/B testing says — whether adding the weekly micro-test upped calculus proficiency by 3.9%. But what did it do to the experience? Was the student tense or relaxed? Did they come to love the subject or loathe it?

It’s those questions — whether we have helped mold curious minds or resentful learners — that truly matter. A focus on A/B testing can be a helpful tool. But left as the sole focus of our endeavors, a rental car future awaits.

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