BOSTON—The best hotel companies know this to be true: Cultivating strong relationships with customers is a vital part of a successful business strategy to cement loyalty. It’s also the path of least resistance—and cost. Finding new customers to trust and engage with your brand takes more time and resources compared to pleasing and satisfying the ones you already have. However, in this digital age where technology has changed the dynamics and structure of connections, businesses need a customized approach that cuts through the noise and builds retention.
“Many chains out there have been experts in driving forces around loyalty and crafting sophisticated and award-winning loyalty programs,” said Scott Weller, CTO of SessionM, a provider that integrates and automates mobile marketing with personalization and data management. “The future is now about: How do we create customer experiences around loyalty retention and engagement, not only for those who intend to sign up but others who are customers with a specific amount of frequency? How do we apply loyalty to 100% of the customer base who are the frequent buyers and the infrequent buyers?”
Hotel Business previously wrote about SessionM’s work moving hotel loyalty programs over to mobile. In the last year, SessionM has been increasingly focused on how mobile devices are driving customer experiences and positioning the business for its next stage of growth.
“Our platform was designed from the ground up to do real-time data management and customer experience management across different channels, and we’re at the right place to take advantage of that,” said Weller. “We doubled the size of our team, revenue growth is amazing…and last year, we raised just north of $35 million from a venture capital and private equity fund out of New York. We are integrating with Adobe, Salesforce and other marketing clouds to be a player in that ecosystem. It’s very exciting.”
Big data stands to be the next disrupter in hospitality. There’s a rising focus on improving personalization efforts strategically and making them varied, value-driven scenarios—all that comes from data, noted Weller.
“How can we drive value for every customer who stays at our hotel? It can be around which rooms are offered to guests based on a previous stay, all the way to types of offers on mobile apps, sent to an inbox as well as experiences on-property,” said Weller. “In order to enable this new capability around touching 100% of your customer base, it’s about liberating data and creating a single view of the customer in order to provide a consistent experience across the stay or set of properties. That’s the big IT effort.”
Weller explained that corralling the data into one place is one way IT teams are trying to solve this challenge, and utilizing the cloud enables them to plug into solutions for myriad tasks, such as testing new partners and new technology.
“The first step a lot of these folks are taking is getting all of the data in one place to give a complete view of the customer in terms of personalization,” he said. “Once you have that in place, you can move it to the cloud and can engage with lots of new technology where customer experience is involved. To do CRM tactics, you need to have a complete view of customers and what occurred across the lifestyle, so that’s important.”
In terms of working with brands, SessionM is also enabling efforts around omnichannel, looking at how customers are acquired and receive communications once the data is operationalized. “We call it an operational profile. It’s about providing the best and consistent experience across channel and properties, so enabling omnichannel is another piece of it,” he said.
These actions bolster a positive experience. In a hospitality environment, less friction sets the stage for a happier, satisfied and loyal customer. Again, it goes back to the data and how it’s being used.
“The ability to check in without engaging with a human, gain access to a room without a key card, pay for things through the app all lead to frictionless experiences,” he said. “You need to have a great data hygiene and data management acumen to achieve things like customer service and chatbots engaging with customers. It occurs through data integration. A lot of achievements we’re seeing will be driven around the decisions teams make involving data and how they manage it.”