Don't Lose Touch with Your Customer

By Mathieu Staat | February 19, 2008

Mathieu Staat is vice president of Internet and CRM marketing for Accor Hotels, which operates more than 4,000 hotels worldwide across 11 brands. Staat is responsible for the definition and implementation of overall CRM and eCRM strategies across all brands of the Accor Hotels Group including Web business to consumer (b2c) and business to business (b2b) activities, eMarketing programs, and coordination of all international Internet and CRM projects.

Once upon a time, Mr. and Mrs. Jones called on their local travel agent when it came time to plan their annual vacation. Said travel agent would identify the best airline, book the hotel, secure a rental car and help plan a trip itinerary. Fast-forward to today, where online, do-it-yourself travel sites have fundamentally changed the game. Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotels.com and their kin are often the first place Mr. and Mrs. Jones visit when planning their summer holiday.

This commoditization complicates the travel and hospitality industry in two ways. First, it takes business away from traditional travel agencies and second, it interferes with the ability of individual airlines and hoteliers to establish direct relationships with customers. However, innovative hoteliers and travel agents have found a way to attract and retain customers despite the crowded marketplace: they're using integrated customer loyalty programs that leverage traditional and emerging communications channels - including direct mail, e-mail and mobile messaging.

Retaining Customer Attention
The first step towards preserving customer loyalty is taking control of your customer relationships with more targeted, personalized marketing communications. Once you acquire a new customer, the key to keeping them hasn't changed. It's still plain old-fashioned customer service, just with a twist.

In an ideal scenario, utilizing a sophisticated blend of branded communication channels targeting unique customer behavior, you can reach Mr. and Mrs. Jones in January - when they may be starting to think about their summer getaway - and propose a number of customized travel packages based on previous preferences and price points. Then, throughout the spring, you can contact them with upgrade opportunities and after the vacation present them with incentives for early re-booking.

With today's marketing technology, it is easy to go above and beyond the call of duty to take care of your customers. For example, Accor Hotels, one of the world's largest travel, tourism and corporate services companies with more than 4,000 hotels worldwide, focuses marketing efforts on online relationship-building and converting online prospects into customers. We build customer value by increasing the depth of relationships and growing revenues from repeat bookings, cross-selling and up-selling, and referrals. In our case, Accor's marketing team uses a single platform from enterprise marketing software company Neolane (www.neolane.com) to track, manage and ensure results across five different languages and 15 target zones, along with overseeing six different loyalty and subscription card programs.

Retaining Brand Identity
For most marketers in the highly competitive global travel industry, conducting targeted, personalized campaigns in a complex, multi-brand environment is not an easy undertaking, especially if it's done manually. For some marketers, outsourcing marketing communications such as e-mail may make sense, but for Accor, pulling the processes in-house was the right choice to maintain better control of customer data and perform sophisticated targeting and segmentation.

Even with so many brands to manage - from Sofitel to Motel 6 - Accor is able to enforce consistent brand identity across multiple regions. For example, Accor can send out a "Winter Get-a-Way" e-mail promotion to its database, customize offers based on the type of hotel a customer prefers, their favorite vacation destinations and budget preferences. Of significant importance to our team is the ability to track campaign responses and customer reactions in real-time, allowing us to adjust campaign strategies and update preferences in our database automatically.

To continue to build valuable one-on-one relationships with customers, hospitality marketers must maintain a laser focus on driving more targeted, sophisticated campaigns that present consistent messages across multiple channels. For example, sending out smaller, more frequent and better targeted e-mail content can have a positive impact on reactivity rates, website traffic and conversion rates, while decreasing e-mail opt-out rates. Take it from us - in the competitive global travel industry, it truly pays to be personal.


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