Pitfalls And Promises: How To Prevent Your Hospitality Loyalty Program From Short Circuiting

Oct 18, 2012

When a person makes a mistake, we’re inclined to think of some clichéd rationalizations: “you’re only human,” “nobody’s perfect,” “practice makes perfect,” “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” or, one of my favorites, “in order to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs.

But what happens if a mistake isn’t made by a human?

Back in 2005 when Bill Gates famously suffered through three Windows crashes during his keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show, I’m quite sure he was wishing that his latest software and gadgets actually had a brain, and therefore could be lectured on their failures. Fast-forward to September 2012 and Apple faired no better. For all the recent iPhone 5 and iOS 6 hype, there was plenty of backlash over a glitch-gorged pre-loaded Maps app that has mislabeled whole cities, put golf courses and parks in the wrong locations, and renders images that look like earthquake-buckled roads.

Laughable, yes, but not when you’re watching your brand’s loyalty suffer. And nor is it fun if you’re the Chief Information Officer. What do you say to an angered public? “Oops” doesn’t cut it, and blaming the technology at hand only goes so far. It was, after all a human (or humans) who ultimately designed and implemented the solution to begin with. And this holds true for industry verticals like retail and air travel, as technology is an inseparable component to their loyalty program success. Hospitality brands are no different as they, too, are revamping their loyalty programs, incorporating omnichannel tenets that engage guests (and potential guests) in new and exciting, mobile and social-media-dependent ways. So important is the care, launch and integration of new technology and operational cohesiveness that I’ll be addressing the matter in an upcoming webinar hosted by Loyalty360, Loyalty Technology Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them on October 18, 2012, along with my co-presenter, Suresh Vittal Vice President and Practice Leader, Forrester Research. 


Even the most successful loyalty programs face significant operational challenges, technology glitches and performance failures that risk upsetting a loyalty marketers’ most valuable asset: their customers. Customers, particularly in the hospitality framework, seek instant gratitude and instant (or nearly instant) rewards. For example, if a hotel promises mobile check-in, mobile concierge access or the ability to track ones accumulated points on the go, they had better deliver on that promise!

Delivering on promises is also about delivering the right message, and this requires an appropriate use of technology – not just an IT person’s signoff that what’s under the loyalty hood is in perfect working order. A new study reveals that when it comes to hotel loyalty programs, junk mail is number one guest concern, reported by 44% of survey respondents. 38% percent found their hotel loyalty programs filled with “too many conditions and restrictions,” while 37% said hotel loyalty programs rewards “lacked real value.” The good news is that despite these not-so-nice numnbers, two hotel brands, Marriott and Starwood, ranked in the top 10 of best loyalty programs. Clearly some hospitality programs could do with a technology re-boot, while others do not.

But as I wrote above, loyalty platforms are more than just points engines. The software and user interface behind it operates very much like an actual engine, requiring maintenance, management, tune-ups, upgrades and re-builds when necessary. And what works for one hotel brand isn’t guaranteed to be a sure fit for another. Customers’ wants, needs and desires change per hotel and loyalty program – and the technological integration behind the scenes making each work – require constant monitoring. It’s a valuable component that provides loyalty marketers with the ability to create a seamless customer experience through real-time integration across all channels and with third parties.

The webinar, Loyalty Technology Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them, will also address:

  • Business Strategy and Technology Alignment
  • Data Management and Integration
  • Data Integrity
  • Customer Experience
  • Staff Training
  • Reward Design

Assuming this human (me) doesn’t experience any Windows or Apple-like technical glitches of his own, webinar attendees should leave with a better understanding of common pitfalls of designing and implementing a tech-centric loyalty program, where loyalty marketers can go wrong and how best to avoid or mitigate those risks.

We are, after all, only human. And the technology we increasingly rely on to augment and improve our loyalty programs wasn’t built by itself – yet!  So I hope you’ll take part in our interactive and engaging webinar on Thursday, October 18 at 1pm ET and see why the lessons learned must compute. Otherwise, your hotel loyalty program may require a re-boot after all and that’s a disservice to all.