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The Communication category contains the Responsiveness index, and examines how well companies respond to email inquiries. The most successful companies here will acknowledge inquiries and give a timeframe for a full response; will respond promptly; and will fully answer each question. Given the nature of the sites in this review, it is clear that timely and informative responses to email queries are a critical element in persuading the site visitor to book a vacation.

RESPONSIVENESS SUB-INDEX
Industry average: 5.5
Top scoring site: Cheaptickets.com with 8.9


Autoresponses
All inquiries should be acknowledged with email confirmations that set a timeframe for a full reply. These are more useful than screen-based acknowledgements because they confirm that the correct email address has been supplied and also indicate that the full reply will not be blocked by 'spam' filters. Setting a timeframe is important to manage the recipient's expectations, particularly if it takes time to prepare a helpful reply. Our results indicate that 58 percent of Airlines & Travel companies send email autoresponses, while 30 percent rely on screen acknowledgements. 4 percent did not acknowledge our queries at all, while a further 8 percent replied so quickly that an autoresponse was not absolutely necessary.


Response speed
We recommend a timeframe of less than a day for replies (though ideally they should arrive within four hours). If users have to wait longer than this for an answer, they may well go
elsewhere for the product or service. Our 2006 user survey found that only 29 percent of respondents felt that a wait time of more than a day was reasonable.
The Airlines & Travel industry, aside from those who do not provide an online contact method, performed quite well in this area. 62 percent of our queries were answered within a day, a figure that includes the 40 percent of replies that arrived within four hours. A further 11 percent arrived within another day, and 21 percent took over two days.


Response quality
If a user takes time to get in touch with a query, they deserve a reply that fully answers the question. A helpful reply will not require the user to look for the answer themselves, or ask them to phone, or ask then to email someone else. It will provide helpful information and will end the interaction with the customer on that issue. Email responses should supply all relevant information that is needed to answer the question. We found that the Airlines & Travel companies who replied to our queries took care to answer them well. 73 percent supplied very helpful answers, while another 15 percent were of some help. Only 12 percent were of little help.


90 percent of user survey respondents told us that timeliness and helpfulness of email replies affected their overall impression of companies. A quick, helpful reply is the best outcome for someone sending a query. With this in mind, we now reward those organizations who send four replies within a day that fully address the questions asked. Although 62 percent of replies arrived within a day, not all fully addressed our questions.
The following graph gives a good indication of satisfactory responsiveness, combining response time and quality. Of the companies that provide online contact methods, 28 percent replied to all four queries within a day with helpful replies. 19 percent supplied three good replies within a day and 14 percent sent two. 11 percent supplied only one prompt and helpful reply and 28 percent did not manage to send any.


Response tone
An email written in a friendly and professional manner makes a good impression on the reader. The sender of emails represents the organization and recipients make judgments when each email is read. We found that 85 percent of the email responses were written in a professional and friendly tone, a figure that reflects well on the industry.

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