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Tech Industry

Web travel must cozy up to customers

Online shoppers are concerned with the quality of customer service at travel sites more than in any other Web retail category, a new survey shows.

According to a new survey, online shoppers are concerned with the quality of customer service at travel sites more than in any other Web retail category.

Jupiter Media Metrix issued a report Thursday that showed 79 percent of consumers surveyed said they would be less likely to buy airline tickets a second time from a company with which they had a bad customer service experience.

In a test to learn how quickly a group of Web travel sites responded to customer inquiries, Jupiter e-mailed their customer service centers. Jupiter said that 61 percent of the travel Web sites responded within 24 hours. The bad news was that 31 percent took three days or longer. Some never e-mailed back.

One of the few thriving e-commerce sectors, online travel is a fiercely competitive industry as companies such as Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity.com and Priceline.com grab larger shares of the market. The traveling public has begun to venture back to the skies after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the travel industry has yet to fully recover.

Part of enticing consumers to travel more is providing a hassle-free shopping experience, Jupiter said, adding that technology can help smooth the buying process. Jupiter said 62 percent of consumers just want to be informed of delays by e-mail or phone. A majority also asked that 24-hour customer service personnel be made available.

Jupiter recommended that travel companies use automatic consumer alerts triggered by bad weather or other conditions that might affect travel.

"As the industry works to rebuild customer trust, technology will undoubtedly play an important role in managing customer expectations while complying with inevitably more stringent (government) regulations," said David Daniels, a Jupiter senior analyst.