When Marriott moved to acquire Starwood, the hotel giant did so with the intention of creating “one of the best loyalty programs in the hospitality industry”. Undoubtedly, these programs are an important part of fostering loyalty among one’s guest base, but they aren’t the only — or even, arguably, the most important — factor. High enrollment numbers aren’t necessarily a guarantee of success. As Deloitte points out in a study on the topic, “there is a distinct difference between a hotel customer who has enrolled in a loyalty program and a customer who makes regular, truly loyal use of the brand because of it.” The traditional points program is just one part of the equation.
To gain true guest loyalty, brands must think beyond offering points. How your brand makes your guests feel is just as valuable as the tangible rewards you give them for booking with you every time they travel. At the end of the day, free Wi-Fi or late check-out privileges will mean very little to a guest who has had a poor experience on your property. Here are some ways you can go beyond the loyalty program to keep your guests coming back.
Make exceptional guest service your raison-d’être
As we’ve covered before, excellent service is the cornerstone of any effective guest retention strategy. After all, most businesses exist primarily to provide a product or service to customers, so it’s important to keep your client base happy. If you anticipate their needs, respond promptly when they communicate with you, and go above and beyond to resolve their concerns, then you can’t go wrong. With so much competition out there, guests that do not receive good service (at the very least!) have ample opportunity to go to the hotel or restaurant next door.
Treat your guests as if they are unique
Nobody wants to feel like they’re a walking dollar sign, and showing your guests they’re valued is just a matter of making the effort to learn something about them. When they arrive at the reception desk, don’t ask them if they’ve stayed at your hotel before; look in your CRM database to find the information, and if they have, then warmly welcome them back.
Whether you use their name to address them upon check-in, place flowers in their room in celebration of an anniversary, or put their favourite newspaper outside their door before they have to ask, you’ll position yourself as a hotel that goes above and beyond to impress. It’s by no means an easy task, but using data to understand as much as you can about your guests before they set foot on your property may help.
Accommodate your guests’ needs, within reason
As anyone in a customer service role can attest, guests don’t like to hear the word “no.” And sometimes, you’ll have to decline impossible requests, but for the most part, if it can reasonably be done, you should consider doing it. For example, if a couple on their honeymoon wants a bottle of champagne brought to their room while they’re out exploring the city, make it happen. To make it easier for guests to communicate their needs, consider investing in a mobile guest engagement solution.
Keep the human touch
Automation has enabled businesses to cut down on costs by replacing humans with technology in some areas of their operations. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but a machine can’t offer the same level of empathy and personalized service as a human being. Some of your guests will be delighted by automation, but others won’t, so make sure you always have a human team member available to interact with guests.
Always ask for feedback
Listen to your guests. Their perception of your hotel can help you identify weak points in your operations, and moreover, as a Gallup survey discovered, “when employees help guests solve problems, those customers can become more engaged than guests who didn’t experience a problem during their stay.” Responding to feedback has two benefits: Your guests will feel more favourably toward your hotel when you address their concerns, and your property will be running more smoothly than ever as you welcome new guests. Better yet, when you act on feedback, guests will feel they’ve invested something in your hotel.
Be a little more liberal with the freebies
If you’re still charging for Wi-Fi, you might want to re-think that policy. A 2012 TripAdvisor survey found that “88 [percent] of travellers expect Wi-Fi Internet access to be free of charge in all lodging types.” That’s an enormous number by any measure. What can we take from this statistic? Hotels that continue to charge for wireless internet are actively annoying their guests — and an annoyed guest is likely to look elsewhere for lodging next time around.
The minibar is another culprit. Wall Street Journal states that hotels still see it as a reliable way to boost in-room product sales, despite the revenue issues associated with it. And while some weary travelers will gratefully avail themselves of the bottled water and M&Ms without a care for the cost, others, reported by QZ, will feel resentful when they get to their room after a long journey and find the bottled water costs $7. Running a hotel is expensive business, and you can’t give everything away, but consider making the Wi-Fi and a bottle or two of H2O free so your guests don’t feel like they’re being charged for everything.
Make branding prominent
After giving your guests an exceptional experience, you want them to remember you so they’ll book with you next time they travel. This doesn’t mean you have to emblazon your hotel’s name across every surface of your hotel; there are subtler ways to do it, whether you blend your brand’s colours into the décor, stamp logos or other pertinent imagery onto stationery, or keep the ambience —be it hip or classic, quirky or understated — consistent throughout the property. No matter how you choose to do it, make sure your guests go away knowing exactly who you are and why they should come back.
How do you encourage guest loyalty beyond the points program? Share your strategies with us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and on Twitter @Benbria. Visit benbria.com to learn how our mobile guest engagement solution can help you keep your guests loyal.