For Consultants, travel is an inevitability that we have to accept. Staying in hotels every week for months on end could get quite tiresome and so it is not unexpected that we strive to receive the best possible customer experience whilst doing so.
There is no one reason as to why people stay in the hotels that they do. For some, it lies with the available amenities or proximity to the office, bars and restaurants. For many, the biggest pull factor is the hotel’s loyalty scheme, with the point accumulation rate, room upgrades and other ‘perks’ all featuring highly on the list of things deemed as important.
For me, however, loyalty schemes are not my primary motivator. Instead, it is a truly unbeatable customer experience that wins me over. Sure, I’m a member of most of the big hotel loyalty schemes, but because I have never invested my entire time on one single brand, I am only at a Silver level with any of them (more on my dubiously dubbed ‘Silver Elite’ status at one hotel chain later).
Consequently, I have gone independent (to the 12th best hotel in the UK, I might add): no points, no formalised rewards, no fuss. Just good, honest customer experience. Consider these three examples:

Make it Personal

If you have loyal (read: repeat) customers, take the time to learn their name and a bit about them. A loyalty card allows staff to read a name off a screen, and to mutter “Welcome back, Mr Baird”, but they’re not fooling anybody. In my hotel, I am greeted with a “Hello Christopher” as I enter, perhaps with a follow up question about my weekend. Loyalty schemes are a very good way to collect data on customers, and it should be put to better use than it often is – personalise the experience to make customers feel special, and they’ll come back for more.

When things go wrong, fix them

Not all examples of good customer experience start with a good experience. In fact, most of the ‘great customer experience’ stories we tell our friends probably start with a bad experience. A recent stay in a large-chain hotel left me without an ironing board in my hotel room. Two telephone calls and 30 minutes later and it was delivered by a disgruntled-looking staff member. The bad experience remained bad. Had this been delivered faster by a polite member of staff, the bad experience would now be a great experience. Potential detractors are a company’s worst enemy; turning them into advocates is crucial for repeat business. Data from a complaint can be used within a loyalty scheme – turn the situation around and provide the customer with a relevant, targeted promotion to bring the customer back into store and to counteract the bad experience.

Go the extra mile

There are many opportunities for companies to get you to return to them, even if a specific product or service isn’t available at the time of looking. No room availability often ends your hotel-search rather abruptly, but my hotel always puts me on a waiting list, informing me when a room becomes available. If I have already booked elsewhere, I switch back without consideration. The key is providing customers with the opportunity to return. When a product is out of stock, providing the option to be alerted when it’s back in stock could turn empty baskets into full baskets. Retailers are using loyalty schemes in even more inventive ways, often using historic data to suggest complimentary products, and in some cases predicting what a customer might want to buy, even before the customer knows themselves.
These examples are not unique to one industry – the problem of loyalty vs. customer experience plagues all industries, particularly Consumer Products and Retail. According to figures released by payments processor WorldPay, 8 million UK consumers are utilising loyalty cards less than they were a year ago1, and 33% suggest the schemes deliver little to no value. My belief is that as a nation of businesses we have become slightly obsessed with loyalty cards, points and rewards, and have forgotten what is needed to underpin this – a world-class customer experience. Loyalty Cards are fantastic, both for businesses and consumers, but they are better when working hand-in-hand with world-class customer experience underpinning them.

Consider two final anecdotes:

A colleague of mine (a ‘loyal’ customer with one of the big hotel chains) had a recent bad experience with them, and they refused to do anything about it despite the length of time and money he had spent with them. One quick email to a competitor later and he was automatically upgraded to their second-top loyalty tier, with the promise of fast-track to the top tier with another 10 nights stay. The irony, of course, is that he is ‘loyal’ to both and loyal to neither.
Similarly, I recently received an email from my credit card company which explained that because I held an account with them, I was eligible for immediate Silver Elite status with a specific hotel chain. I took it, of course – it was quite possible that I’d be staying with them soon and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a free room upgrade. Am I loyal to them? Absolutely not – I’ve never even spent any money with them. Could I be loyal to them? Potentially – that depends on their customer experience.
Loyalty schemes and exceptional customer experience can exist side by side harmoniously, often using aspects of each other to keep themselves fresh and innovative. However, when businesses believe that only loyalty schemes should prevail, at the detriment to customer experience, that is when loyal customers become ‘loyal’ customers, and their eyes will soon start to wander.