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1 This article was downloaded by: [ ] On: 17 August 2015, At: 20:55 Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: Registered office: 5 Howick Place, London, SW1P 1WG Journal of Quality Assurance in Hospitality & Tourism Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: Analyzing the Quality of E mail Responses of Leading Hotels of the World to Customer Enquiries Rob Law PhD a & Teresa Kua b a School of Hotel and Tourism Management, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong b The Empire Hotel Hong Kong, Hong Kong Published online: 13 Aug To cite this article: Rob Law PhD & Teresa Kua (2009) Analyzing the Quality of E mail Responses of Leading Hotels of the World to Customer Enquiries, Journal of Quality Assurance in Hospitality & Tourism, 10:3, , DOI: / To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content ) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content. This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at

2 Journal of Quality Assurance In Hospitality & Tourism, 10: , 2009 Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: X print / online DOI: / Analyzing the Quality of Responses of Leading Hotels of the World to Customer Enquiries ROB LAW School of Hotel and Tourism Management, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong TERESA KUA The Empire Hotel Hong Kong, Hong Kong This study explores the quality of responses to information queries regarding accommodation sent via to leading international luxury hotels using a mystery guest approach. The English e- mail messages also included questions about other services and facilities offered by the hotels. The main objectives of the research were i) to evaluate the extent to which the Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) use to communicate with potential customers, and ii) to investigate the responsiveness and quality of e- mail responses to queries among these hotels. The overall results reveal less than satisfactory responsiveness and quality, with some hotels having insufficient knowledge of customer service. The implementation of customer service policies and high-quality standard procedures is thus needed to improve the competitive advantages and customer relationship management of hotels. KEYWORDS response, leading hotels, customer enquiry Received 21 November 2008; revised 16 April 2009; accepted 25 April 2009 Address correspondence to Rob Law, PhD, School of Hotel and Tourism Management, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong. polyu.edu.hk 175

3 176 R. Law & T. Kua INTRODUCTION Accessing information about a particular hotel is an important part of the customer booking experience, and such information is crucial to the communication process, especially for enquiries. messaging has thus become critical to the daily business activities of hotels, and any downtime of this service may be problematic and could lead to major losses of corporate productivity and profitability. Moreover, hotels may miss the opportunity to increase sales and improve customer relationships if they fail to respond efficiently and adequately to enquiries. Hotel operators spend thousands of dollars promoting the quality of their services and products, yet although such advertising generates room reservation enquiries, these enquiries will not be converted into confirmed reservations if potential customers are not professionally served (Murphy, Schegg, Olaru, & Frey, 2003). The cost of such missed opportunities goes far beyond the economic value of the specific enquiry, and hotels may be unsuccessful if they fail to capitalize on . Schegg, Murphy, and Leuenberger (2003) investigated the responses of international luxury hotels and found that exploring electronic customer service is a challenge. In their study, enquiries were sent to 300 hotel chains in Europe. The poor quality of the responses from many hotels led the authors to suggest that the improvement of customer service is urgently required. The researchers thus called for future research endeavors from academics in this area. Murphy, Schegg, and Olaru (2006b, p. 743) further commented that a growing body of research investigates hospitality Internet use, but usually focuses on websites rather than the most popular Internet application, . A survey of electronic retailers in Europe found that 65% of companies did not respond to s within their minimum standard response time of 24 hours (Hoda, 2007). Customers expect quality from Internet self-service technologies, but Barnes and Cumby (2002) argued that automating quality is difficult. Despite the existence of massive relationship marketing and customer service programs, many hotels face declining customer satisfaction even though the Internet provides promising electronic service tools such as e- mail (Karimi, Somers, & Gupta, 2001). Politely and promptly answering e- mails is a simple yet valuable form of one-to-one interaction that influences customer assessments of service quality. However, past studies have found evidence of poor customer service in the hospitality industry (Gherissi, Schegg, & Murphy, 2002; Pechlaner, Riezner, Matzler, & Osti, 2002). One of the possible causes is that hoteliers are not generating a better return on their Internet investment by focusing on basic procedures and employee training to effectively manage enquiries. In addition, enquiries may not receive the same attention as telephone calls or postal or personal communications in efforts to improve customer retention and

