How Hotel Brands Can Activate Loyalty Data to Create Great Experiences

The Persistence of Memory

By Allison Ferguson Senior Strategist, Merkle Inc. | July 23, 2017

When I travel for business, I often return to the same city frequently - and when I do, I usually check into my favorite hotel. No matter how many times I return to that hotel, however, the front desk agents always treat me as if it's my first stay. They acknowledge my platinum status, certainly, and welcome me by name. After that, however, the desk agent will ask for my photo ID and credit card - just as they did the last ten times I checked into the same hotel.

This phenomenon may bother me more than the average traveler because I'm a loyalty marketing consultant, and I know that somewhere behind the scenes, there's a hotel property management system containing a data set rich with insight about my travel habits, transactional history, frequency of stay, preferred amenities, and other useful information about me. The problem: The hotel isn't using that data.

Imagine if, instead of providing the standard arrival greeting, the agent greeted me by saying, "Welcome back, Mrs. Ferguson. We trust you've been well since your last stay with us three weeks ago. I see by your file that you prefer room 1116 - would you like to book it again? That's great. We've already entered your usual 3pm checkout into the system. Just so you know, the workout facility is open 24-7 with keycard access. And as you've dined in our restaurant during the last two stays, we've rewarded you with a complimentary appetizer or dessert during your next dining visit. Please enjoy your stay!"

Instead of treating me as if they've never met me before, the hotel team would demonstrate memory of my relationship with them. Such a demonstration would go a long way toward locking in my loyalty.

Loyalty Program Value Lies in the Data

The real value of loyalty programs, we know, has always been in the data they generate. A "persistent ID" enables the tracking of member behavior, regardless of payment type, channel, or booking method. With this connected visibility, hoteliers can, in theory, develop a full view of their customer relationships and assess the value of individual members to the brand. In exchange for this access to their behavior, loyalty program members receive a suite of program incentives, such as rewards, upgrades, and offers, as illustrated below:

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.