The fastest answer that comes to mind to answer the question “how to keep guests loyal to your hotel brand?” is “by building a good loyalty program.” But all kinds of researches and surveys hint that loyalty programs no longer work like they used to and there are many reasons why modern shoppers are resistant to old-school marketing strategies.
A study conducted in 2016 by global loyalty consultancy ICLP found that only 3% of consumers were devoted to their preferred retail brands. The same survey also revealed that consumers prefer innovative loyalty programs over those that offer generic, points-based rewards:
- 58% of affluent consumers expect offers that are personalized and relevant to them
- Consumers prefer money-can’t-buy experiences (16%)
- Consumers love invitations to exclusive VIP events (21%)
With these statistics in mind, how do hotels and other hospitality businesses cope with shifting demands? Let’s discover some of the strategies that can persuade hotel guests to become not only loyal customers but passionate lobbyists.
Converting the “spoilt for choice.”
Today’s customers are spoilt for choice. Competition is fierce, and building loyalty is now harder than ever. Yet, customer loyalty remains directly proportional to customer satisfaction. To convert the spoiled for choice, you must adhere to time-tested strategies that help you:
- Make the right first impression.
- Keep track of your guests’ likes and dislikes. Go the extra mile to keep guests satisfied no matter their preferences.
- Communicate clearly and often and leverage customer feedback to boost your trust scores (encourage TripAdvisor, Google, Booking.com, and Facebook reviews).
- Add the personal touch that wows your guest and makes the guest experience a priority.
- Turn problems into possibilities.
- Exceed expectations.
These and other strategies can help you boost guest loyalty and convert the picky visitors into passionate brand ambassadors.
Besides time-tested strategies, you should also take advantage of new technologies to motivate customers to remain loyal to your brand. Look into tech solutions that improve the guest experience: self-check-in, smart concierge apps, keyless entries, customer service chatbots, and even AR/VR solutions.
Use intelligent technologies to tailor the customer experience to each guest. You can no longer rely on old-school guest-personas. The connected visitor of today expects and demands flawless, tailored service and memorable, think-out-of-the-box experiences. Let’s break it down:
Make the right first impression
There’s wisdom in what we tend to consider clichés. Yet, when you make the right first impression, you win half of the battle to convert guests into passionate, loyal, brand ambassadors. And how do you make the right first impression?
- Welcome your guests in style: smile a little, but not too much.
- Be helpful and assertive.
- Have a little something ready for the kiddies.
- Don’t complicate the check-in with needless, lengthy fill-in forms (they make the check-in experience as pleasant as a visit to the dentist).
- Add a personal touch – the mint on the pillow is no longer enough. Try a hand-written welcome note instead. A welcome platter with local treats and a bottle of wine is even better.
- Offer incentives from the moment your guest finishes the booking process.
- Exceed expectations.
"We've been living in an age of quality — organizations are focused on improving the quality of customer interactions, to increase customer loyalty," says Rick DeLisi, principal executive advisor at Gartner. "We see this in online services through more options, more control, and more functionality, as well as in live service interactions by creating a more 'effortless experience' for the customer."
Add the personal touch that wows your guest
Using big-data and good reputation management tools you can easily understand each guest’s likes and dislikes and deliver a better customer experience.
For example, knowing why a guest books a stay at your hotel – for example to attend a local cultural event – may prompt you to go the extra mile and surprise your guest with a discount for tickets, or with a personalized map of things to do and see around the location of the event.
You are probably already adding small touches for newlyweds who book a room for a romantic stay. Why not show the same care and enthusiasm for business travelers too? Encouraging them to transform a business stay into a bleisure trip can bring higher revenue for your business while exceeding customer expectations.
In many cases, the personal touch can be more effective than a loyalty program. If you make the guest experience a priority, you can quickly turn new guests into repeat visitors. Offer incentives like:
- flexible check-in and check-out for business travelers
- free city tours for leisure and bleisure tourists
- daily free meals or healthy in-room treats (a plate of seasonal fruit) for little children
- complimentary spa packages for newlyweds
- free hair-styling services for business travelers and VIPs.
The list could go on. Consider that experiences trump things. According to a survey by Harris for Eventbrite, more than 3 in 4 Millennials (78%) choose to spend money on a desirable experience or event over buying material stuff. The survey shows that for Millennials:
“Living a meaningful, happy life is about creating, sharing, and capturing memories earned through experiences that span the spectrum of life’s opportunities.”
So, all the incentives you offer should focus on delivering a new, positive experience and exceeding the guests’ expectations. You can achieve this also through direct communication, anticipating their needs and asking them experience questions like “Is your room comfortable?” “Do you need extra pillows or blankets?” “Do you require a wake-up call?” “How satisfied are you with the value of the hotel?” and so on.
You should also consider communicating with your guests while they are on-site: send them messages with schedules for local events, festivals, popular places to eat, things to do with children for families traveling with their little ones, off-the-beaten-path travel guides, etcetera.