4 Analyzing the Quality of Responses 177 value. Understanding what constitutes an appropriate response to an enquiry is thus essential, because failure to do so will lead to poor customer relationships and potential loss of competitive advantage. In addition to understanding the importance of , hoteliers should carefully monitor the quality and responsiveness of their replies to enquiries, as is such a prevalent means of communication. Successful implementation of surely benefits hotel organizations. This study examines the quality of the responses of international luxury hotels to customer enquiries, and to investigate how well these hotels use to interact with potential customers. Specifically, this study aims to i) identify customer expectations of replies to room reservation queries, and ii) investigate the responsiveness and quality of s responding to such customer queries. This study contributes to the better comprehension and evaluation of the content of hotel responses to potential customer enquiries by measuring the response rate and richness of information provided by analyzing the quality of replies. It investigates current practices regarding the use of as a business communication tool in international luxury hotels, and provides useful information that should help hotels improve their customer service and the quality of their online service. LITERATURE REVIEW Electronic Mail is currently one of the most popular services and a frequently used tool for electronic communication on the Internet. involves the electronic transmission of digital messages over the Internet. Messages can take the form of letters, notes, or documents, or in some cases files, images, or software, and can be sent to any other user on the Internet. The best characteristics of are that it can be accessed almost anywhere people go, and that it allows users to personalize their messages to friends, business partners, and customers. has both similarities to and differences from conventional postal services. Messages are posted electronically to individuals at specific addresses, much like conventional mail, and the address denotes the computer that the individual employs as a mail server. When a message is delivered, the user can read it like a postal letter and save or discard it accordingly (Alverno, 2007). In the hospitality industry, according to the empirical findings of van Grimbergen and van der Pijl (2001), the effects of on organizations are not entirely positive. It is thus vital that organizations be aware of both the positive and negative effects of to obtain the most out of this tool in

5 178 R. Law & T. Kua terms of effective and efficient communication. messages are often characterized by informal communication, which can have disadvantages. E- mail is a direct medium, and employees sometimes do not think carefully about the way in which they formulate sentences. In addition to functional problems, legal problems can arise. Some messages contain illegal content, such as discriminatory comments. van Grimbergen and van der Pijl (2001) concluded that the use of in hospitality and tourism is increasing, and that the industry seems to be one of the areas in which plays a more formal role. Indeed, transactions among parties in hospitality and tourism value chains are often agreed upon and confirmed through e- mail. appears to be a promising electronic customer service tool for the hospitality industry that provides a mechanism for low-cost communication. Its speed and simplicity allow hoteliers to test multiple messages, and to change offers or segmentation to improve results (Marinova, Murphy, & Massey, 2002). is effective in acquiring and retaining customers, and is also strategically important for the hotel industry because it serves as a vehicle for relationship marketing and customer communications. It provides a unique opportunity for personalized and intimate interactions with guests, and thus enhances customer relationship management (Murphy, Schegg, & Olaru, 2006a). Previous Studies of Hotel Responses Strauss and Hill (2001) argued that communication has become an important part of a firm s customer service function. differs from traditional communication methods such as telephone calls, postal letters, and personal contact between consumers and firms. Based on the findings from 130 complaint s sent to companies to investigate responses and customer reactions, Strauss and Hill (2001) concluded that responding quickly, addressing the question, and closing with an employee s name were simple ways to boost customer satisfaction. Other suggestions for a proper response include a friendly answer and personalized salutation, and politely closing with the sender s full name, contact details, and position. According to Murphy et al. (2003) and Schegg et al. (2003), companies should establish and train staff about policies, and anticipate questions through an FAQ section on their websites. Pechlaner et al. (2002) empirically tested response behavior to Internet requirements and analyzed the role of hotel size and category in such behavior. In particular, the response rate, response time, and quality of information in answers were measured. In the study, mystery guests sent s to a randomly selected sample of 606 three-star and four-star hotels asking about room availability and for information on cultural events and guided hiking tours. The results revealed a fairly fast response rate

6 Analyzing the Quality of Responses 179 among the hotels, with more than 50% replying on the same day. However, the quality of the answers was poor. Almost 40% of the hotels did not answer any of the additional questions asked by the mystery guests, and only 38% provided all of the information requested. Nguyen, Murphy, and Olaru (2003) stated that poor replies to customer s or failure to follow basic business communication principles in a reply suggest poor infusion of technology within an organization. In line with organizational diffusion research, studies using responses to reflect Internet adoption have found that larger organizations provide better responses that are more polite, personal, prompt, professional, and promotional than those provided by smaller organizations (Murphy & Gomes, 2003; Murphy & Tan, 2003; Nguyen et al., 2003; Schegg et al., 2003). Murphy and Tan (2003) tested the response rate and response quality of travel agents in Singapore, and found that agencies handled requests poorly. However, despite these findings, few Internet adoption models include responses. In their study, Schegg et al. (2003) sent out enquiries to 461 luxury hotels and analyzed the responsiveness and quality of their replies. The overall response rate was 75%. However, almost half of the respondents failed to identify themselves. Although 86% of the hotels addressed the potential customer in a personalized way, only 55% included detailed contact information, and just 38% seized the opportunity to market their hotels by adding relevant information. The researchers suggested that hoteliers should focus on customer relationship management to improve their online communication. Matzler, Pechlaner, Abfalter, and Wolf (2005) carried out a study to empirically test the response behavior of 1,733 Austrian hotels to information requests from customers using a mystery guest approach. Overall, the results clearly showed that the responses were unsatisfactory. Approximately 20% of the hotels did not respond to an electronic information request, more than 25% took more than 2 days to answer, and only 33% answered all questions. The researchers concluded that hotels that do not respond adequately to enquiries miss an opportunity to attract additional guests, which puts them at a serious competitive disadvantage. Lastly, Murphy, Schegg, and Olaru (2006b) extended data from a study of 491 luxury chain hotels using the mystery guest approach. In their study, potential hotel guests sent enquiries about room availability that also solicited other information. Twenty-four response variables were measured in the four SERVQUAL-P dimensions of tangibles, responsiveness, personalization, and reliability. The results revealed that the hotels were weak in the customer-focused dimensions of personalization and, to a lesser extent, reliability. The seemingly routine dimension of providing tangibles achieved the best scores.

