Win the Connected Traveler with Connected Loyalty Strategies

By Allison Ferguson Senior Strategist, Merkle Inc. | March 19, 2017

“Travel in the young is part of education, in the elder a part of experience.” Francis Bacon made this observation in the 17th century, and it resonates now. Travel today is a highly aspirational, emotional, and educational experience. However, today’s experience is largely a digital one, which is evolving our roles as hoteliers and marketers at the very pace of innovation. We must constantly use people-based marketing to re-imagine how we connect with travelers and inspire them to connect in return.

There is much in play to win the hearts, minds, and spend of the digital or so called “connected” traveler, who controls an estimated $180B global stay spend on hotels, vacation rentals, and packages (Statista Market Outlook, 2016)). Hotel companies, via their loyalty programs, have the opportunity to become the hub for the self-service, end-to-end experience of the connected traveler.

Here is a look at connected loyalty strategies that will make the difference for today’s hotel brands, large or small.

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Loyalty is Connected to the Digital Experience and the End-to-End Journey

Connected Loyalty means that the loyalty program is intimately tied to digital and to the end to end experience. Skift recently held a discussion with eight hotel executives on the future of their loyalty programs and observed that, “[Loyalty is] a unifying strategy that, for many, is absolutely crucial to the short- and long-term success of their businesses.” (“8 Hotel Executives Say Where Hotel Loyalty is Headed Next,” February 6, 2017) Surely, loyalty has evolved into an enterprise strategy and complex marketing science that intersects with both the digital and the end-to-end travel journey.

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Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.