Omni-channel loyalty is the natural next step for travel, but is the industry ready? Ritesh Gupta investigates

Travellers today belong to a multi-device, multi-channel world in which they expect to be able to connect with their preferred brands through various touchpoints concurrently. This adds a new dimension to loyalty programmes. 
 
Omni-channel loyalty will make this connection to brands more seamless, enhancing the consumer experience through all available channels such as mobile internet devices, computers, bricks-and-mortar, television, radio, direct mail, catalogue and so on.
 
Implementing omni-channel loyalty is a demanding task and has to be done efficiently.  However, if done right, it can have strong impact on a customer and boost loyalty immensely. 
 
According to Sharon Cohen, Executive Director, Loyalty Programs, FRHI Hotels & Resorts what stands out for travellers is recognition.  “Omni -channel loyalty means being able to recognise a member regardless of the channel through which they are communicating and continuing the relationship or the dialogue with that guest seamlessly,” she says.
Cohen argues that the industry believes  in the importance of streamlined omni-channel communication and is still feeling its way around how to provide a truly seamless experience for customers who choose to engage with a brand in multiple channels. Indeed recognising a member regardless of where they are communicating from is key. Once recognition is accomplished, brands can  start to build a  more intimate relationship with  members that is less transactional and more personal.
 
For Bram Hechtkopf, VP of Business Development & Marketing at Kobie Marketing there are five steps to prepare for omni-channel loyalty. They are:
 
1. Estimate the benefits: For any travel loyalty programme, preparing an omni-channel loyalty framework (OCL) starts with estimating whether the potential ROI benefits outweigh the  financial cost. This can be determined by asking current customers what communication channels and type of offers they prefer before any changes are made. 
 
2. Work towards enterprise-wide participation: Travel brands embracing omni-channel must get the entire enterprise on board. Silos should be  broken down so all traveller data is shared and datasets like those of the booking or sales department and the frequent flyer or guest program department are integrated into sophisticated CRM systems. 
 
3. Capitalise on data:  Programme managers must review the data they already have about their members from previous transactions. This helps airlines and hotel brands establish a preliminary picture of each customer’s wants and needs – one that will continually grow more detailed as the loyalty relationship evolves.  
 
4. Be ready internally: It’s also essential that all enterprise levels, from the C-suite to IT to flight attendants and  hotel front-desk staff are on the same page with regards to the overall guest or traveller experience. They should also  always communicate with and update each other; ensuring that the promised experience is consistent across all channels.
 
5. Regularly monitor progress: Keeping an omni-channel programme on track requires continuous  monitoring and tracking. This helps keep individual offers as well as the overall traveller loyalty experience fresh and relevant for members.
 
Cohen says there are couple of key factors to keep in mind to ensure successful management of omni-channel loyalty. These include: 
 
Make the most of what you know: Among the challenges associated with omni-channel loyalty is the ability to track and execute on the information collected through multiple channels. Travel brands  need to be able to gather intelligence on their  customers; how they behave and what is important to them and then be able to feed that back to them at any given touch point in a relevant way. 
 
Don’t overdo it: There could be a ‘Big Brother’ factor that sets in when brands  follow customers through multiple channels. Brands need to know when to recognise or engage with the customer but should be  mindful of their personal boundaries and ensure any connections with them are genuine and sincere. It is that fine balance that a brand  needs to learn as it can easily make a customer disengage from the brand. When implementing omni-channel loyalty, it’s important to remember that driving loyalty isn’t about promotional offers or rewards and gifts. It’s about fostering a long-term relationship by gaining a more granular sense of customers’ preferences. 

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