• March 13, 2006
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Travel Companies Are Light On Email Quality

The airline and travel industry is making substantial strides toward improving its treatment of online customers, but there is more work to be done to improve the experience, according to The Customer Respect Group (TCRG)'s "First Quarter 2006 Online Customer Respect Study of the Airline & Travel Industry." The segment nabbed a 5.9 on a 10-point scale on the Customer Respect Index (CRI), an analysis of customers' online experience. Its worst ratings were on attitude (accessibility) and responsiveness (quality, tone, and speed of response), both 5.5. Seven companies received a rating of "excellent," classified as those with scores of 7 and higher, while five companies received "poor" ratings, CRI scores of less than 3. Expedia and Marriott International tied for the highest CRI score among all category contenders, with a score of 7.4. Travelocity took third place with 7.2, followed by Cheaptickets.com with 7.1, and Enterprise, Northwest Airlines, and Orbitz, each with 7. Although the travel industry has traditionally been one of the best industries in dealing with the customer, increased marketing efforts and more complex sites are taking their toll on the online experience, according to Terry Golesworthy, president of TCRG. "If you sign up for a newsletter from an airline, you're getting email almost every day from some airlines," he says. "Also, there's a lot more cross marketing with other related travel companies, as some airlines may swap lists with car rental companies or hotel companies." Just 22 percent ask for consent to use customer data for marketing purposes, while less than half (48 percent) clearly state that they don't share data with other companies for marketing purposes, the report states. The report finds that 62 percent of customer queries were answered within one day, including 40 percent within four hours, but just 28 percent of companies consistently provided quality responses. "An unhelpful answer to a question tends to be very frustrating to the customer, almost as bad as if you didn't answer the question at all," Golesworthy says. TCRG's latest evaluation of this vertical regroups the criteria into three categories: communication (responsiveness), site usability (simplicity and attitude), and trust (principles, privacy, and transparency). It is important to note that this report marks the first one that uses the 2006 Customer Respect Methodology. Because of significant revisions in methodology, which includes the introduction of "required factors" (those that might have been optional differentiators in the past, but are now seen as necessary), the firm says scores from this study are not directly comparable to previous ones. The report, which assesses the CRI of 42 airlines and travel companies based on more than 100 elements related to users' Web-site experience, subdivides the industry into five segments: airlines; car rentals; cruise lines; hotels and resorts; and Web-based resellers. The Web-based resellers segment had the strongest showing, earning a score of 7, based primarily on its ability to nab the highest sub-index scores in all areas except attitude and simplicity. Airlines had the second-highest overall CRI score with 6, followed by car rentals and hotels/resorts tied with 5.9. Cruise line companies faired the worst with a tally of 5.3. As more customers rely on the Web for their dealings with travel companies, the online experience is becoming one of the most fundamental and important relationships between travel companies and their customers, according to Golesworthy. "If you don't respond to an email or you make the site hard to use, people's patience is wearing thin and they're moving along. If you've got a bank account you may not like what your bank does, but you're not going to switch tomorrow. Travel companies have got very casual relationships with their customers." He adds, though, that as Web-based resellers like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity perform well, "airlines and the hotels really have to improve the experience that the customer is getting if they want to drive more revenue directly." Related articles: Customer Service Increases in Travel and Hospitality
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