From the moment a guest makes their first booking, until long after they check out, nurturing the guest experience beyond their stay is paramount to a hotel’s growth and success. In today’s data-focused economy, properties of all scales are using myriad solutions and strategies to keep customer relationships strong and grow business. The goal of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is best summed up by Rachel Yeager, senior Marketing manager at Toronto-based Drake Hotel Properties, “The better we can understand who our guests are, what they love about us, what they want from us and then target our offerings and our communication to that, the more of a customized experience we can provide.”
FINDING THE BEST FIT
When strategizing, it’s important to find the CRM solution that best fits your company, while realizing that more than one platform is likely necessary. To increase customer engagement, social-media platforms, text messaging, dedicated CRM services and custom-built in-house programs are all on the table.
For Sarah Sklash and April Brown, moteliers of The June Motel in Prince Edward County, Ont., one solution was literally in-hand. “We partnered with Fido this past summer to launch Text Message Concierge. Our guests can ask us where to eat, request room service and more — all through text message,” says Sklash. “It’s like they have a personal concierge in their pocket.”
Jennifer Bryl, director of Loyalty Marketing and CRM for Marriott Canada, echoes the personalized approach. Though a worldwide hospitality company, the guest-connection factor is key. “We want to create novel and emotional relationships through personalization,” she explains. “We have call centres around the world dedicated 100 per cent to our guests and members. Depending on their elite tier, we have dedicated membership lines, so our customer-care teams can give that personalized one-on-one attention.”
Drake Hotel Properties uses an integration of different platforms and services to connect the dots. “We use Campaign Monitor and that works well for us. We’re also exploring a new tool that connects with the OpenTable system, which enables us to gather more customer information and really target [our] communication. We continue to look for CRM tools that can help our business personalize the guest experience,” says Yeager.
Peter Agel, global segment leader, Hotels for Oracle Hospitality, addresses the search for a customer-relationship-management service, “Savvy hoteliers should ask if the CRM solution meets their needs today and will also allow them to easily grow into the future. For example, does it easily integrate with your current property-management solution and meet your current needs for a marketing solution to send personalized emails? And, tomorrow, will it allow you to modernize your sales solution and create experiences leveraging [the Internet of Things]?”
Size and scale can help determine CRM strategy. For international brands such as Marriott and others, custom-designed mobile apps and complex rewards programs are the norm. But, regardless of business size, social-media platforms can become a hub for customer engagement, communication and bookings.
Sklash and Brown are very in tune with the impact of social platforms. “It’s truly remarkable how important social media has been to driving room occupancy,” says Brown. “We launched a brand new property and brand in May of 2017 and we were sold out by July 2017, with roughly 90 per cent of our customers saying they found us on Instagram. It can be a powerful conversion tool.” Continuing the customer journey, The June Motel stays in touch with guests post check out. “We get a lot of guests posting photos of their stay and asking us questions via Instagram, so it’s important to constantly be engaging with current and future guests. It’s really important that our followers feel part of the community.”
Yeager agrees, “Social media is a huge way for us to communicate with our guests — share images, gather guest feedback — it’s a huge tool for us.”
Social media and online platforms can also be a way to mine for customer data and Yeager is on it. “We use a tool called SweetIQ, which monitors third-party sites like Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor to make sure listings and information, like hours and contact info, are up to date. It also consolidates reviews into a report. We were doing that manually; now we have it automated.”
GEOFENCING AND GEO-TARGETING
Social media and custom apps can be taken a step further by using data to target customers within a specific geographical area.
“We have teams in a lab monitoring trending topics on social media,” says Bryl. “This is where our online team takes that personalized one-on-one [experience] a step further by adding an element of surprise and delight.” She gives an example of a couple that posted an engagement photo on social media, mentioning they were on their way to a Marriott property. The online teams were able to react quickly and respond by delivering the couple a bottle of congratulatory champagne upon their arrival.
Drake Properties uses geo-targeted ads on social media tailored to guests in town for events, offering promos via social channels such as Instagram and Facebook. “What we do is geo-targeting for both social and digital advertising,” says Yeager. For example, a recent promo was posted on Instagram and geo-targeted for guests in town for an event. “If they came in with a ticket, they received our cultural discount. So we created a targeted ad on social [media] to help get the word out.”
BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES
“The benefits are the customer relationships we build by allowing us to give that personalized attention. All of the tools and technology we use allow us to adapt and react in real time.” says Bryl. “But also, we’re supporting ever-changing demands. We need to listen at first to what guests want and constantly adapt and enhance our tools.”
Yeager notes the main drawback of CRM is that it can be cost-prohibitive on various levels. “Some of the really good CRM systems have a lot of amazing functionality, but it can sometimes be hard to know their full capability, so having someone who is trained and can utilize the systems can be a challenge.” She counters, “The benefit of CRM is that knowing who your customer is helps you better figure out your target market and what you need to do to plan offerings that resonate with them.”
Agel adds, “The main challenge that many companies in the industry face is the amount of legacy technology currently in use. Many of these systems are more than 10 years old and originally developed before the time of digital. These systems have limited flexibility, are hard to innovate with and, in many cases, aren’t built using industry standards.” He encourages operators to question the provider when seeking a CRM solution. “Operators should ask how much innovation and investment does the company put into its solutions and if it will allow them to elevate the guest experience to the next level.”
Written by Andrea Victory