This year has spawned more discussion about eCRM and loyalty than any year before in the hospitality industry. You only needed a few moments at any conference or with any industry publication to find “the best” solution jumping for your attention. It is exciting to see our industry move forward to realize the same personalized service we promise on property to the digital space. Unfortunately we have all spent too much time in that fray on two myths that hold hotel organizations back from being able to really identify what they need in the space.
Myth #1: eCRM and Loyalty are the same thing
While eCRM programs should incite loyalty, eCR
M is important whether you offer a traditional loyalty rewards program or not. Loyalty programs can be powerful tools, but they are based on incentives and experience touchpoints, not just email campaigns and a mobile engagement strategy. While some platforms (Serenata’s NetHotel and CendynOne to name a few) offer a platform to support eCRM AND loyalty programs, these are still separate pieces of a larger guest engagement strategy.
Myth #2: One of these solutions must be the best.
Some eCRM and loyalty platforms have been in the business for years, many are just emerging, the majority used to just do one thing and are now launching into a suite of products. They each have strengths, weaknesses, and different price points.
Instead of these myths, what hoteliers should be discussing; must be discussing as they make their 2016 marketing plans, is “what is the best platform for my organization.” That requires some internal questions and discussions. Gather the key players in your organization together and start with these five questions:
- Do we want to have a published loyalty program?
Are you looking to incentivize guests towards points and tiers? Do you want to openly declare to them that they will earn rewards and benefits for their loyalty? Will you want them to track their progress to a status goal? If you do, you have to focus your partner search on the big players that support this.
- Who owns email marketing internally?
Do you have someone in-house who can define the strategy, build the rules and write the content? If you are a brand, is this strategy coming from corporate or the field? Platforms range from full service to self service with many levels in between and it is critical that you be honest with your team if you have the right people internally to own the strategy or if you want to outsource this. In some cases, you may look to a hybrid model with a self-service eCRM platform managed in partnership with your marketing agency.
- How much will you use the built-in rule options?
Many platforms are offering increasingly robust targeting of campaigns. Some allow you to customize the pre-stay email based upon rate code or season. Others allow for automated campaigns based on guest profile data that send out a birthday offer automatically or a length of stay offer to anyone who stayed more than two nights the same month last year. A few even offer dynamic content in your promotional campaigns so that a guest who has stayed with children before sees a family photo while a guest who stays alone mid-week sees a relaxed professional. These tools are exciting but only as worth investing in as you are prepared to spend time utilizing; here again, be honest with your team about available resources and expertise.
- What other services might you want now or later?
Each partner has different optional add-ons. Even if you’re not interested in these just now, you may be in the next year and it would be unfortunate to be with a vendor who couldn’t support your growth. Is a mobile concierge site something you can see your hotel wanting to offer? Do you want to capture guest survey data in the same platform that you’re collecting their profile data and campaign send information? Would some of your hotels want to opt in for upgrade emails? Before going for the slimmest solution solely based on cost, identify how you may want to scale later.
- Is eCRM a single-platform strategy for you?
Finally, many partners are starting to offer integrations into other channels previously only enjoyed from the biggest marketing clouds by using your guest profiles to inform your digital marketing efforts. From email address retargeting on social channels to defining cookie pools of possible guests for display marketing, this is an opportunity for hoteliers to use existing guest data to tap into new guests in a powerful way. However, if your paid media budgets are already strapped with no plans of increasing, these tools won’t be of much use.
Selecting, contracting with and launching a loyalty or eCRM program is a commitment of time and resources for any hospitality organization, and making the right choice is critical. With acquisition costs for new guests continuously rising and hotels losing negotiating power in the face of continuing OTA consolidation, incenting repeat stays from past guests will be increasingly critical for profitability. Hotel organizations that continue to allow their guest communication programs to languish won’t just be getting left behind, they will be leaving money on the table by not maximizing their opportunities to retain past guests.
TRI Hospitality has experience with all of the major players in the space and can help you to navigate the exploration, decision and launch processes. Our experience with brand loyalty programs and destination property retention marketing efforts can be your game-changing advantage in rolling out an effective, efficient guest engagement strategy.