Airlines vary on respect for online customers
The 'Spring 2004 Online Customer Respect Study' of 36 airline, travel and leisure firms has identified Northwest Airlines as the most respectful airline, Orbitz and Hotwire as the most respectful travel firms, and Marriott International as the most respectful hotel firm.
The Customer Respect Group, an international research and consulting firm that focuses on how corporations treat their customers online, also said that GetThere ranked higher than Sabre Airline Solutions in the travel solutions category.
The study aims to bring objective measure to the analysis of corporate performance from an online customer's perspective. It assigns a Customer Respect Index (CRI) rating to each company on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest. By interviewing a representative sample of the adult internet population, the Customer Respect Group has identified attributes that combine to create the entire 'online customer experience'.
These attributes are grouped and measured as indicators of Simplicity (ease of navigation), Responsiveness (quick and thorough responses to enquiries), Privacy (respects customer privacy), Attitude (customer-focus of site), Transparency (open and honest policies) and Principles (values and respects customer data). Combined, all of these factors measure a company's overall respect for their online customers.
Overall performance In the area of Transparency, scores for the travel sector were excellent. This shows that airline, travel and leisure firms do try to explain their policies fully and clearly.
But, on the other hand, Responsiveness was frequently poor. Of the companies surveyed, 9% did not reply to any of the enquiries submitted. Of the enquiries sent, the responses to 29% took more than two days to arrive.
Principles lacking In the area of Principles, 25% of the airline, travel and leisure firms have shared customer data with business partners without seeking permission, and 13% share data with affiliates in the same way. In that same area, researchers found that 77% of online forms were not easy to use by those with disabilities. Research indicates that firms that don't consider those with disabilities could be preventing up to 20% of the population from doing business with them.
Solving the problems "The summary of this survey is that while airline, travel and leisure firms are doing well in several areas, they still have room for improvement in many others - particularly in Responsiveness and Principles," concludes Roger Fairchild, president of The Customer Respect Group. "The bottom line is that more than 10% of all financial transactions in the US are initiated on the web and, for many of this sector's firms, it's significantly higher - up to 100%. There's no doubt that making positive changes to their web sites can have an enormous financial impact for them by improving sales and customer retention."
Scores by sector The overall average for all airline, travel and leisure companies was 6.2. Beyond these scores the report conveys improvement opportunities for each company examined.
For airlines the leaders were: Northwest Airlines Corporation at 7.8, Spirit Airlines at 7.5, Alaska Air Group at 7.4, ATA Airlines at 7.3, and a tie for fourth place between American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, and US Airways, all scoring 7.0.
For travel firms, the leaders were: Orbitz and Hotwire at 8.3, Expedia at 8.2, Priceline at 8.1, Travelocity at 7.3, and Cheaptickets.com at 7.0.
For hotels, the leaders were: Marriott International with 7.8, followed by Hyatt Hotels & Resorts at 6.9, Starwood Hotels & Resorts at 6.4, Radisson Hotels & Resorts at 6.1, and Caesars Entertainment at 6.0.
For airline travel solutions, GetThere scored 5.1 while Sabre Airline Solutions scored a very close 5.0.
Key findings Other findings of the study included:
- While 9% of firms did not respond to any online enquiries, 83% responded to all enquiries. Of these, 54% responded within 24 hours, 17% responded within 48 hours and 29% responded after two days.
- Eight percent of firms responded to half of the enquiries received. Of these, 67% responded within 24 hours and 33% responded within 48 hours.
- Some 44% of all sector firms use 'auto-responder' technology, through which e-mails are automatically sent to users to confirm the receipt of their enquiry and let them know when they should expect a response. Of these, all followed up with a full response although 62% of those that cited a timeframe for responding took longer than promised.
- Some 86% of companies provide e-mail forms for online enquiries, while 6% provide email addresses and 8% provide no online contact methods at all.
- 91% of the firms examined have privacy policies on their web sites explaining how customers' personal data is being used. Of those that do, 6% need to be more explicit about how they use personal data, while 56% do not collect data or use collected data only for internal purposes, and 13% share data with affiliates or subsidiaries. One quarter (25%) share data without permission from users.
- Some 91% use web 'cookie' technology. Of these, 28% provide a full explanation about what advantage they provide for the user and what data they hold, while only 16% provide users with a full explanation on how to disable cookies in their web browser.
- 77% of companies were found to provide forms that can't be easily used by those with disabilities.
The full report can be purchased directly from The Customer Respect Group.