Guest loyalty is changing. Here’s how to capitalize on it

Guest loyalty—and what exactly defines it—is shifting as guests’ wants and needs change. That means the whole concept of loyalty can be tough for hoteliers to wrap their heads around, let alone construct a strategy that can help them capitalize on it.

New research from rDialogue takes stock of just what guests want from loyalty programs, and it’s not all about the points. For example, 78 percent of travel members value a program that recognizes them as a member and 67 percent value experiences just for members.

But Phil Rubin, CEO of rDialogue, said there are four factors beyond the traditional transactional point accrual and redemption of loyalty programs that can help brands to differentiate and enhance the guest experience: recognition, access, information and time savings or convenience.

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“Taken together, and delivered from the brand, it’s emblematic of the sea of change we’ve identified, that customers expect loyalty from brands, much as the reverse is and has always been the case,” Rubin said.

“The great news is that there are now so many ways for hoteliers to learn about their customers not just directly but also contextually. In fact, it’s never been easier for brands to show loyalty to customers,” he added. “Context is increasingly important in our ever-connected world, and as everyone in hospitality knows, it has always mattered. It now just matters more as brands commit to delivering a more robust and personalized guest experience.”

Members-Only Experiences

Loyalty is becoming less about the transaction and more about the experience. In addition to the majority of people who want experiences just for loyalty members, 70 percent want content about travel amenities and destination to round out the personalized experience, according to the research.

“Rewards have become table stakes to the point where no brand wants to be the richest, as it often comes at the expense of yield,” Rubin said. “Members expect programs to offer rewards, but they’re not a differentiator the way the guest experience is.”

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So, how can hoteliers capitalize? Rubin said hotel general managers have the ability to empower their team to recognize loyalty members and to deliver stellar customer service. The experiences don’t have to always follow the program as long as they are relevant and personalized and result in guests feeling like they are unique.

“It’s also important that experiences aren’t just a physical activity or offering. Hotels have the opportunity to pull in a learning experience for members through destination information, recommended activities, maps and guidance, etc. but again, the key is that it must be relevant,” Rubin said.

Ease of Purchase

According to the research, 77 percent of travel loyalty program members said it’s extremely important that brands save their time and make it easy to purchase. That can be tough for hoteliers to do in an ocean of online travel agencies, and individual hotel websites. But Rubin said hoteliers need to look to the channels they do control and hone in on the experience.

“They must invest in leveraging customer data and insights into the shopping and booking experience from their own channels,” he said. “It’s actually a huge win for brands wanting to shift business to their direct channel, but only if—and it’s a big if—they invest in making sure their direct channels provide the absolute best experience.”

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He said hoteliers need to focus on one-click booking, convenient search functionality, clean mobile functionality and a consistent omnichannel experience. Most importantly, hoteliers need to remember and recognize the guest consistently across channels.

“The demand for seamless and efficient transactions is present in every touchpoint throughout the customer journey, not just during booking, and this is another way to enhance the direct booking experience,” Rubin said. “In other words, it’s increasingly OK for brands to provide direct-booking guests a better experience.”

Seamless Tech

More than half of consumers (56 percent) said it’s very or extremely important that a brand uses technology to make the experience seamless, according to the rDialogue findings. But in an industry that is known for lagging behind the times with technology, how can hoteliers be certain their dollars are spent on tech that will have a great return on investment versus what will turn out to be a fleeting fad?

The answer lies within the brand and its strategy, Rubin said.

“Part of the tech decision should be driven by an honest review of your customer journey, identifying where the gaps are in the experience through customer input and an internal review. Then armed with that insight, develop a strategy for the guest experience,” he said.

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Technology selection should be based on how well it enables that strategy, Rubin said. He advises hoteliers not to limit their exploration of tech by what other hotels are doing.

“Customer expectations today are being set by every brand a customer interacts with, and today that starts with Amazon and extends to Starbucks, Nordstrom, American Express and many others,” he said. “It’s important to remember our drivers here and that rewards come not only from points redeemed, but more importantly, from how well the brand demonstrates its loyalty to the customers.”