The internet offerings of Australian Airlines are gradually improving but still lagging behind their Asian counterparts, according to leading online research company Global Reviews.
In its most recent Airlines Internet Benchmark, released today, Global Reviews assessed Australasia’s top five carriers and compared them to a range of world leaders including Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and European discount carriers EasyJet and Ryan Air. Airlines were assessed across 400 individual criteria, examining the usability and quality of their websites, the ease-of-use and functionality of online booking systems, and the level of e-mail and phone customer service. The raw data was then weighted according to the surveyed responses of around 1500 online e-travel bookers.
Not surprisingly, the major South-East Asian airlines performed best. Topping the assessment was Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, scoring a total of 79% overall, with Singapore Airlines just a point behind on 78%. Both airlines provided a highly functional online booking engine, enabling even the most demanding consumer to quickly and efficiently book tickets via the internet. Further, the airlines demonstrated a superior level of customer service, with a raft of information displayed on the website and most e-mail inquiries professionally handled within 12 hours.
The best of the Australasian airlines was Air New Zealand, which finished third on 70%, just ahead of Qantas. Australian airlines suffered universally from a lack of site usability. “Whilst Qantas, Ansett, and Virgin Blue all provided adequate booking engines, navigating around their respective websites to other key information was more difficult” according to Global Reviews Founding Director Dr. Adir Shiffman.
Customer service varied dramatically across the Australian airlines, with Qantas the strongest performer. Whilst they and Ansett recorded almost perfect scores for phone and e-mail service, both lacked sufficient on-site information. Neither airline included a comprehensive set of Frequently Asked Questions, making it difficult for consumers to quickly resolve issues without the need for an e-mail or phone call. Whilst Virgin Blue was marginally better in this department, a poorer standard of e-mail service contributed to its lower overall score of 61%. “Consumers continually rank online customer service in the following order of importance: website, e-mail, phone”, explains Shiffman. “It’s a lesson Aussie airlines still need to learn”.
The performance of so-called “value-based” airlines - no- or low-frills services generally lacking loyalty programs - was also assessed. At the time of the review Ansett’s Mark II interface scored best with 64%, although at least two new incarnations of their site have been displayed during the past month. Despite recently boasting online sales reaching 92% of total bookings, UK discount airline Ryan Air managed just 56%, with its site usability and customer service scores amongst the worst. Easy Jet, which similarly claims 9 in 10 of its tickets are booked online, also faired below expectations. According to Dr. Shiffman there is a logical explanation. “These airlines have the ‘advantages’ of a market more accustomed to online purchases, a long tradition of internet-only bookings, and a lack of other efficient sales channels. Their European customer base seems more forgiving, whereas in Australasia we tend to be far more critical.”
Whilst the online performance of Australian airlines, particularly Qantas, has improved since the last survey conducted in July, the customer experience is still far from optimal. The current pressure on the airline industry worldwide only emphasises the need to further expand this cost-effective medium.