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J.D. Power recognizes travel providers as customer service champs

March 28, 2012|By Catharine M. Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel editor

At first blush, Ritz-Carlton, Drury Inn & Suites, Four Seasons, Hotel Indigo and Hampton Hotels might not seem to have much in common, other than being places to lay your weary head at the end of the day. Some cater to the high-thread-count crowd; others want to attract those who mind their money but also mind an uncomfortable accommodation.

But according to a J.D. Power & Associates study released this month, those lodgings are "customer service champions," which focus on serving the clientele and not the other way around. In the travel category, the study by J.D. Power of Westlake Village also pointed to Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America airlines and Enterprise and Ace rent-a-car companies as customer-service leaders of the pack.

It’s no surprise that Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons are on the list, said Gina Pingitore, chief research officer for J.D. Power. Citing their "great facilities and great amenities," those hotels "really deliver an outstanding customer experience," she said. But "Drury, Hampton and Hotel Indigo, even though they are not targeting the high-end luxury guest ... are still able to delight customers,” she said. And all of them do it consistently, she added.

J.D. Power identified what it calls the five P’s -- people, presentation, price, process and product -- as pivotal to the selection of the 50 champs out of more than 800 brands. The study was based partly on data from 2011.

"They focus their entire organization on delighting the customer," she said of the 50. "Brands like Enterprise [say], 'We are going to do what's right for  the customer, whether they are a frequent or infrequent customer.' They are going to identify what delights them and inculcate that knowledge in all aspects of that organization."

In this age of focusing more on high-value customers, is that approach best for business?

"I fly over 150,000 a year," Pingitore said, "and when I fly on a carrier that I'm not a frequent flier on, they treat me so badly I’m not going to give them a chance to be frequent flier." Businesses that focus largely on high-value customers "are really missing a huge opportunity to attract and retain customers from their competitors," she said, noting that "just because this customer isn’t showing up [on lists of elite customers] that doesn‘t mean they can’t become one."

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