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Your Loyalty Program's Secret Weapon? A Mobile App

Hospitality brands are the pioneers of loyalty programs. Rewards points, co-branded credit cards and multi-tiered programs can all trace their origins back to hotels and airlines. But as times change, so too must brands’ strategies. As Airbnb pockets an estimated $450 million a year from would-be hotel guests, customer loyalty and retention are as vital as ever to profitability across all industries. A returning customer kept is more valuable than a new customer won. And hospitality brands are now refitting their programs to stop returning customers from jumping ship for cheaper or more flexible options.
To compete in today’s ultra-competitive market, brands must consider more traditional loyalty strategies in the larger constellation of the customer experiences they deliver. As customer expectations rise, the occasional discount on a room or flight is not enough to keep patrons loyal. Today, customers respond more to product experience, customer service and their emotional connection to brands according to recent research.
Successful brands are already rethinking their loyalty strategies with these demands in mind, primarily through tweaks or overhauls to their mobile apps. Marriott, for example, recently launched a revamped loyalty-focused mobile app to support a more personalized customer experience with enhanced mobile check-in and room alerts. The rollout came on the heels of Hilton’s announcement of a redesigned loyalty program of its own, complete with a modernized points system and more customizable rewards options for members.
As loyalty programs continue to adapt to the mobile experience, Marc Berman, Principal Consultant at Kobie Marketing believes that hospitality brands contemplating a redesign should consider the following strategies:
Encourage engagement
While traditional loyalty programs rely on points accumulation to keep customers coming back, brands should also stake a place where customers are most engaged on a daily basis: their smartphones. What earns an app its keep? A unique experience that provides value beyond transactions.
United’s mobile app is a prime example. The app delivers more than just a boarding pass. Customers can access flight status, United Club membership information, and even a virtual travel assistant that sends regular updates about weather, departure times and more as trips draw near. Additionally, United provides free in-app entertainment that streams TV shows and movies when connected to airplane Wi-Fi – a surefire way to guarantee the app isn’t deleted as soon as customers stow away their luggage.
Hilton’s loyalty revamp also does a great job cultivating customer loyalty through its mobile app which also doubles as a room key. The program drives engagement beyond redemption by allowing customers to pool loyalty points with friends and family and to book and check into their rooms – all on the mobile app. This keeps customers coming back, while also increasing occupancy – a win-win for brands and customers alike.
Personalize your mobile experience
Customers are growing to expect personalization in almost every interaction they have with a brand, particularly when engaging on mobile. Effective loyalty strategies make customers feel valued, and it’s hard to make anyone feel special with a generic experience.
Marriott’s app hits the nail on the head when it comes to personalization. It ditches a one-size-fits-all strategy by adjusting the app throughout a traveler’s journey. The app delivers useful features and timely information every step of the way, from initial trip planning to departure to arrival at the hotel. By offering personalized touch points based on a user’s location, Marriott’s app becomes a trusted travel companion for customers, while boosting engagement with the hotel’s loyalty program.
Make participation as frictionless as possible
Convenience is king in hospitality, so loyalty programs and their mobile apps should be as helpful and user-friendly as possible. This means brands must offer a simple and clean interface that allows customers to easily access rewards information and redeem points.
Hilton’s app exemplifies the streamlined experience: the interface’s sliding bar feature lets customers adjust the number of points they redeem toward booking. But it’s not just about the in-app experience. Successful brands are using their mobile apps to make stays easier than ever for customers through frictionless experiences.
Marriott’s app, for example, acts as a mobile room key, eliminating the hassle of waiting in line at the front desk upon arrival. With the app on hand, guests can use their smartphones to check in at their convenience and access their rooms as soon as they arrive, all without ever stepping foot at the front desk. Patrons can then use the app to request amenities, housekeeping, valet services and more.
Loyalty is more important than ever for hospitality brands striving to remain competitive. And it all boils down to the customer’s experience before, during and after their stay or flight. To keep them coming back, brands need to reward their loyalty with engaging and personalized experiences.
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