7 180 R. Law & T. Kua METHODOLOGY In this research, the total population of 433 international luxury hotels on the Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) list of members was selected for analysis. The LHW are internationally recognized luxury hotels in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and North America that uphold rigorous standards of quality (Romanella, 2007). For nearly 80 years, the LHW designation has symbolized the ultimate luxury in hospitality. The LHW list comprises 242 member hotels with 100 or more rooms (LHW > 100 rooms). The Leading Small Hotels of the World list has 191 member hotels with fewer than 100 guest rooms (LHW, 100 rooms). The data collection process resulted in responses from the 433 luxury hotels. The addresses of the hotels were obtained from their websites through the Yahoo and Google search engines. Secondary data were obtained from various sources, including online research, academic and periodical reviews, and published articles to gain a comprehensive understanding of and related topics. Data Collection Using convenience sampling, 60 guests at a five-star hotel in a major travel destination in Asia were personally interviewed in the hotel s executive club lounge at the end of October The in-depth interviews used an openended questionnaire that asked respondents views on what the major dimensions are when they communicate with hotels using s. More importantly, respondents were requested to provide the variables in each of the dimensions. A letter of consent was sent to the Front Office Manager, and permission was obtained before the interviews were conducted. During the interviews, examples from related prior studies were provided upon request. The recorded views of the respondents were grouped by the authors based on the ground theory and using key terms identification. Results led to the categorization of eight responsiveness variables and twelve quality variables (Table 1). The results of the in-depth interviews showed that the respondents expected to receive an response to an initial enquiry within 24 hours, and felt that a message thanking them for their enquiry was imperative. From the point of view of hotel guests, information requests via allow them to pose customized questions at any time. If a hotel employee is not available to reply to an , then an auto-response message acknowledging receipt of the is advisable. The respondents mentioned that they frequently made enquiries about special room rates, privileges, room amenities, airport to hotel transportation, and entertainment when making a room reservation via , and thus these attributes were used as the responsiveness variables in this research.

8 Analyzing the Quality of Responses 181 TABLE 1 Responsiveness and Quality Variables Responsiveness Variables Auto response Room rate Congratulations Amenities Privileges Entertainment Transportation Appreciation Quality Variables Subject line Greetings Personalized salutation Airport distance Provisional reservation Flight Information Credit card Preferences Contact information Future communication marketing Follow-up Description Did the hotel send an automatic response? Did the hotel offer a special room rate? Did the hotel recognize the opportunity to congratulate the potential guest on his or her special occasion? Did the hotel offer exclusive room amenities? Did the hotel provide privileges to further attract customers? Did the hotel offer any of its respective facilities for entertainment purposes or were any suggestions regarding entertainment made by the hotel s concierge department? Did the hotel offer transportation to increase hotel revenue? or Did the hotel provide important information on how to reach it? Did the hotel thank the sender for his or her enquiry and interest in the hotel? Did the hotel provide an interesting subject line, including the hotel s name, to attract customers to open the ? E.g., See you soon at Hotel ABC in City DEF! You re welcome at ABC Hotel, City DEF! Did the hotel initially greet the customer with the hotel s name? Did the hotel use the customer s last name or full name with Dear plus Mr. or Ms.? Did the hotel show initiative and provide useful information about how to reach it? Did the hotel hold a room or provide a reservation number upon first contact and keep the room until a certain release date? Did the hotel ask for (or provide information on) flight details? Did the hotel ask for credit card details to guarantee the reservation? Did the hotel ask for the customer s room preferences, e.g., smoking or non-smoking room? Did the hotel provide a satisfactory signature response that included the hotel s name, the name and position, address, direct business number, and fax number of the contact person, and the hotel s website address? Did the hotel encourage the customer to write at any time in the future to build the relationship? Did the hotel provide relevant information on the hotel, such as additional promotional activities or hotel facilities? Did the hotel send a follow-up message to keep in touch with the customer and follow up after the first reply to update the reservation status? Regarding quality, the majority of the respondents indicated that it is desirable for hotels to promote their latest products and services through marketing, and that attachments can serve this purpose. In addition, interesting subject lines can attract potential customers to open an , and introductory greetings that include the hotel name and a personalized salutation using Dear and addressing a customer as Mr. or Ms. are a must to show politeness. Provisional reservations with the option

