Airline and travel companies are doing a better job of answering questions from online users, but the overall quality of e-mail responses declined, according to a new survey by The Customer Respect Group.

"What we found was that more e-mails were being answered than previously -- 95% of all e-mails are answered from the travel industry, which is very high compared with other industries, where we typically see 75% answered. And last time, only about 91% were answered, so they're getting there," said Terry Golesworthy, the group's president. "But the overall quality of e-mail responses has gone down a bit. We deemed about 68% of the e-mail responses were very helpful and relevant and addressed the question specifically, but that's gone down to just over 50%. Some companies have systems in place so they can answer questions well and they can answer them quickly, but what we've [generally] found is the quicker the response, the better the response."

Only seven companies out of 42 airline and travel companies studied received an "excellent" rating, while five received a poor rating, according to "The First Quarter 2006 Online Customer Respect Study of Airline and Travel Industry." Scores for the study range from a low of 1 to a high of 10.

Overall, airlines and travel companies scored a customer respect index (CRI) rating of 5.9. A CRI rating of 7.0 is considered excellent, and under 5.0 is considered poor.

The top-scoring companies overall were Expedia Inc. and Marriott International, both of which earned scores of 7.4; Travelocity.com LP, 7.2; Cheaptickets.com, 7.1; Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co., 7.0; Northwest Airlines Corp., 7.0; and Orbitz LLC, with a score of 7.0.

Golesworthy said end users are more concerned about privacy and security than they were last year.

"What we found is that the industry in general is doing a lot more cross-marketing internally," he said. "The number of [companies] using a consumer's data internally has gone up. Now, 71% of all companies are going to routinely remarket to you whether you say you want them to or not. That's quite a high percentage. [In other industries,] we see that typically in the 40%-to-50% range."

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