By Robin Roberts
It’s been said that people will forget what you said, they’ll forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. It could also be said that to manage an unforgettable relationship with your customers, it wouldn’t hurt to strive for all three. That’s not always humanly possible, however, that is where a little technical help — such as a customer relationship management system, or CRM — comes in.
Simply put, a CRM is an integrated, data-driven software system that tracks, stores and manages information about your current, future and prospective guests — what and how they booked, the facilities they used, and how satisfied (or not) they were with their experience. Using this information helps hoteliers and their teams communicate with these guests before, during and after their stay, and informs any changes they might make as a result.
“We used to take out ads in the newspaper and Yellow Pages,” says Edward Keenan, vice-president, Resort Operations for Clique Hotels & Resorts, of early efforts to attract guests. After their stay, staff would gather up all the comment cards left in the rooms and catalogue them manually on paper. “We’ve come a long way since then.”
Now, instead of wrestling with tedious spreadsheets, log books and ledgers of old, today’s CRM systems electronically collect and compile guests’ profiles and store them in one central, secure place.
Starting from the minute a guest books a room, a CRM system will confirm their reservation, ask about any special needs or requests, send reminders about their upcoming stay, provide a time frame for cancellations, check them in, allow you to interact with them during their stay via their preferred communications tool, such as phone, email, or live chat, about any concerns or issues, check them out, and then follow up after they’ve left with a thank you note and, possibly, survey, which could include an incentive for completing it.
CRM software will also track guests’ feedback via social media sites such as TripAdvisor, Google and Yelp. This allows the hotelier to see what went right and what went wrong, and to respond in a timely and appropriate manner, as well as make operational changes and improvements to meet those needs and expectations.
“Even in the context of hospitality, we say “customer” instead of “guest” because one of the key roles of a CRM is to connect all the different profit centres on-premises via APIs [application programming interface] into unified customer profiles,” says Adam Mogelonsky, partner, Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited. “[This allows a hotelier to] for instance, know what motivates guests to spend at the restaurant or, conversely, how to encourage locals dining at your restaurant to recommend your hotel to their friends.
“A well-structured CRM can do this and far more when it comes to micro-segmentation. But a forewarning: it isn’t cheap to get all these data connections in place. And a CRM then requires a dedicated manager to direct all the workflows.”
Nuts and Bolts
Keenan says he and his team are currently testing two systems — TravelClick and Revinate — for use in their mountain and city properties across Western Canada before they make a final decision. They narrowed down the two after researching their options, attending technology conferences, talking with the various retailers and providers, and even quizzing other hoteliers about
“Not only do [these two systems] manage our customer relationships as far as maintaining contact information, email data bases, and email-marketing software, they do all of our online relationship management by monitoring review sites, which let the properties know when they have a review so they can engage appropriately.”
He says the systems also provide an opportunity for upgrades, cross-sells or upsells, which might include a better room or a deal on a spa package.
Many people have access to the software, including the general managers, guest-services managers, revenue managers as well as sales and marketing teams who use it for insight into guests’ booking history, purchasing patterns, needs and preferences based on how they interacted with a hotel’s website.
This knowledge helps to better customize service, as well as to anticipate demands. It’s also valuable for tracking and compiling who responds to your marketing messages — you can even test out which email subject lines garner the most clicks — so you can tailor marketing campaigns.
Boons and Benefits
A good CRM system is more efficient and cost-effective in the long run, as it does away with repetitious, tedious, administrative work, freeing up staff to service guests personally, which results in those unforgettable experiences. And those positive experiences enhance customer loyalty, which translates into good reviews, which translates into more (and repeat) bookings, which results in more profitability.
Keenan says he’s already able to track how much revenue is generated from certain email campaigns. “We find that the direct email campaigns are very successful and [the system] provides metrics on how well it does. It follows through to the booking so we’re able to verify [which] one generated this amount of money in this campaign and the dates that it worked well for.”
CRM systems also provide real-time performance data around slow and busy periods, so your sales and marketing teams can identify new leads, design targeted email campaigns, as well as understand and respond to market conditions.
The Right Fit
The right CRM system is the one that works for your particular needs. A sprawling resort’s needs may differ from those of a busy casino or a small boutique hotel. It’s important to research which features you’ll need and which ones you won’t, as well as your goals and objectives. For example, do you want to primarily manage and analyze guest data? Or is it more important to streamline workflow to improve operational efficiency and productivity? Do you need a system that can manage multiple properties? In other words, it should be customizable for building email or messaging tools, along with robust reporting features to track your hotel’s performance and analyze data trends and patterns.
It should also be efficient and user friendly. But the primary feature should be, of course, targeted to the customer — their needs, behaviours, preferences and ways to support that — since it’s a customer relationship management tool, after all. But the system should also streamline work and integrate seamlessly with your other tech, such as PMS, RMS, and API.
A CRM system can be simple — primarily managing bookings and reservations — or more complex — tracking customer loyalty and rewards — based on how many people and departments will be using it. Since users may overlap many departments, they will all need to be trained, so you’ll want to work with a company that offers instruction, set-up, implementation and customer service support.
Some of the top platforms include Salesforce, Revinate, Track, Inn Flow and Hubspot, each specializing in a particular function, such as real-time guest communication, guest-experience management, top-notch segmentation tools for targeted marketing, guest feedback analysis, which will give you a good picture of your hotel’s reputation, to sales tracking to a focus on events and banquet management, to manage hotel scalability and financial management.
Systems can range from $10 per user per month all the way up to $100 per user per month. Some big chains, such as Hilton and Choice, use their own proprietary systems for their unique needs.
The human touch
Keenan says hoteliers have historically been slow to automate their systems simply because hospitality is a human-focused industry, and they run the risk of losing that. Still, he believes there’s a valid place for technology within the industry.
“There could be a hotel [that a business traveller] stays at regularly that may not need to see the guest-service agent every time, or wait in line to get their key. Maybe they can go to a kiosk and get it there.”
On the flip side, leisure travellers are interested in what to see and do in the area, and consulting with a living, breathing concierge is much more satisfying. “Also, a robot will likely not greet a repeat guest by their name or offer them a better room.”