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The Customer Respect Group How Airline and Travel Firms treat their online customers


Airline & Travel Firms ranked on how they treat Online Customers in Q1 2006 Online Customer Respect Study. Updated methodology reflects evolution of internet, users.

Travel Industry Trends:

  • Increased Customer Marketing

  • Improved One-on-One

  • Customer Communications

  • Quality deficits; bigger, more complex websites

The Customer Respect Group, an international research and consulting firm that focuses on how corporations treat their online customers, released findings from its First Quarter 2006 Online Customer Respect Study of the Airline & Travel Industry.

The study is the only one to bring an objective and consistent measure to the analysis of corporate performance from an online customer's perspective. It assigns a Customer Respect Index (CRIT) rating for each company. The Customer Respect Index is a qualitative and quantitative in-depth analysis and an independent measure of a customer's experience when interacting with companies via the Internet.

By constantly interviewing representative samples of the adult Internet users and by benchmarking actual practices of more than 2,500 corporate websites across a spectrum of industries, The Customer Respect Group has identified the attributes that together measure the respect afforded the online customer. In the most recent poll, over half of respondents said that a bad experience on a website has a major impact on the overall view of the company, its reputation and brand image.

In this study, seven companies out of 42 airline and travel firms studied received an Excellent rating, while five scored Poor. Because of significant revisions in methodology, scores from this study are not directly comparable to previous ones.

Airline and Travel Firm Results

Overall, airlines and travel firms scored a CRI rating of 5.9 (7.0 is considered Excellent and under 5.0 is considered Poor). This is below what might have been expected from previous studies based on a common set of criteria and shows a step backwards from the high standard set by the industry.

The most trustworthy sites were Expedia, Intercontinental Hotels and Southwest Airlines. The most generally usable sites were those of Royal Caribbean Cruiselines, Celebrity Cruise Line and Continental Airlines. The best sites for one-on-one communications were web-based resellers Cheaptickets, Travelocity and Orbitz.

In the individual sub-indices, the highest scoring firm in the area of Simplicity was Celebrity Cruise Line (9.2 vs. industry average of 6.6). In the area of Attitude, Marriott International topped the group (7.8 vs. 5.5). In Communication, was first (8.9 vs. 5.5). In the area of Principles, InterContinental Hotels Group scored best (9.1 vs. 5.7). In Transparency, Expedia scored highest (8.5 vs. 6.3). And in Privacy, Southwest Airlines topped the list (8.2 vs. 6.0).

The top-scoring sector firms and their overall CRI ratings are:

Company CRI

  • Expedia 7.4

  • Marriott International 7.4

  • Travelocity 7.2

  • 7.1

  • Enterprise 7.0

  • Northwest Airlines 7.0

  • Orbitz 7.0

According to Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group, Our research shows us that if a customer has a poor web experience, this will carry over to the company reputation and ongoing loyalty. There are many companies that clearly could do better in respect for the customer and thus protection of their brands, their image and customer loyalty. On the other hand, this has opened the door for forward-thinking companies to stand out and carve increased market penetration by better addressing customer concerns. The travel industry is going through a period of major changes. The web is - and will continue to be - one of the bigger drivers.

Sample Findings

  • The physical security of personal data, the loss of control of that data and being inundated with ongoing marketing were overwhelming concerns of the online customer, each being significant factors when choosing vendors, yet:

    1. Only 40 percent of the sites consistently used SSL pages when collecting data.

    2. Fifty three percent of sites, by default, share collected personal information with their business partners and third parties.

    3. Seventy one percent of the sites will routinely use collected data in ongoing marketing campaigns.

  • Eighty three percent of online customers feel it is vital to be able to ask follow-on specific questions to the website owner and of those, over 80 percent stated that email was most convenient. Forty-nine percent of customers felt the response to these questions was very important and reflective of future levels of service as a customer, yet:

    1. Only 28 percent of companies consistently provided 'quality responses:' those provided within a day and are helpful.

    2. Just 53 percent of all inquiries received a response within a day (Customers consistently state that they expect one-day turnaround.).

    3. Just 31 percent were received within a timeframe promised within an initial acknowledge of the question.

    4. Seventy eight percent provided no capacity to continue the dialog with a feedback option.

    5. Just 5 percent received no reply, marking a new low in the ignored rate.

  • Forty-six percent of customers stated that they had no patience for websites that are hard to use, hard to navigate, slow to load, difficult to read or hard to find what they were looking for. They would just leave. A further 37 percent would limit their use of the site to a minimum, yet:

    1. Only 23 percent of sites limited their home page to less than 150K or less.

    2. Fifty seven percent have no site search capability.

    3. Ninety percent of sites do not use resizable pages or resizable text.

Revised Methodology

The Customer Respect Group revises its methodology each year to reflect
the evolution of the Internet and its users, collected benchmarks in online practice and the visioning of its research team. The 2006 revision sees the addition of new criteria, a reorganization of some of the CRI sub-indexes to better reflect customer concerns and the introduction of required factors that might have been optional differentiators in the past but are now seen as necessary.

Ease of Use, Communication and Trust

The CRI is composed of six sub-indexes and they factor into three meta-concepts, identified by customers as their critical concerns when using websites:

  • Site Usability - How usable is the site to a wide range of users? This includes Simplicity (ease of use) and Attitude (accessibility).

  • Communication - How willing is the company to engage in a one-on-one communication to answer specific questions? This includes Responsiveness (quality of email replies - both speed and helpfulness - response tone and other communication methods).

  • Trust - Can this site be trusted with your personal data? This includes Transparency (clarity and comprehensiveness of privacy policies), Principles (respect for data privacy, cookie explanations) and Privacy (respect for data privacy, clarity and comprehensiveness of privacy policies).

The Customer Respect Group reports highlight the discrepancy between customer expectations and actual practice. Companies that take action on the findings improve their customers' online experiences and enable a wider acceptance and penetration of their web strategies.

The Customer Respect Group Products and Services

The Customer Respect Group provides benchmarks to help organizations improve their websites with regard to how online customers are treated. Companies are able to review industry data to determine common practices and get specific advice on their own websites.

The solutions include

  • The 2006 Q1 Airline and Travel Industry-specific key findings, analysis and editorial.

  • CRO-A unique database of the data collected, featuring head-to-head and multi-company comparisons with drill-down to sub-indices and individual criteria detail for all retail companies;

  • Detailed confidential company reports, including actionable recommendations

  • Best practice guidelines and practical customer respect examples.

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