Hotels and travel companies still have a lot of work to do on their email responsiveness efforts, according to a report released on Monday. With the success of Web-based resellers like expedia.com, orbitz.com, priceline.com, and travelocity.com, hotels, airlines, and car rental companies are feeling the crunch.
"This industry has shown a tremendous improvement from the last time we measured them," says Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group. "Hotels, airlines, and car rental companies are working very hard to attract direct bookings and circumvent the Web-based resellers. To compete, the standard for customer respect simply had to be raised to gain trust from customers that were being asked to supply substantial amounts of personal information."
The Customer Respect Group's "Third Quarter 2005 Online Customer Respect Study," measures corporate performance from an online customer's perspective. Each company receives a Customer Respect Index rating. Scores of 8.0 and above are considered excellent, and show an admirable level of customer respect; scores of 4.0 and below are considered poor and significant lack of respect for customers.
Travel firms improved to an overall score of 7.2, up from 6.8 in the Q1 2005 report. By segment, car rental companies scored the highest at 7.6, followed by Web-based resellers and passenger transportation firms (7.3), hotels (7.1), airlines (7.0), and cruise lines at 6.7. Web sites that achieved an excellent rating include: Marriott International, 8.4
Alaska Air Group, 8.3
InterContinental Hotels Group, 8.2
Northwest Airlines, 8.2
US Airways Group, 8.1
The worst average rating came from email responsiveness, which received a 5.8. Sixty-nine percent of all inquires were answered within a day (considered to be the time limit customers are willing to wait), but only 39 percent were responded to within a day and considered helpful. "We're climbing a mountain here in getting this improvement. A year ago almost no email responses came back whatsoever," Golesworthy says.
Many organizations say it's impossible to answer all their emails, but they receive a lot of phone calls and don't hang up on customers, according to Golesworthy. The difference is, "You can't deal with email without having a sophisticated back-end CRM system. You can't just fire off emails without tracking them," he says. "It's an investment and it drives into other parts of the business."
If companies are going to share their customers' information, they need to let them know. Sharing data bothers customers because of the fear of identity theft and excessive amounts of spam and phone calls, Golesworthy says, but companies are sharing information, because they see a business benefit of doing so. The answer is, more transparent policies. "People feel value of personal data is one of the most important things when choosing a Web site. Consumers are looking for a simple privacy label that says these people share," he says.
Some of the most successful companies allow customers to opt-in, verses opting out, of marketing campaigns. "Transparency is almost like a Trojan horse. If you explain yourself well to the customer, it's because you have nothing to hide," Golesworthy says. "It comes down to choice and control. In the long term, the opt-ins are a much better data source than the ones you forced to be there."