by Bruce Myint | June 01, 2004

Roger Fairchild

CRG's Roger Fairchild

It’s no secret that business travelers are going online to hunt down discount hotel rooms and cheap airfares. But a recent study shows that travelers have begun discovering something else on the web: disappointing service.
    After analyzing a mix of 36 airline, hotel and leisure websites, the Bellevue, Wash.-based research and consulting firm Customer Respect Group identified two recurring problems: responsiveness and data privacy. 
    When the CRG submitted customer-service inquiries online, for example, 29 percent of the websites took more than two days to respond, while 9 percent failed to reply altogether.
    “Site visitors expect quick responses and will start looking around if companies fail to get back within a few hours,” said CRG president Roger Fairchild. and WorldTravel BTI earned some of the poorest response scores. The research firm said inquires sent via those companies’ websites went unanswered. Southwest Airlines also received a low score, since it does not offer customers the option of e-mailing questions through the carrier’s website. 
    For their part, both WorldTravel BTI and strongly refuted CRG’s findings and said they were looking into the matter at press time. A spokesperson with Southwest Airlines said the company has no plans to offer its customers the option of online e-mail, since the carrier prefers relying on personalized phone calls over the use of electronic form letters.
    The CRG also faulted companies for mishandling customer information. According to the study, 25 percent of those surveyed shared customer data without seeking permission, and several websites did not feature a privacy policy.
    Can poor response time and loose handling of data threaten the growing tide of online booking? That’s unlikely, according to experts. For example, the marketing firm of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, based in Orlando, recently estimated that 51 percent of business travelers log on to the Internet in order to book travel services a number they fully expect to increase over the summer.