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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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. 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.