9 182 R. Law & T. Kua of asking for customer credit card and flight information details serve to show sincerity and eagerness in welcoming potential guests. Most importantly, encouraging the customer to give information on room preferences enables the hotel to provide a better quality service that identifies the customer, and can provide useful information for storage in a customer database for a customer s subsequent visits. Detailed contact information about the hotel, including the hotel s name, postal address, and website address and the name and position, direct telephone number, direct fax number, and address of the responding employee should also be given in the for the customer s future reference and further enquiries. Finally, the respondents concluded that encouragement of future communication is a way to show concern and build a long-term customer relationship. After responses have been sent, follow-up s can help increase future sales and directly influence customer buying decisions. When a potential hotel guest has sent out an enquiry, a complete answer and a high-quality response are expected. The data on what constitutes such a response collected from the interviews were analyzed to form the essential enquiry variables. The evaluated criteria were then developed to measure responses in terms of politeness, responsiveness, and quality. The response rate was also measured by the percentage of hotels responding in a given number of days. Mystery guest and mystery or silent shopper programs, which are types of participant observation, are regarded as good tools for evaluating and improving customer service quality (Erstad, 1998). A key element in the information exchange between customers and hoteliers is the information given about the core service of room provision. This study used a mystery guest approach, in which a fictitious customer sent two different enquiries at different times to the address of a hotel reservation department. The first message was a polite enquiry that was sent at the end of November 2007, and the second was an impolite enquiry asking for similar information that was sent in mid-december All of the enquiries were made in English and were sent out on the same day to put the hotels on the same level. Polite and impolite messages were sent to compare the differences in response rates to the two types of messages. In the polite message, a request was made for information about room availability and special room rates for a honeymoon suite at the end of December Information about room amenities, entertainment, and airport to hotel transportation was also requested. To differentiate between the two messages, the impolite message asked about a suite for a silver wedding anniversary. To ensure similar experimental conditions and to reduce bias, each enquiry was sent using the blind carbon copy function and from the same computer. To allow the researchers to send multiple s simultaneously, six new accounts were registered on two of the world s most popular servers, Yahoo.com and Hotmail.com

10 Analyzing the Quality of Responses 183 (Microsoft, 2007; Yahoo, 2007). s that failed to arrive, for example, because a server was down, were re-sent on the same day. A content analysis of the replies was conducted by the authors based on the information collected on the response rate and the responsiveness and quality variables after the elimination of the hotels that did not respond. The variables were carefully analyzed and examined based on these data. The next section presents the empirical findings using descriptive statistics. FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION Analysis of Response Rate As of April 2008, 360 LHW hotels with more than 100 rooms and 301 LHW hotels with fewer than 100 rooms had responded. As expected, the response rate to the polite messages was slightly better (51.4%) than the response rate to the impolite messages (48.6%). The response rate for the LHW > 100 room hotels was 74.4% and that for the LHW, 100 room hotels was 78.8% (Table 2). In total, 38.2% of the LHW > 100 room hotels and 54.7% of the LHW, 100 room hotels sent replies within 24 hours, and the majority of the hotels responded on the first 2 days (65.6%). The last reply was received on the seventh day for the LHW, 100 room hotels and on the sixth day for the LHW > 100 room hotels. Performance of the Leading Hotels of the World (> 100 rooms) Analysis of Responsiveness (LHW > 100 Room Hotels) Table 3 shows that the LHW > 100 room hotels usually did not use automatic responses to enquiries (9.4%). The majority of them answered the room rate (98.9%) and thanked the potential guest for his/her enquiry (90.6%). In addition, 52.5% of the hotels provided information on amenities TABLE 2 Performance of the LHW (> 100 &, 100 Rooms) by Response Rate Hotel No response 1 Day 2 Days 3 Days 4 Days 5 Days 6 Days 7 Days Total LWH > % within 25.6% 38.2% 20.5% 7.6% 3.9% 3.7%.4%.0% 100% hotel type LWH, % within hotel type 21.2% 54.7% 10.5% 9.2% 2.1% 1.3%.5%.3% 100%

