Diane Clarkson [Posted by Diane Clarkson]

When I speak with travel eBusiness professionals, it is clear that they value their customers and want this to be reflected throughout their online research to their travel experience.

Why then do travelers overwhelmingly feel that travel companies are failing to make them feel valued? Only 29% of online travelers believe travel companies are making strong efforts to make them feel valued.

I’ve wondered if there is simply a disconnection – that the best efforts of a dedicated marketing team can be thwarted by a weather delay, bad traffic, or a grumpy desk clerk.

We will be publishing a report shortly on making travelers feel valued. In the course of researching this report, I’ve paid a lot of attention to the how travel companies communicate. There is an old expression that the “devil is in the details”. I disagree. Sometimes the big picture is the accumulation of details.

I undertook a Web track in the course of researching this upcoming report to look at how travel companies respond to a basic customer service question. The results were disappointing. I was almost always thanked for writing and frequently told that I was a valued customer. But these warm comments were undone by:

– Auto-acknowledgements – when I received one – rarely addressed me by name.
– Long response times. The assurances of my value were undermined by advice that I wouldn’t receive an answer for several days – in one case, 7 – 14 business days.
– Irrelevant replies. I was asked to explain why I wanted to know, given completely unrelated information and, in one case, it appears the person replying cut and paste the answer and inadvertently included the beginning of the salutation from another correspondence.
– Nameless replies. Some emails were sent by nameless people. One, curiously, had the typed signature of the CEO which was probably well-intentioned but disingenuous.
– Self-interest. My emailed comment was not a request to be included on promotion lists and defaulting the permission to “yes” felt pushy.
– No reply whatsoever. Three days after my initial email, I am still awaiting a reply from one third of the travel companies I contacted.

 These may seem like small issues. But they are important.  Travelers’ willingness to overlook disappointment is only as deep as the goodwill previously banked. For some of the companies that I contacted, my goodwill bank is empty.

My report will be published shortly. Hopefully I’ll have received a reply to all of my customer service inquiries by then.