Communications, CRM Roundtable Hot Buttons

There's a connection between customer relationship management and marketing, said Don Hay, chief executive officer of e-mail marketing company Digital Alchemy. The connection is the Internet, which, he suggests, is less difficult to navigate than some property management systems.

E-MAIL MARKETING

“Right now, hoteliers have a problem getting e-mail addresses, partly because many of the property management systems can't send reservation confirmation natively,” Hay said. “And you aren't able to say to guests, May I have the e-mail address where you would like me to send your confirmation?”

Without that kind of loyalty-inspiring message, Hay suggests, guests are reluctant to provide their e-mail address, depriving the hotelier or hotel company of an opportunity to market.

Hay's company provides an interface enabling a hotel to e-mail a guest confirmation, then “pull that (guest e-mail) information out, market to them up front, get them to spend more money on property, and market the spa, market all the fine dining,” he said. “Then, once we've had many communications with them pre-stay, they're more likely to open e-mail post-stay and include comment cards and other things.”

He said his company also offers an effective spam filter, pushing messages to guests to the top of the e-mail queue. “With that, we do develop more loyalty and get the customer to come back more often.”

Brenda Burke, director of hotel technology products for Hilton, wondered whether Digital Alchemy mines a hotel's internal databases or ventures “outside the data mine for prospective customers outside of those who we have in house.”

“If you've done business with someone, you're much, much more likely to do business with them in the future,” Hay said. “That's why newsletters are a big deal. All you've got to do is inform them (guests) of something that's going on, just to keep in their mind that things are happening, that there's something to do and you're the right place to stay when you come back to the city. The loyalty that you drive is amazing.”

Mark Ozawa, Accuvia's managing director, suggested e-mail hasn't pervaded the hotel itself as much as it might — or should. There's “somewhat of a disconnect between the marketing folks that have these great ideas of how they want to reach out to people and find them and the front-desk folks who are simply motivated by speed of check-in and therefore by command sign your name — and we have no address, no e-mail, no whatever.”

BearingPoint Senior Manager Sally Kelly said the guest has to opt in to e-mail communication and hotels must make sure “they have all the permissions and disclaimers out there…Everybody understands that for all the reasons that Don was talking about, if you want the e-mail, you're going to get it, and if you don't want it, you're not going to get it.”

At the same time, there's hope for the front desk, Ozawa said. “I do see more hotels really trying to get that e-mail address for the benefit of the folks on the sales and marketing side, if they recognize the cost benefit,” he said. Adding an amen: Eve LeGrand, operations VP, Luxe Worldwide Hotels. Luxe incentivizes its front-desk personnel to gather guest e-mails, she said, but “the best source of quality customer address information is to have the customer input it because they know how to spell, they know if it's right.”

“If you get it (the address) off your website, it's right,” said Dave Berkus, Hospitality Automation Consultants. “If you get it out of your property management system or front desk, it's wrong. And that's pretty consistently true.”

“One thing we found early on was that it is key to feed back to the reservations manager when the addresses are wrong,” Hay said. “Then they are able to go back to the agents and pound them on the back of the head and say, How come you keep putting in the pound sign instead of the ‘and’ sign? We find that e-mail addresses don't go bad that often; they have about a four-year shelf life.”

DATABASE MARKETING

Clairvoyix CEO Mike Schmitt wants to facilitate database marketing for properties no matter their size. His marketing automation system is application service provider (ASP)-based because “marketing folks do not want to see hardware and servers and data bases and all this stuff on site,” he said. “They just want the results of technology, not the technology itself.

Clairvoyix customers don't have to buy hardware or licenses or servers, Schmitt said, “so we don't have a lot of costs associated with the application.” Still, some are unwilling to buy Clairvoyix; “If you can't afford it, what problems are we solving?”

“I think that everybody wants to be able to do these things,” said Scott Gibson, senior VP of distribution and CIO, Best Western. “The challenge is that we're a collaborative membership organization and when we want to pursue these sorts of initiatives, the onus is on us to build a case and run a campaign and garner votes and get our members on board. That adds a lead time to almost anything that we want to do of significance.”