11 TABLE 3 Performance of the LHW (> 100 rooms) in Responsiveness (N 5 360) Responsiveness Variables Automatic Response Room Rate Congratulations Amenities Privileges Entertainment Transportation Appreciation Total Average % Europe 14.9% 99.0% 44.6% 46.7% 35.9% 31.3% 42.1% 92.8% 50.9% Middle East 0% 87.5% 0% 62.5% 37.5% 12.5% 62.5% 100% 45.3% Africa 0% 100% 5.3% 78.9% 47.4% 21.1% 78.9% 100% 53.9% Asia Pacific 0% 100% 23.9% 50.0% 60.9% 50.0% 87.0% 91.3% 57.9% North America 6.3% 100% 34.4% 65.6% 53.1% 35.9% 71.9% 90.6% 57.2% Central and South 6.3% 100% 6.3% 25.0% 12.5% 6.3% 25.0% 75.0% 32.0% America Caribbean 0% 100% 0% 100% 50.0% 0% 0% 100.0% 43.7% Total % within LHW >100rooms 9.4% 98.9% 33.9% 52.5% 31.7% 31.7% 54.7% 90.6% 50.4% 184 R. Law & T. Kua

12 Analyzing the Quality of Responses 185 and 54.7% gave information on transportation. In terms of the other quality variables, however, the results were poor for information given about privileges and entertainment (31.7%) and congratulations (33.9%). Across the regions, the Asia-Pacific region (57.9%) and North America (57.2%) ranked highest in terms of total average responsiveness to enquiries. The overall hotel average of 50.4% is considered to be low. Analysis of Quality (LHW > 100 Room Hotels) Table 4 shows that the LHW > 100 room hotels generally provided good contact information (87.2%), encouraged potential customers to engage in future communication (87.2%), and used a personalized salutation (81.7%). However, the results were poor for using a subject line (11.9%), holding a reservation (12.8%), and soliciting information about preferences (23.6%). The Asia-Pacific region (52.5%) again ranked the highest among the regions in terms of the quality variables, followed by North America (46.2%). However, the overall hotel average (36.5%) is considered unsatisfactory. Performance of the Leading Small Hotels of the World (, 100 Rooms) Analysis of Responsiveness (LHW, 100 Room Hotels) Table 5 shows that the majority of the Leading Small Hotels of the World responded to room rate enquiries (98.0%) and thanked potential customers for their enquiries (86.0%). However, the results for the other responsiveness variables were poor, in particular for information given about entertainment (27.9%), amenities (39.2%), privileges (39.9%), and airport to hotel transportation (38.5%). In addition, 8.3% of the hotels sent automatic response s, and only 12.3% congratulated the customers on their special occasion. North America ranked top in overall responsiveness (62.5%), followed by the Asia-Pacific region (47.7%). The total average score of 43.7% for responsiveness is not satisfactory. Analysis of Quality (LHW, 100 Rooms) Table 6 shows that the LHW, 100 room hotels generally responded well in terms of personalized salutations (86.7%) and encouraging customers to engage in future communication (91.7%). Of the hotels, 65.8% provided complete contact details, and 51.8% sent attachments promoting new products and services. The results for the other quality variables, however, were poor, with the hotels lacking initiative in enquiring about credit card details (21.9%), room preferences (21.6%), and flight details (18.9%). The results for subject line (5%), follow-up (7%), provisional reservation (10%),

