Survey: Customer Service Rivals Loyalty Programs in Business Travel Decisions

Survey: Customer Service Rivals Loyalty Programs in Business Travel Decisions

The importance of customer service equals and, in some cases, surpasses that of frequent flyer and rewards programs, according to a new survey of U.S. business travelers.

The study, which was conducted by Accenture, found that approximately half (54 percent) of the business travelers surveyed said 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.

Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of the survey respondents reported they primarily use major airlines for business travel, and approximately half (48 percent) reported they have been delayed in the last six months due to airline maintenance problems 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.
  • Business travel is back: 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 will be 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 +/- three percent.

    What the survey seemed to miss, in our opinion, was the idea that loyalty programs and customer service are far from mutually exclusive terms. While it is true that many members of these types of programs are primarily interested in earning free flights and/or nights, there is almost certainly an equal or greater number who are more interested in earning elite status and enjoying the associated service perks.

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