Bang for the Buck: Enhancing Your Team's Loyalty Know-How

By Shannon Dooley Operations Manager - Quality Assurance Practice, LRA Worldwide | March 25, 2012

I have a confession to make: I am a hoarder.

No, I'm not a hoarder of the canned goods, collectibles, or cats variety; rather, for me the thrill comes in the form of points, miles, or nights. I bask in the delight of the chase - strategizing how to maximize my earnings through codeshares and credit cards, double points and triple mile challenges. Chances are that if there is a loyalty program out there, I'm probably in it. In fact, I'm willing to bet that some of you reading this article right now are nodding feverishly in agreement, perhaps wondering if I will share some of my tricks of the trade. Sorry, but I keep those (loyalty) cards close to the vest.

As our good friends at American Express like to say, "membership has its privileges." Indeed, membership is quite privileged when said membership is used effectively. Low-cost vacations thanks to complimentary hotel nights, holiday gifts purchased on points, your favorite Starbucks coffee creation on the house... all well-earned perks available for the savvy, point-conscious consumers' taking. I will not take full credit for discovering loyalty programs on my own, or how to best maximize my earnings. Rather, I learned the ropes from one of the best in the loyalty program business: my father. Although retired now from his former road warrior days, he can without hesitation tell you how many years (yes, years) in room nights he has spent staying with his favorite hotel chain and how many points he has in any one of his frequent flier accounts at any given moment. Naturally, this quest for point maximization has lead to consternation in the family from time to time - vacations, for example, were dictated not by where we wanted to go, but rather by the proximity of a points-eligible property. Still, after some tough negotiations we were usually able to come to a very agreeable destination, leading to a wealth of fun, sun-soaked childhood memories. These trips were the reward for those hours spent cramped in the middle-seat on a cross-country flight, the nights spent "sleeping" next to the freight elevator shaft, and the countless non-smoking rental cars that clearly someone had lit up in the drive prior. In essence, it was a thank you not only from Dad to my mom and me for putting up with his time away from us, but also from his travel partners along the way.

So that's what a loyalty program truly is: a thank you. No, I'm not naïve enough to think it's just that – loyalty programs are an invaluable tool in driving wallet-share, creating effective marketing plans, and ultimately serve as a goldmine of customer data. In the hotel world nowadays it's a "price of admission." but humor me if you will and let's focus on the initial premise: the loyalty program as a thank you. Thanks for staying with us, thanks for spending with us, thanks for choosing us. That's the heart of the matter: you need your guests to choose to spend their time, energy, and money with your property. Guests who, like me, may have their favorite "go to" brands, but also have a stack of loyalty cards... and aren't afraid to use them.

Ask anyone anywhere about basic service tenets and thanking a guest will come to the top of the list. In the case of the loyalty program, the thank you does not arrive verbally, but rather in the silent but significant deposit of another point, night or mile into the loyalty bank. On a more frequent basis properties around the world are complementing that "silent" thank you with verbal recognition. Good hotels do this routinely through thanking each guest at the end of a transaction and, in the case of many hotel brands, sharing the guest's point totals or nights earned as part of a routine script or on guest request during check-in or check-out. Great hotels, however, do this by not only engaging the "bookends" of a guest experience at check-in and check-out, but also by weaving it throughout the guest experience in subtle ways.

A few simple adjustments to your team's knowledge and approach can make all the difference in the world to your guests, your associates, and ultimately, your bottom line. It's a no-brainer that all other things being equal (great service, great facility, great staff), valued guests are usually happy guests. Guests feel valued when they are recognized and thanked for their business, and happy guests mean fewer headaches for your associates and less compensation for properties to write-off. But let's take this a bit deeper: valued guests – guests who feel that recognition, welcome, and gratitude throughout their stay – drive your business. They drive your Guest Satisfaction Scores, your TripAdvisor ratings, your occupancy levels, your revenue streams, and can strengthen your property's (and ultimately your brand's) position in the marketplace. Let's go back to my dear old Dad for a moment: aside from the on-command recitation of points levels and nights stayed, he is a staunch advocate for his preferred brand and created other life-loyal fans, including yours truly. That advocacy stemmed not from just some extra chocolates on the pillow at night, but from associates that, upon seeing him enter a lounge six months after his last stay at a property, had his drink ready and waiting. It was an acknowledgement that his presence was anticipated, welcomed, and relished.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.