Sharpening your member communication strategies: it’s time to get personal

Established hotel companies have been preparing to set up a dedicated master profile of their guests or loyal members that reflects data points captured and stored across different avenues – bookings, customer service history, on-property selections like food and beverage and so on. Such efforts are critical in understanding the behaviour of each guest.

But working this out for a group that handles millions of guests is an overwhelming task. The effort that goes into finalising a unique key to each guest and tying that across large data environments can be arduous, but Choice Hotels International is one entity that has been working on such a detailed initiative.

Here EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta talks to Choice’s senior director, loyalty marketing, Ryan Draude, about what it takes to make the most of customer interactions including ones featuring social media, and also how to count on every time a member comes and stays.

EFT: How do you think travel companies are shaping their CRM and loyalty programmes to deliver timely and relevant offers?

RD: Hospitality companies are evolving in overall programme intimacy with their member bases. I still see more of a focus on a precious metal basis than I think is necessary – too often member communication strategies are based on a high-level tier agenda – all Golds get treated the same – rather than mining the unique behaviours to create a personalised strategy that is augmented rather than dictated by the precious metal status. But it takes significant time and resource input to craft segmentation that goes beyond the tiers; gaming and financial services have done a good job of moving to a more customer-centric state.

When you talk about social media within our industry, we might be one of the few verticals that don’t immediately think about Facebook – travel rating/community sites like TripAdvisor can be more powerful for our strategic needs. Why? Because transparency and third-party advocacy are strongly valued in the decision-making process.

The more we can encourage our guests and members to return to our properties, as well as proactively endorse them, we create invaluable advertising for both property and brand.

EFT: There is lot more personsalisation than ever before in loyalty programmes. What new trends have you witnessed?

RD: The predictive modeling in communications has certainly improved – it’s not status quo to just promote the same property stayed at now, but rather to expand that rationale to suggest other brands or geographic destinations based on how others like you have traveled as well.

It’s very similar to being on Amazon.com and browsing a product, then seeing ‘customers like you also bought product X and Y’ – a very clever way to build community.

Mobile tactics are also becoming more aggressive in utilisation. Rewards for ‘checking in’ via social sites like Foursquare have been tested via several hotel chains, and this reflects the need to deliver value wherever the guest physically happens to be.

EFT: Training and compliance provide an opportunity to reinforce the importance of on-property recognition. How has this developed?

RD: This is such a critical area for any loyalty programme – the usage of the product itself, in our case, the hotel stay – and what can be the frustrating element of not having control of that experience to ensure the right process and protocol are executed with each guest who checks in (Choice Hotels are independently owned/operated by franchisees).

The key influence of the guest or member’s perception of our brand is often a front desk clerk who may not understand the power they hold. Ultimately, the training piece of this relationship is the most critical avenue to influence a preferred experience each and every time. To that end, while we continue to invest heavily in training for new hotel franchisees and their staff - I’ll call this the ‘how’, we also have recognised the need to arm our franchisees with the financial impact of signing up and recognising each member that comes in the door (the ‘why’) so that they move from being short-term vendors to long-term strategists.

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