A Fast-Track Route to Customer Loyalty

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In today’s travel and hospitality industry, there’s barely a single major hotel group that does not offer a loyalty scheme of some kind. One might think that this would indicate such schemes are effective. But last year, the NY Times reported a study by travel researchers Atmosphere that found only three in 10 American travelers were loyal to any hotel company. So does this mean that loyalty is an impossible dream, or have hotels just not differentiated their actual proposition enough? How can a hotel group buck this trend & really build a lasting relationship with its guests?

Welcome to New York – Photo by blmurch – http://flic.kr/p/PyrS4

In an often-crowded market, every hotelier is seeking competitive advantage to increase guest occupancy whilst maintaining revenue. Most hotels work hard to improve their offer and amenities. They aim to deliver a seamless, personalised experience for their loyal guests, both when booking & during their stay.

However, some of the biggest headaches for frequent travellers are not created by the hotels they stay in, but by experiences out of the hotel’s direct control. Lengthy airport immigration and security procedures remain the biggest single negative stage in the traveller’s journey. This can result in guests arriving at hotels late, stressed and irritated – all of which will impact adversely on their perception of the whole travel experience and willingness to travel again – however good a service the hotel delivers to them.

Loews Hotel Group has recognised this as a key issue affecting their frequent traveller guests. In line with our own thinking of customer journey mapping, Loews explored the end-to-end travel experience of those who stay in their hotels, across the whole trip, rather than simply those elements that Loews looked after. In doing so, they came across this same frustration of immigration time again. So, they decided to do something about it, even though it wasn’t their ‘responsibility’.

Dare to be different

The key to unlocking the problem was to partner with US Dept for Homeland Security who do control this problematic journey step. They learned about the US Global Entry Program, which allows registered travellers to bypass queues and onerous form filling. It uses an automated kiosk where travellers scan their own passports & fingerprints, answer a few questions on a touch screen and then proceed directly to the exit. The whole process only takes about a minute to clear immigration and customs.

Loews then arranged to offer their most loyal customers (YouFirst Premium Loyalty Reward members) complementary enrolment in the Global Entry Program. In doing so, Loews were able to deliver an initiative that resulted in tangible benefits. Saving valuable time and reducing stress genuinely rewarded Loews loyal guests, whilst the hotel group expects to gain loyalty from valuable repeat stays, as well as much sought-after competitive advantage for the Loews brand.

We see two clear lessons from such a case-study. The first is always to frame needs in the overall context of the individual lives of customers, rather than the context of those delivering products & services. Insightful research casts the customer in the role of ‘expert’, and seeks to learn directly from their wider views, stories and experiences. Second, even seemingly intractable problems, which extend well beyond the core responsibilities of a firm, need not necessarily be ‘out-of-scope’. If they are on the customers’ mind, they should be on the company’s radar too. And through imaginative partnerships with other organisations, businesses have the chance to meet customer need in a way that differentiates a brand, and drives loyalty too.

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For more information on end-to-end customer journey mapping, and case studies of our Lifelines™ techniques for creating them, do get in touch by emailing info@customerfaithful.com