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2/4/2005
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Study Indicates Problems With Responsiveness And Privacy On Travel Sites

A consulting firm graded travel sites on five factors. They scored lowest in responding to visitor inquiries.

A consulting firm that rates how well companies treat their online visitors says the travel industry has some explaining to do. Literally.

The Customer Respect Group has issued results from its semiannual study of airlines and travel companies, and they did worst in responsiveness to visitor inquiries. They aren't so hot on customer privacy, either. The sector as a whole performed best when focusing on customer needs online.

The research and consulting firm last year surveyed 595 corporate sites and rated them from 1 to 10 (best) for simplicity of navigation, responsiveness to questions, regard for visitors' privacy, attitude (how focused a site is on customer needs), and principles demonstrated via a site. The report published Friday covers travel companies and large airlines.

The Customer Respect Group, which focuses on ways to improve online customer satisfaction, adds each site's score to come up with its Customer Respect Index number.

Among airlines, US Airways scored best (8 overall) and Frontier scored worst (5.3). Among hotels and resorts, Marriott International was first (8.4) and Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts was last (3.4). Online reseller Orbitz led its sector (8.6), but Ebookers lagged the group (5.5).

Looking specifically at responsiveness among airlines, US Airways rated a 7 and Southwest Airlines rated a 0 because researchers were unable to find an online-inquiry address, says Matthias Bohler, account manager for Customer Respect Group. Southwest's score is "quite surprising, given the brand that it has."

Responsiveness by hotels was little better. Marriott tied with Mandalay Resort Group with 8s. Disney and Trump tied with 0s because two E-mailed inquiries went ignored, Bohler says.

Orbitz scored 8.8 among online resellers, but Ebookers and Hotels.com each scored 0 because two E-mailed requests elicited no responses, he says.

Perhaps as a result of poor responsiveness, visitors increasingly are looking for self-service methods of answering their own questions, according to the report. Those methods include frequently asked question files, site search engines, and site maps. But overall, only 26% of sites give visitors all three options, Customer Respect Group found.

The area of privacy had its share of high- and lowlights. Expedia pulled a 9.5, a score the consulting firm says ties the high of any company in the last year. Also good in this category were Marriott, Hotwire, and Orbitz. But Trump rated 3.4, putting it in the bottom 10% of the 595 companies surveyed last year.

According to the report, 62% of companies studied don't share personal data without first asking. Another 28% share or sell customer data without permission. One in 10 displayed policies that weren't clear about what might be done with data.

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