INTERVIEW: Marketers in hotel companies that have been around for less than 20 are fast becoming recognised indigenous chains in emerging markets. As a result they are trying to understand the value of customer recognition solutions across all touch points.
The acceptance of multi-channel recognition solutions is gaining momentum across the industry so the next step is to tie CRM data and information systems together to offer customers a tailored experience based on their specific needs and preferences.
EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta talks to Celine Neulat, director loyalty and partner marketing, Anantara Hotels & Resorts, a Thailand-based entity that currently has 23 properties across China, Thailand, Abu Dhabi, Indonesia, Vietnam and Maldives. She talks about the newly introduced CRM progamme and attempts being made to tailor the experience of guests.
EFT: How do you assess the efficacy of CRM initiatives on an ongoing basis?
CN: We are still very much in the initial stages of our CRM programme and are conscious that a lot of testing is required when you first launch a CRM strategy, not only from an A/B perspective but also the relevance of a communication in general.
We use a variety of measurements to assess our initiatives. This includes open rates and revenue but can also include word of mouth. An initiative might not be financially successful but it may be forwarded to friends or talked about. And if it generates positive publicity it is successful.
All our communication is assessed monthly and tested regularly – of course bearing in mind there is no perfect formula.
EFT: How has the outlook of CRM initiatives evolved in the recent years?
CN: We have only recently started getting involved in CRM. Though it has been a project we had been toying with for the past couple of years, we had yet to make the leap and start building our own CRM suite. As our brand has grown and become stronger, so has our need for a CRM solution.
In the past, most of our hotels managed their own communications and relationships, which can be a bit hit and miss. A central CRM solution allows us to have one view and one voice to manage this relationship with our customer. And in our industry, consistency is key. Imagine having this wonderful experience at a particular stay, having that hotel communicate with you before your arrival, ensuring your needs are catered for before you arrive and keeping in touch and remembering those special occasions. And then, impressed by that experience, staying at another hotel within that brand and barely knowing whether your reservation went through, not getting any information about your stay and never hearing from the hotel. The discrepancies in experience will leave you wondering.
EFT: In what way can analytics help to improve these initiatives, be it from customer experience or ROI perspective?
CN: Analytics help us improve initiatives by identifying what makes customers tick, what they are most likely to respond to whether by simply being as a general interest (clicks) or by active interest translated in revenue.
EFT: Being customer-centric is the big buzz word right now. How does this translate into improving the guest experience at all the touch points?
CN: We are an industry that should be customer centric. Certain companies have taken those steps in the high-end market by developing guest preference programmes such as with Raffles or Four Seasons to ensure every preference is taken in account, from softness of pillow to food allergies.
However, for smaller companies like ours, we are still in the process of implementing and introducing as well as finding out our own limitations with regards to preference programmes. Ideally, we wish we could tailor-make the experience above and beyond. Wouldn’t it be great if it wasn’t just about the pillow, the food, the bed type, but it extended to the wall colour, the organic soap, the Prius picking you up at the airport?
Being customer centric is also taking in account guest comments and opinions, whether good or bad, to deliver better services and experiences at our hotels. We have implemented GSS (guest satisfaction survey) over a year ago, and the continuous feedback has also helped us to improve our guest experiences across our different touch points. We have also started implementing a variety of additional tools to ensure we continue to improve our service delivery.
EFT: What new trends are you witnessing in the areas of customer acquisition and retention marketing?
CN: Traditionally, customer acquisition was very much done via partnership programmes, but it seems acquisition is moving into the mobile and social media space such as Facebook and Foursquare.
In terms of retention, I have also seen programmes adding an extra tier to accommodate road warriors. From Starwood to Etihad, programmes have needed to add new elite tiers for those uber travellers and come up with new benefits and partnerships that could entice them to stay in their programme as obviously these travellers are quite lucrative from a company standpoint.
EFT: How is personalisation shaping up?
CN: Major challenges as I see it are in the technology arena. Being able to deliver that personalised experience in the hotel world is something a company like ours strives to achieve, but sometimes technology gets in the way.
Ideally, a guest should be able to tailor-make his or her experience prior to arrival by having access to a set of pre-set preferences. However, this can become incredibly difficult and costly to implement and deliver, not only from a technology issue but also from a training perspective.
We have to be incredibly careful not to over promise to under deliver when it comes to personalised preference, because nothing will turn a guest from loyal to lost more than having them fill a page-long document on preference, and not bother to deliver them on arrival. And of course consistency across a brand, being able to consistently deliver that promise, over and over again, no matter how high the occupancy.