13 TABLE 4 Performance of LHW (> 100 Rooms) in Quality of Responses (N 5 360) Quality Variables Subject Line Greetings Personalized Salutation Airport Distance Provisional Reservation Flight Information Credit Card Preferences Contact Information Future Communication Marketing Europe 11.8% 6.2% 91.8% 13.3% 10.3% 13.8% 17.4% 16.9% 88.7% 90.8% 32.8% 9.7% 33.6% Middle East 0% 62.5% 75.0% 12.5% 0% 0% 12.5% 12.5% 87.5% 62.5% 50.0% 12.5% 32.3% Africa 0% 26.3% 47.4% 0% 0% 0% 5.3% 5.3% 68.4% 47.4% 21.1% 5.3% 18.8% Asia Pacific 13.0% 56.5% 69.6% 19.6% 21.7% 52.2% 60.9% 50.0% 91.3% 95.7% 78.3% 21.7% 52.5% North America 21.9% 40.0% 84.4% 42.2% 23.4% 34.4% 31.3% 37.5% 87.5% 90.6% 51.6% 9.4% 46.2% Central and South America 0% 12.5% 25.0% 12.5% 6.3% 6.3% 12.5% 12.5% 75.0% 75.0% 12.5% 6.3% 21.3% Caribbean 0% 0% 100% 50.0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 100% 100% 50.0% 0% 33.3% Total % within LHW > 100 rooms 11.9% 24.2% 81.7% 12.5% 12.8% 20.6% 24.2% 23.6% 87.2% 87.2% 41.4% 10.8% 36.5% TABLE 5 Performance of the LHW (, 100 Rooms) in Responsiveness (N 5 301) Hotel Automatic Response Room Rate Followup Total Average Congratulations Amenities Privileges Entertainment Transportation Appreciation Total Average Europe 11.5% 97.8% 7.7% 23.6% 28.0% 20.3% 28.0% 89.6% 38.3% Middle East 0% 100% 0% 66.7% 66.7% 0% 66.7% 66.7% 45.8% Africa 0% 100.0% 0% 66.7% 33.3% 0% 66.7% 100% 45.8% Asia Pacific 0% 92.9% 17.9% 53.6% 53.6% 35.7% 50.0% 78.6% 47.7% North America 4.2% 100% 29.2% 79.2% 75.0% 50.0% 70.8% 91.7% 62.5% Central and South 0% 100% 9.1% 18.2% 36.4% 9.1% 9.1% 54.5% 29.5% America Caribbean 10.0% 100% 15.0% 60.0% 40.0% 60.0% 40.0% 70.0% 49.3% Total % within LHW, 100 rooms 8.3% 98.0% 12.3% 39.2% 39.9% 27.9% 38.5% 86.0% 43.7% 186 R. Law & T. Kua

14 TABLE 6 Performance of the LHW (, 100 Rooms) in Quality of Responses (N 5 301) Quality Variables Subject Line Greetings Personalized Salutation Airport Distance Provisional Reservation Flight Information Credit Card Preferences Contact Information Future Communication Marketing Follow- Up Total Average % Europe 4.9% 11.0% 89.0% 13.2% 8.2% 13.2% 22.5% 19.8% 54.9% 93.4% 48.9% 7.7% 32.2% Middle East 0% 0% 66.7% 33.3% 0% 0% 0% 33.3% 100% 100% 100% 33.3% 38.8% Africa 0% 0% 66.7% 33.3% 0% 0% 33.3% 33.3% 100% 100% 100% 0% 38.8% Asia Pacific 14.3% 14.3% 89.3% 53.6% 25.0% 42.9% 28.6% 32.1% 78.6% 85.7% 71.4% 3.6% 45.0% North America 10.4% 35.4% 91.7% 35.4% 12.5% 33.3% 25.0% 29.2% 83.3% 91.7% 52.1% 4.2% 31.8% Central and 0% 9.1% 72.7% 9.1% 0% 9.1% 9.1% 0% 72.7% 72.7% 18.2% 0% 22.7% South America Caribbean 0% 20.0% 70.0% 10.0% 10.0% 20.0% 10.0% 10.0% 80.0% 90.0% 40.0% 10.0% 30.8% Total % within LHW,100 rooms 5.0% 15.3% 86.7% 20.9% 10.0% 18.9% 21.9% 21.6% 65.8% 91.7% 51.8% 7.0% 34.7% Analyzing the Quality of Responses 187

15 188 R. Law & T. Kua greetings (15.3%), and airport distance (20.9%) were also poor. The Asia- Pacific region ranked top (45.0%) among the regions. The overall average of 34.7% is considered poor. Discussion of the Findings The effective handling of information enquiries is considered essential in online service quality management. From the customer s point of view, it is crucial to be able to send an enquiry to an address at any time as some information requests cannot be answered by online booking systems. The findings show that 76.3% of the hotels replied to the enquiries and 45.5% responded within 24 hours. This response rate is slightly higher than the 74% found among Swiss hotels (Murphy et al., 2003) and much higher than the 45% response rate among Tunisian hotels (Gherissi et al., 2002), but lower than the 83.8% response rate among four-star hotels in three Alpine regions (Pechlaner et al., 2002). In general, the hotels tried to answer the questions asked in the s, but some did not provide quality replies in some areas. For instance, a personalized salutation using Dear and the potential customer s full name or last name is better than using simply Mr. or Ms. ; some of the hotels used Dear with the first name only, and others used Hello or Hi with the enquirer s name. Many hotels provided contact information without indicating the responding employee s position or the hotel s fax number or website address. Some hotels replied that their concierge department would the sender as soon as possible regarding entertainment enquiries. However, some of the concierge employees did not respond, and others asked again what kind of entertainment the sender sought. This causes delays and, if the sender receives a more efficient response from another hotel, could lead to the loss of a potential customer. Our findings revealed that some hotels did not provide the requested information efficiently, and that some even responded unprofessionally. The majority of the hotels did not use an automated response system. The drawback of an automatic response is that it has an impersonal feeling, but an automatic response with a pre-written message acknowledging the sender s can, and should, be sent promptly. However, only a small percentage of the hotels in Europe, North America, and Central and South America used this as one of their practices. In addition, the subject line of an serves as a link for the reader, but only a small portion of the hotels in the Asia-Pacific region, North America, and Europe actually used it. Each query gives a hotel a unique marketing and cross-selling opportunity. can create revenue opportunities from past, present, and future customers, and as such serves as a powerful marketing channel through which hotels can send information about the best deals and latest promotions and services. Although such practices increase revenue

