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:
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.