When it comes to choosing airlines and hotels, the importance that business travellers attach to customer service at least equals the importance of frequent flyer and loyalty reward programmes, according to a recent survey of US business travellers by Accenture.
While a little over half (54%) of the survey's respondents said that frequent flyer programmes were more influential in their ultimate choice of airline, the remainder (46%) cited the quality of customer service. When asked about the influence of reward programmes and customer service on their ultimate choice of hotel for business travel, 33% cited reward programmes while 67% cited the quality of customer service.
Business travellers also reported areas for improvement, with 72% saying that they mainly use major airlines for business travel, despite 48% of respondents reporting that they had been delayed in the past six months due to maintenance or cancellations. Additionally, 39% said their preferred hotel does not recognise them as a frequent customer, and 16% said that their preferred hotel does recognise them but offers no special services.
"Major carriers and hotels are making significant strides to improve service, but there is an outstanding opportunity for them to gain competitive advantage," said Julian Sparkes, a partner in Accenture's transportation & travel services industry group. "Since customer service increasingly drives travel decisions, industry players should regularly capture insight on what is most important to their frequent business travellers and adapt to gain travellers' loyalty."
The survey's findings also revealed that:
- 89% said they research flight times and availability online, while 75% purchase airline tickets online, and 48% check-in for their flights online. Likewise, 78% said they research hotel availability online, while 74% reserve their hotel rooms, and 39% update or change their room reservations, via the internet.
- 70% said they expect their volume of business travel to remain the same or increase slightly during the next six months. The top US destinations for business travel in the coming six months are Chicago (IL), New York (NY), Washington (DC), Atlanta (GA), Dallas (TX) and Los Angeles (CA).
- Slightly more than half (51%) said they book their business travel more than 14 days in advance, and 71% said their use of low cost air carriers for business travel will remain about the same or increase over the next six months. At the same time, almost three-quarters (72%) said they stay primarily at mid-range hotels when travelling on business.
The survey, fielded in June 2004, took into account the opinions of 429 business travellers from US-based companies.