On the technology front, things are easier for Affinia Hospitality, a small collection of Manhattan hotels, said Affinia CIO John Cahill. Affinia's CRM program is linked to its PMS so “the property knew exactly what had happened even when we appended data back in with psychographic or demographic data,” he said. “We're very heavily in the last four years into business intelligence, using that data to do lots of things people have talked about and a lot of things they haven't talked about as yet.”

Not too long ago, Affinia spent money on advertising on local radio and in local newspapers. Now it spends that money on target marketing, trying to gauge where its guests come from, “what kinds of things they like, what time of year they come, how often,” Cahill said. “If you do it right, it takes an awful lot, because some said it here: It's the IT people, it's the business intelligent people, it's the marketing people, it's the operations people — everybody's got to be on board. One weak link in that chain and the program doesn't work anymore, and the guest is not happy because the expectation has been raised and now it's dashed.

“As a small company, I think it's a whole lot easier for us to do it well consistently,” Cahill said. “How we would do it if we were 100 hotels…Watch out. I don't envy anybody who has to.”

Among those facing the challenges of scale: Millennium Hotels IT Director John Edwards and Leslie Genske, InterContinental's manager of IT contracting. Both attested to the complexity of coordinating data across diverse PMS systems and numerous geographical points.

“Every time that we work with our managed hotels, we have the ownership aspect,” Genske asserted. “Then we have the various brands and the various regions. In all honesty, we have several initiatives in terms of trying to consolidate our data because as a large company, what's happened over the course of time is that we have various data bases with duplicating information or data which…does not match. One of our main initiatives right now is to consolidate those databases in order for people to use the data more efficiently.”

Part II of this Roundtable report will be a discussion of computers, telephone systems, ASP, property management systems and security.

Visit www.LHonline.com for more information and related articles.

THE BIG IDEAS

There is a disconnect between marketing experts and the front desk. Until people on the front line of the hotel subscribe to marketing initiatives like e-mail, online marketing will be problematic.

ASP-based database marketing can help properties no matter the size. Using the data efficiently can be a problem, however, if the company is so big it can't implement it.

Scale matters. Affinia Hospitality, all 14 hotels strong, is easier to align behind technology than Best Western or InterContinental Hotels Group, unwieldy organizations with portfolios in the thousands. Despite these differences, hoteliers of all sizes want to implement database marketing and e-mail marketing. To effect that, they have to get everyone involved in these CRM-related matters on the same page.

This is the first of two reports on the Lodging Hospitality Technology Roundtable held June 22 during the Hospitality Information Technology Exposition & Conference in Los Angeles. The second such LH-PRPro get-together convened 20 experts in hotels and in the technology hoteliers need for their increasingly complex and demanding operations. We will publish the second report in our Sept. 15 issue. This one deals with online communications and marketing.

The moderator was Ed Watkins, editor of Lodging Hospitality. Here are the participants and their companies: Dave Berkus, Hospitality Automation Consultants; Daniel J. Connolly, University of Denver Daniels College of Business; Mark Haley, The Prism Partnership; Jon Inge, Jon Inge & Associates; Sally Kelly, Bearing Point; Mark Ozawa, Accuvia Consulting; Brenda Burke, Hilton Hotels Corp.; John Cahill, Affinia Hotels; John Edwards, Millennium Hotels & Resorts; Leslie Genske, InterContinental Hotels Group; Scott Gibson, Best Western International; Eve LeGrand, Luxe Worldwide Hotels; Steve Jacobs, US Franchise Systems; Todd Maxwell, Larkspur Hospitality; Mike Schmitt, Clairvoyix; Don Hay, Digital Alchemy; Victor Alikin, GBC Blue; Mark Houser, Multi-Systems Inc.; Luis Segredo, M-Tech; Frank Melville, PhoneSuite; Josh Lane, VingCard Elsafe. You can hear the whole Roundtable at www.LHonline.com, LH's website.

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