Pick a Card, Any Card: Getting -and Keeping - Your Most Loyal Guests
By Shannon Dooley Operations Manager - Quality Assurance Practice, LRA Worldwide | June 03, 2012
As Alec Baldwin – and a certain bank - would say, "what's in your wallet?"
Cheesy though it may be, when it comes to loyalty programs that catchphrase certainly deserves a second glance. I would guess that a peek inside many of the well-crafted leather vessels we carry around with us daily would yield more than just credit cards, cash, and the occasional family photo. Right down to the sometimes hand-stitched billfold, what's in your wallet can often define you beyond just what you spend. If you were to take mine (as an example, not an invitation) you'd figure out where I went to college, where I go for graduate school, what airline I always fly, and at what hotel chain I typically stay. Yes I'm a literal card-carrying member of several organizations, and I keep the cards with me to enjoy the perks of those memberships be it tangible or intangible. Whether on its own or embedded in the magnetic strip of your favorite piece of plastic, it's safe to assume that next time you go to pay for a transaction, you aren't just paying cash... you are racking up points, miles, or one item in the millions of other loyalty program concepts out there in today's market.
Since the S&H Green Stamps days, loyalty programs have helped drive consumer behavior serving as a win win for consumers and vendors: sparkling new gadgets for the home for the consumer and a heftier net income for the vendor. In the hotel world, loyalty programs are often viewed by the road warrior and sporadic traveler alike as a gateway to sandy beaches, powdery slopes, mountain vistas, or any combination thereof. Spend now, earn now, and enjoy later is certainly the driving force behind many decisions on where to stay on the road, but as any traveler can tell you (and I've preached several times) it not just about the points anymore. Now more than ever consumers are looking at the big picture of what that point accumulation means in their life during the "spend now" phase just as much as in the "enjoy later" phase. Sure, the luxury island resort seems like a great point accumulation goal, but if the traveler has to suffer through miserable stay after miserable stay at other hotels within the chain, the benefits certainly may not outweigh pain over the long haul. Ultimately, deciding to not put up with the poor experience affects not just the guest, but both the "day in day out" hotel and the luxury resort as well. From my perspective, no one wins in that scenario – except, perhaps, your competition.
Nowadays teamwork extends beyond just a hotel front office, division, or department. In the increasingly interconnected hotel world, where once independent hotels are joining forces with the big-brand marketing juggernauts, teamwork literally extends across the globe to every hotel that carries even a slight hint of your branding. Take the old saying about when the United States gets a cough, the rest of the world gets a cold; in today's world, one bad experience at your hotel in one city can result in decreased revenue in at your property across the globe. Sure, the connection may not be readily apparent, but consumer experiences in one location can drive overall spend somewhere else in the terms of lost revenue, even if it may not be quantifiable.
Getting everyone on the same page globally is most certainly a daunting task, but one that is well worth it. The true trick, particularly for day's growing consumer base, is not to provide a cookie cutter experience, but rather a consistent one. There is a distinct difference in these concepts: one is rooted in "checklist mentality" and the other in what I refer to as a "visionary mindset." Going back to the "same page" concept, it's about getting people to read the same page, but perhaps in their native tounge. In the former, the guest experience is driven by the same hotel look and feel, right down to the exact language used in every interaction. While I have had the privilege of working with several brands that do this quite well, particularly within the limited service market, the end result for many brands is a boring and sometimes cold experience. Take the signature greeting or farewell message, used by some brands to capoff particular guest interactions. As one who has been on both ends of these signature exchanges, there is nothing worse than saying – or hearing – the message delivered in a cold, inauthentic manner. For messages designed to be delivered from a warm, welcoming perspective, hearing them delivered in the opposite way has a multitude of meanings, from simply being insincere to conveying downright hostility towards the guest. Require that all associates say a certain line, and suddenly that message could become a signature takeaway for your guests for all the wrong reasons.
In the visionary mindset (the same page, but in a native tounge), the guest experience is driven by key emotional engagement concepts, yielding a consistent "feel" even though the look, the language, and the property may change. This is not to say that items of the experience should be the same (for example, every hotel must have a flat screen television and a particular bedding package), but giving the properties latitude to craft the vision in the way that best fits their milieu not only drives property buy-in by giving them a voice in the customer experience, but also begets authenticity to a property's place and its people. Having hotel hopped in Maui during years past, I can say that the properties I want return to are those that make me feel like I'm getting a taste of Hawaii and its people from my check-in to my guestroom to my dining experiences. In contrast, I'm not as quick to return to the opulent properties that may fit the brand "standards" but could just as easily be in Hamburg as Honolulu. The same concepts apply to the day-in, day-out business travel world. Trying to create a sense of routine for the business traveler is paramount so certain constants like well-maintained, clean rooms are required, but the feel of the experience (unhassled, welcoming, etc.) is more important than making sure a check-in follows highly detailed, repetitive process that your most seasoned guests could arguably jump behind the desk and do themselves.