Imagine you are on your way to JFK airport in New York to take a short flight from NY to Chicago.

Once you make it through security, you walk to the end and encounter a sign inviting you to take something called a “JFK Jitney” to your gate. At the bottom of the escalator, you discover that this “jitney” is actually a shuttle bus designed to take passengers from one terminal to the next.

It is safe to say I travel often enough to describe myself as a professional traveler, so confusing signs like this rarely slow me down. Navigating security lines has become routine for me. I rarely check a bag, and I have probably encountered just about every travel related mode of transportation at an airport possible.

delta-jfkYesterday when I waited for the jitney in the airport lounge, I saw a very confused looking young European couple trying to figure out where to go or what they were about to do. They spoke English but were in a foreign environment. For them, the jitney was an unneeded confusion.

I watched them wait a few seats away from me, and saw the signs of relief on their faces when they realized that a jitney was basically a bus.  To tell the truth, I was kind of relieved about that myself.  I’m not stupid, and neither were they.  Yet that small piece of our travel experience was needlessly confusing.

starbucks-cupsThe travel experience is full of “jitneys” like this. From now on when I encounter a sign or process that is not as simple as it could be, I’m going to remember this jitney.  You should too.

Too many consumer experiences are built with jitneys as well. The problem is, we are tempted to look at brands that have done it well and think we can do the same thing.  Starbucks makes consumers order a Tall, Venti or Grande instead of Small, Medium or Large. Those cup sizes are now iconic because Starbucks is everywhere.

hashbrowns-wafflehousePopular regional restaurants like Waffle House have time honored ways of ordering menu items – like getting hash browns scattered (grilled), smothered (with onions), and covered (with cheese).  For those few examples, it works because it is part of their brand personality.

Unfortunately, the world is far more filled with brands trying to be a little too clever with how they describe their experiences, and frustrated consumers are just struggling to keep up. What if your experience is a little less like a Venti coffee and a little more like that confusing shuttle bus?

Improving your customer experience sometimes means choosing simplicity over cuteness. This happens to particularly be true when your target audience is mostly made up of half awake travelers just trying to make it to their gates on time.

At 5am, no one wants a jitney.