Loyalty programs fit in to wow your guests too if they are useful and not based on clichés. You can personalize loyalty programs as you can customize each one of your services. In late 2017, data from Phocuswright and Acxiom cited by eMarketer shows that 62% of business travelers had signed up for a hotel’s loyalty plan, compared with just 54% of leisure travelers. Keeping in mind that business travelers are more likely to sign up for rewards, you can design customer loyalty programs to satisfy their needs.
Deloitte reveals the behaviors that drive loyal purchasing identifying three customer archetypes: habit-formers, program experts, and passive. Each of these archetypes needs different incentives to become loyal:
- Habit-formers choose a program after they have accumulated the most points with that brand or after they have stayed there very frequently.
- Program experts become actively loyal to a brand based on the loyalty program and the perks offered.
- Passive guests pick a hotel because of preferences unrelated to the brand’s loyalty program, like experience and convenience.
Deloitte also recommends that you fine-tune your offerings to drive more loyal purchases. The recommendation is one of the five “Fs” of activated loyalty identified by Deloitte:
- Foster your fanatics
- Find out what they want
- Form a customized guest experience
- Feed the virtuous circle
- Fine-tune your offering
Keep track of your guests’ likes and dislikes
In the age of social media and the connected consumer, keeping track of your guests’ likes and dislikes is not an impossible task. However, you need to rely on smart technologies to discover what they appreciate or loathe. Use media monitoring tools and customer sentiment trackers to understand customer satisfaction, loyalty, and overall engagement.
Use big data to personalize the experience. Big data offers many other benefits for the hotel industry including:
- cheaper and faster data processing
- customer targeting based on customer behavior
- foster better customer relationships
- forecast customer demands (learn which customers to invest in)
- better customer-focused decisions
- improve the marketing process
- price synchronization and optimization
- improve loyalty programs (go the extra mile for the repeat visitor)
- targeted online and social-based advertising
- cut back on unnecessary costs
- exceed expectations.
Communicate clearly and often
Communication is the key to customer satisfaction. Keep all your communication channels open and manned always. Also, understand that mobile – despite not delivering (yet) as many bookings as the desktop – is already big, and keep improving your site and customer services to satisfy connected users.
Keep an eye on all review sites and address user concerns and positive feedback as soon as they are expressed. Use reputation management tools to monitor these reviews. For example, TrustYou, the world’s largest guest feedback platform, is one of the most advanced means of communication. Here are some of its benefits:
- multi-channel communication delivering guest feedback during each stage of the guest journey
- personalization through guest surveys (feedback on site and post stay) with real-time survey alerts
- real-time outreach messages to stay in touch with guests while on-site
- assign multiple guest conversations directly to staff members
- for repeat guests: view past conversations, internal staff notes, and guest preferences
- guest surveys and messages analytics
- integration with voice-based devices like Google Home or Amazon Echo
- analyze and respond to feedback aggregated from hundreds of online sources (TripAdvisor, Google reviews, etc.) from one inbox
- semantic and competitor analyses
- measure your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with custom reports
Although complex in its features, TrustYou is easy and straightforward to use, due to its intuitive dashboard. You have access to all its features on the go with the TrustYou mobile app.
You should also harness the power and convenience of email marketing to communicate often with your guests. Email them special personalized offers. For example, transform honeymooners into repeat customers by sending them a “happy anniversary” offer with a significant discount and incentives to book a stay with you time and time again. Show them that you care about the things that matter to them.
You can also use emails to inform them about significant events in your city (like festivals and fairs) and offer them discounted stays to come to celebrate special occasions like Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, and so on at your hotel.
Use social media to publish news about your property, to showcase your rooms and facilities, but also to act like a virtual concierge, telling potential and existing guests about entertainment opportunities close to your hotel, shopping and dining, cultural attractions, tours and discovery adventures, and everything else that could transform a stay with you into a memorable experience.
Turn problems into possibilities
Although people are more likely to post on social media about their positive experiences, you should never ignore complaints and critique.
When a guest has a complaint, don’t see it as a problem but as a challenge to improve your services and to better your customer relations.
Treat negative feedback with professionalism and panache. When guests complain about certain things while they are still in your hotel, you can always offer them complimentary services, like a free spa treatment or room upgrades in addition to solving their problems on the spot.
Often, unsatisfied guests turn to TripAdvisor and Google Reviews to express their discontent. Addressing negative reviews timely, without excuses but offering solutions is an exercise in public relations and diplomacy. It can be a difficult, challenging task, but it pays off: this is one of the best ways to build trust for your brand.
Address complaints as soon as they arise: a survey by Lithium revealed that 71% of people would likely never use a brand again after a poor experience. You do not have second chances unless you act.
Here are some customer satisfaction statistics you simply cannot ignore:
- S. companies lose more than $62 billion annually due to poor customer service. (New Voice Media)
- After one negative experience, 51% of customers will never do business with that company again. (New Voice Media)
- Feeling unappreciated is the #1 reason customers switch away from products and services. (New Voice Media)
- When it comes to making a purchase, 64% of people find customer experience more important than price. (Gartner)
- It takes 12 positive service incidents to make up for 1 negative episode. (Lee Resources)
To conclude, we leave you with a quote by Alan Weiss: “Ask your customers to be part of the solution, and don’t view them as part of the problem.”