The importance of customer service at major airline carriers and hotel groups equals and, in some cases, surpasses that of frequent flyer and rewards programs, according to a new survey of U.S. business travelers from Accenture
Approximately half (54 percent) said that frequent flyer programs were more influential in their ultimate choice of airline, while almost the same number (46 percent) cited the quality of customer service. When respondents were asked about the influence of reward programs and customer service on their ultimate choice of hotel for business travel: only one-third (33 percent) cited reward programs, while more than two-thirds (67 percent) cited the quality of customer service.
Business travelers also reported areas for improvement. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of survey respondents reported that they primarily use major airlines for business travel, yet approximately half (48 percent) of respondents reported that they have been delayed in the last six months due to airline maintenance-related delays and/or cancellations.
Additionally, 39 percent said their preferred hotel does not recognize them as frequent customers, and 16 percent reported their preferred hotel recognizes them but does not offer 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 travelers and adapt to gain travelers' loyalty."
The survey findings also suggest that:
-- Road warriors are wired: The majority (89 percent) said they research flight times and availability online, while 75 percent purchase airline tickets online, and 48 percent check-in for their flights online. Similarly, 78 percent said they research hotel availability online, while 74 percent reserve their hotel rooms, and 39 percent update or change their room reservations via the Internet.
-- Travel is "Business as Usual": Almost three-quarters (70 percent) said they expect their business travel to remain the same or increase slightly in the next six months. According to respondents, the top U.S. destinations for business travel in the next six months are Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles.
-- Bargain fares fly high. Approximately half (51 percent) of respondents said they book their business travel more than 14 days in advance. Additionally, 71 percent 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 percent) said they stay primarily at mid-range hotels for business travel.
The survey, fielded in June 2004, entailed querying 429 business travelers at U.S.-based companies. The multiple-choice survey was conducted online and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.
Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Committed to delivering innovation, Accenture collaborates with its clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments. With deep industry and business process expertise, broad global resources and a proven track record, Accenture can mobilize the right people, skills and technologies to help clients improve their performance. With approximately 95,000 people in 48 countries, the company generated net revenues of US$11.8 billion for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2003. Its home page is www.accenture.com