16 Analyzing the Quality of Responses 189 opportunities, the findings show that they were rarely used. Hotels in Hong Kong (87.5%) and Macau (88.9%) were far better at sending responses that included their latest promotions and provided updated news of refurbishments being carried out to enhance facilities. Hotels in the Asia- Pacific region in general had the highest rate of marketing among the LHW hotels. Some of the hotels seemed to avoid attachments, perhaps because they felt that they would have taken too long to download and were unnecessary for simple enquiries. Among the large LHW hotels, 57% in the Asia-Pacific region and North America showed good responsiveness, which was the best figure among the regions, whereas Central and South America had the weakest results. The Asia-Pacific region also had the highest average score in responding to e- mails with quality replies (52.5%). Among the small LHW in North America, the average responsiveness rate was 62.5%, which compared well with the other regions. The overall average of 45% for hotels in the Asia- Pacific region that responded with quality replies was not good, but was still the highest among the regions. Central and South America showed the poorest results, but this may be due to the weak English proficiency or uneven technological development in this part of the world. Although Europe is a mature and well developed travel destination, the empirical findings show that the European hotels did not perform well, and apparently focus on aspects other than or e-service. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Conclusions In the Internet era, allows hoteliers to directly communicate with customers and engage in a strong, personalized, and mutually beneficial interactive relationship with them. However, the results of this study indicate that management remains a challenge for the world s leading hotels. provides the hotel industry with the ability to communicate easily, globally, and quickly with customers and business partners. This exploratory research, however, reveals that hotels do not include customer service as part of their Internet strategy. Managers and staff members need to appreciate that is as important as, if not more important than, faxes, telephone calls, and letters. The senior management of hotels should thus establish policies and train employees in such e-service policies to create a more positive attitude toward the Internet, and should make responding to enquiries a higher priority in their business strategy. standard templates are helpful in enhancing basic business communication, but this can also be achieved by answering questions efficiently, identifying the sender, and personalizing messages. Receiving an enquiry is

17 190 R. Law & T. Kua considered a touch point, a moment of interaction that is the first step in establishing a relationship with and engaging a potential hotel guest. Hotel managers should treat such enquiries as potential sales leads, provide adequate responses, and attempt to cross-sell products. programs are relatively inexpensive and simple to support. Hotel service operations management issues related to managing online customer service contacts thus merit urgent attention, and hotels should take advantage of the full range of possibilities provided by the Internet to gain a competitive advantage and convert online enquiries into sales. Implications is often characterized as simply the writing of text messages, but given its higher degree of interactivity and faster response time, it is not easy for hotels to perfect functionality as one of their business tools with which to communicate with customers in an effective and efficient manner. This study highlights the current poor services among international luxury hotels that use as a business communication tool, and provides useful information that will help hotels improve their customer service and online service quality. In this study, a hotel reply did not necessarily mean that potential guests received accurate answers to their enquiries. In addition, information was handled differently depending on the location and size of the hotel. The negative findings in this study suggest that the entire luxury hotel industry is affected by general issues such as a lack of internal procedures and training to anticipate enquiries. The poor results for the responsiveness and quality variables suggest that hotels urgently need to develop measures to improve customer service. Implementing basic policies and standard online service operating procedures would enable them to gain an immediate competitive advantage. Recommendations The remarkable growth of the Internet and its increasing importance as a reservation tool has created both opportunities and challenges in the hotel and tourism industry. Advances in communications and information technology are altering the way that customers interface with service providers, and are likely to influence customer perceptions of the service experience (Boyer, Hallowell, & Roth, 2002; Oliveira, Roth, & Gilland, 2002). Online and offline enquiries have been, and will be, a major source of hotel revenue, which means that hoteliers must understand the urgent need for efficient management. Incoming from customers creates potential opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell. In addition, can be

