Hotels can’t operate without some form of customer relationship management (CRM) strategy. Whether it’s basic email outreach or highly sophisticated integrated tools which can do everything from pre-post to post-stay communications with guests, operators of all sizes are dedicating considerable time and effort to learn more about their customers.

The job has become easier in recent years with the proliferation of back-end and Cloud-based tools, which provide real-time data ranging from guests’ personal preferences to their thoughts on their stay.

“CRM tools can be used to control more than just traditional email, names, addresses and mobile numbers,” says Warren Dehan, president of Maestro PMS in Toronto. “Operators are starting to look at using data for mass personalization for promotions and lead generation, as well as to track how guests are feeling.”

Add social-media monitoring to the mix and operators can build a powerful advantage, he adds. “CRM can be used to track things like Twitter and LinkedIn handles, as well — anything that can help identify and position the guest into more of a pigeon hole.”

Guest touch-points have also multiplied substantially, ranging from websites and social-media platforms such as Facebook, to booking, check-in and beyond — each one presents a potential marketing opportunity.

For example, a hotel system could be programmed to send a reservation confirmation prior to a guest’s arrival, including an invitation or promotion to book services or restaurant reservations, or perhaps send a dress code reminder for a group event. Throughout a guest’s stay, managers can use monitoring tools to track requests and/or complaints, conduct in-room surveys and customize services based on preferences.

That same hotel can send out a guest survey and use the information to tailor guests’ future promotions. “Not only do you know who the guest is and where they live, you know what they spent in the spa, what packages they preferred, how they felt about their stay and more,” Dehan says. “There’s a lot of capability when you mine all that data.”

The good news is the cost for this level of functionality is declining as technology evolves. In many cases, the capabilities are built into or easily integrated with existing property management systems (PMS), says T. Michael Manuel, private consultant and general manager at Point Pleasant Lodge in Halifax. He says today, PMS already contain a fairly robust back-end, allowing hotels to collect and manage a great deal of data. “Everyone has back-end systems to collect data. It’s not just the traditional stuff; it’s everything, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or special requests. Even lower-end providers targeting smaller operations are offering back-end integration.”

Today’s operators are looking at the deepest levels to integrate operation with the needs and demands of clients in order to differentiate themselves, he adds. PMS, banquet, convention, POS and food-and-beverage systems can be integrated to determine what clients are doing, where they go, their purchases and interests. “Where are the touch points in service for them? What times of day do those offers appeal or not? We’re at that micro-approach level now, whereas before it was more throwing a net out and gathering as much data as you can on a macro basis.”

That’s the journey Saskatoon’s d3h Hotels Inc. is taking — one step at a time, says John Allen, marketing coordinator. The company operates 13 properties in Alberta and Saskatchewan, including six Days Inn, one Motel 6 and six Home Hotel branded sites. For Allen, good CRM practices start with the individual operators.

“We believe operators play a huge role in that, since one of the biggest pieces is getting more insight into the guest staying there. We look for our hotel managers to be responding to requests at a really quick rate. If someone wants an extra pillow, they should be able to set that up instantly,” says Allen.

Location and brand can also mean different client expectations. “We have properties in both big and smaller cities. The clientele can be very different and sometimes their needs can work against each other if you look at it from a big picture level.”

Beyond the people factor, d3h works with the Guestfolio CRM tool. Each property has its own account for tracking reservations, compiling automated emails and conducting surveys. “That insight allows the concierge to look at packages and plan trips for guests. From the head-office standpoint, we get insight into revenues generated from bookings and guest requests that help in our overall marketing campaigns.”

On the social-media side, he predominently uses Facebook and the Hootsuite social-media management tool to oversee activities. “Since we’re mid-size, we wanted to make sure we had a strong foundation,” Allen explains. “Some operators go on every social-media platform but don’t really do it right. We prefer to work with smaller pieces at a really high level and do it properly. Right now we can track everything that happens on Facebook including who we are targeting and their responses/engagement. We don’t need any other tools. This is more manageable because we can check things daily if we need to.”

There is no question social media is playing a significant and growing part in personalizing the guest experience, says Mike Little, VP business development for WebCanada, a builder of websites for large global brands and independents alike. “It all started with TripAdvisor. It really shifted the way people thought about booking a hotel because they could look at what other users were saying. Hotels now have to recapture the interest of a potential booker.”

Consumer ratings may be one thing; but in reality they are merely the tip of the iceberg, Little says. “Personalization and authenticity has grown significantly from that. It starts with the fact hotels are sitting on tons of data about their guests that’s gathered from loyalty programs, bookings, POS, PMS, reservation systems and the web. Now they can use that insight to provide targeted information on sites. For example, someone from China checking out the Westin Harbour Castle may see very different information than someone in Canada.”

Hotels have become more proficient at monitoring social-media conversations in real-time, even while guests are on site, allowing management to respond immediately.

While the promise is great, the practice needs fine tuning for many operators, Little contends. “Big data and social media both promise something pretty significant and hotels are paying attention to that. But, the delivery on that promise to enhance the guest experience is only as good as the commitment hotels are willing to make.”

Despite the challenges, the role of CRM cannot be understated, Manuel says. “CRM allows you to see your client and compare them against others. After all, the footprint, amenities, fixtures and furniture of any particular room are arguably similar to another. The true way to bond with customers is anticipating and responding to their needs. As an industry, we need to know how to connect to the minds and hearts of our clients. That is, after all, at the root of what we do.”

Volume 28, Number 4
Written By: Denise Deveau

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