18 Analyzing the Quality of Responses 191 used to encourage further communication to help the hotel learn more about customer needs. Hotels should therefore employ new strategies to ensure that they are sending proper responses to take full advantage of the functions of and utilize the Internet to its fullest potential. Limitations and Future Research Because of the limited sample size of hotels and short time span, the findings of this study cannot be generalized to the hotel industry at large. In addition, it is unknown how non-english s are handled. Future studies could address these limitations. Moreover, close attention to the concept of management and online customer service is crucial, as this study did not examine the degree of completeness for the obtained information. Additional research is needed to empirically examine the importance and effects of personalization and customization on customer buying behavior. Further research is also needed to explore, and better understand, why hotel employees respond in an unprofessional way or they do not respond at all to enquiries. Future research could also include more hotels in different categories and consider additional response variables or to further refine the variables included in this exploratory study. For instance, it is possible that some overlaps might exist between variables in the responsiveness and quality dimensions. Future studies can also investigate the feasibility of incorporating responsiveness as one of the quality dimensions in the context of services. As the implementation of customer service in hotel organizations occurs over time, longitudinal studies of international hotels would help to determine the success rate of e- service implementation. REFERENCES Alverno (2007). What is ? Accessed November 1, 2007, from alverno.edu/cil/mod2/whatis .html. Barnes, J.G., & Cumby, J.A. (2002). Establishing customer relationships on the Internet requires more than technology. Australian Marketing Journal, 10(1), Boyer, K.K., Hallowell, R., & Roth, A.V. (2002). E-Services: Operating strategy a case study and a method for analyzing operational benefits. Journal of Operations Management, 20(2), Erstad, M. (1998). Mystery shopping programmes and human resources management. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 10(1), Gherissi, T.L., Schegg, R., & Murphy, J. (2002). The state of electronic customer service in the Tunisian hotel industry. Proceedings of the 7 th International

19 192 R. Law & T. Kua Conference of the Association for Information Management (AIM), Tunisia: Hammamet, pp Hoda, L. (2007). How to survive the bombardment. Travel Trade Gazette UK and Ireland. 2754, Karimi, J., Somers, T.M., & Gupta, Y.P. (2001). Impact of information technology management practices on customer service. Journal of Management Information Systems, 17(4), Kettinger, W., & Grover, V. (1997). The use of computer-mediated communication in an interorganizational context. Decision Sciences, 28(3), Marinova, A. Murphy, J., & Massey, B.L. (2002). Permission marketing as a means of targeted promotion. Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administrative Quarterly, 43(1), Matzler, K., Pechlaner, H., Abfalter, D., & Wolf, M. (2005). Determinants of response to customer inquiries to hotels: Evidence from Austria. Tourism Management, 26(2), Microsoft (2007). Windows live hotmail fact sheet. Accessed November 20, 2007, from mspx. Murphy, J., & Gomes, L. (2003). customer service by Australian educational institutions. Australasian Marketing Journal, 11(2), Murphy, J., Schegg, R., & Olaru, D. (2006a). Investigating the evolution of hotel Internet adoption. Information Technology and Tourism, 8(3/4), Murphy, J., Schegg, R., & Olaru, D. (2006b). Quality clusters: Dimensions of responses by luxury hotels. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 26(3), Murphy, J., Schegg, R., Olaru, D., & Frey, S. (2003). The bandwagon effect: Swiss hotels website and management. Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 24(5), Murphy, J., & Tan, I. (2003). Journey to nowhere? customer service by travel agents in Singapore. Tourism Management, 24(5), Nguyen, D.T.H.C., Murphy, J., & Olaru, D. (2003). Investigating the adoption of electronic customer service by Australian businesses. Managing Service Quality, 13(6), Oliveira, P., Roth, A.V., & Gilland, W. (2002). Achieving competitive capabilities in e-services. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 69(7), Pechlaner, H., Riezner, H., Matzler, K., & Osti, L. (2002). Response attitudes and behaviour of the hotel industry to electronic info requests. In: K.W. Wöber, A.J. Frew, and M. Hitz (Eds.), Information and communication technologies in tourism 2002, pp Vienna/New York: Springer. Romanella, J. (2007). The leading hotels of the world. Singapore: LHW. Schegg, R., Murphy, J., & Leuenberger, R. (2003). Five-star treatment? customer service by international luxury hotels. Information Technology and Tourism, 6(2), Strauss, J., & Hill D.J. (2001). Consumer complaints by An exploratory investigation of corporate responses and customer reactions. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 15(1),

20 Analyzing the Quality of Responses 193 van Grimbergen, J.M., & van der Pijl, G.J. (2001). Managing the effects of on organizations. In: P.J. Sheldon, K.W. Wöber, & D.R. Fesenmaier (Eds.), Information and communication technologies in tourism 2001, pp Wien: Springer. Yahoo (2007). Yahoo press room. Accessed November 20, 2007, from client.shareholder.com/press/history.cfm.

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