Tuesday
May252010

Recognize and Reward

Does your hotel participate in a customer loyalty program? I’m impressed at what lengths some hotel companies go to in order to earn and maintain guest loyalty. Generally, there are two aspects to these types of programs – recognition and rewards.

I’m the type of guy who prefers “recognition with perks”. For example, when I’m flying, I’m perfectly happy getting “bumped up” to first class or having priority check-in to avoid the long lines at the airport. I really don’t need the miles I earn from free travel. Trust me, the last thing I want to do when I take some time off is to get on an another airplane, rent another car, and check in to yet another hotel. I already do this about 40 weeks per year. I do, however, like feeling privileged when I travel. It makes my trips easier. If you know me, you know that the basics I look for in a hotel is a clean room, comfortable bed, good Internet, fabulous shower head, and… bottled water in my room. I am more likely to use my miles to buy upgrades or “stuff” (like my new office printer), instead of getting free or discounted travel. Because, after all, loyalty benefits for me are best redeemed through recognition.

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, does everything she can to maximize and build her earning of points. When flying out to visit her “favorite grandson,” she books her flights, not necessarily based on cost or schedule, but in a way so she can accrue more miles. And, since her credit card earns miles, she eats in restaurants, shops in stores, and recently even charged her bill for new kitchen cabinets just to get more points. She gives her loyalty whenever possible to companies which give her miles in return, so she can then use those miles primarily for free travel. Because, after all, loyalty benefits to her are best redeemed through rewards. Loyalty Management is a key component and discipline of customer relationship management (CRM). Your CRM technology should have the ability to meet the needs of both of these types of customers. It should also have the ability to produce email communications, updating members of their status and balances, as well as personalized features allowing them to redeem their points directly on your company’s website.

For some time now, only the major hotel companies have had this type of technology. It’s the mid-majors, small groups and independents that have not have affordable access to these systems. But, here’s the good news. The days of manually entering information into another system or sending a database to third parties for processing are coming to an end. Fortunately, today’s cloud computing solutions and Web 2.0 technologies allow organizations of any size to have this type of technology.

Summary

CRM is the only effective way to recognize and reward your customers. It’s just as important that you know your customer’s preference for loyalty (recognition or rewards?) as you know their preferences during a stay (feather pillows or extra towels?). Central reservation and property management systems do a great job at recording a customer’s stay, but most are limited when it comes to loyalty redemption. This information needs to be shared with the customer relationship management system so that you can effectively recognize and reward your customers according to their preferences, and ultimately keep their loyalty.

Tuesday
Apr132010

Know Your Customer

How well do you know your customer? In a hotel’s attempt to offer a high level of guest service, I’m often asked when checking in, “Have you stayed with us before?” When I reply “Yes,” it is often followed by “Welcome back” or “It is good to see you again,” together with “As you know then the restaurant opens at 6:00 AM” or some other item they feel is important to tell me. Shouldn’t they already know I’ve stayed with them before?

This tells me that the hotel is not practicing effective customer relationship management. Wouldn’t a better interaction be once I tell them who I am, “Welcome back, Mr. Hopkins. Your requests and preferences have been noted. Please let me know if there is anything additional you require during your stay. And, we’ve recently introduced a new Executive Chef in our restaurant so be sure to check out the new menu.”

You probably spend thousands of marketing and email dollars every year trying to earn your customer’s loyalty. To have that relationship ruined by one simple question is obviously a bad business practice. Ideally, the only time your guests should be asked, “Have you stayed with us before?” is if there is no indication of any previous history. An answer of “Yes” should trigger the guest services agent to dig a little deeper in matching the reservation with the CRM profile, while a confirming “No” answer should invoke the standard welcome your guest services agent normally goes through in orienting new guests to the hotel.

Effective CRM allows your organization to develop a one-to-one relationship with each and every customer. It allows you to “learn” your guest’s preferences, requests, comments, spending habits, booking patterns, etc. from their stays or activities at all of your hotels, restaurants, golf courses, spa and other venues. From a CRM technology perspective, the key is to have connectivity to all systems that contain the customer’s profile (CRS, PMS, Spa, Golf, Dining Room Reservation, Service Optimization, Concierge, etc.) allowing you to have a 360-degree profile of that customer. This will provide you with information you need to make specific, targeted email offers and other suggestions to that customer, and anticipate their requests and requirements to insure a positive stay experience.

Knowing your customer may be even more important in the reservations office. When taking a reservation on the telephone or via your organization’s website, it’s vital that you know WHO is inquiring before knowing WHEN they want to stay. Wouldn’t you agree that establishing and maintaining repeat business is one of the most important, if not the most, aspects of a successful hospitality organization? You need to understand the value of your individual customer. How much business have they given you in the past? How much can you expect to have them in the future? Shouldn’t some of your most loyal and valuable guests always have a room, or table, or tee-time, or appointment available to them? One easy way to lose a customer is to open up the opportunity to let them try out your competition.

This happened to me. My business takes me to Miami for meetings at least 9 times per year. I, typically, stay at the same hotel for 2 to 3 nights each time. In addition, others in my company stay at the same hotel. I would estimate, that as a result, we give the property 100 room nights per year. Not a huge amount of business, but significant. Several months ago, I booked a reservation at the hotel. The website told me that the first 2 nights were available, but the property was sold out on the third night. I went ahead and booked my reservation. When I arrived, I inquired about the third night. The guest services agent recognized me and told me that he would leave a note for the General Manager, and they would let me know. I hadn’t heard anything, so on the third morning I inquired about my status. I was told that I would have to checkout, and that if anything opened up during the day they would call me. Later that afternoon, they did call me. But, out of necessity, I had already arranged a room at another hotel and they lost my business. I was treated as just another customer, without regard to if this was my first visit or my one-hundredth visit. To my surprise, I was more satisfied with my accommodations and rate at the competitor’s hotel and have therefore stayed at that hotel ever since, together with others from my organization. What’s amazing is that I’ve not received any communication from the original hotel asking me “Why don’t you stay with us anymore?”

Summary

CRM is the only effective way to know your customer. Once your guest checks out, it is easy to lose touch with them until they make another reservation. Central reservation and property management systems do a great job at recording upcoming and past stays, but most are limited. This information needs to be shared with the customer relationship management system so that you can predict, prepare, communicate, and serve your guest. It is with CRM that you truly “Know Your Customer.”

Tuesday
Mar022010

The Time is Now For Cloud Computing

At the Dreamforce conference last December, Salesforce.com released the White Paper “5 Reasons CIOs are Adopting Cloud Computing in 2010.”  It’s a great read, so I decided to sparse the article together with how I feel it applies to hospitality CRM and related technologies.

For years, companies such as eBay and Google have used cloud computing to bring easy-to-use services to consumers.  Salesforce.com has been a pioneer in bringing cloud-based applications to users as well. 

Cloud computing is transforming the way IT departments deploy custom applications during lean times.  By offering a fundamentally faster, less risky, and more cost-effective alternative to on-premises applications, cloud computing will forever change the economics of hospitality information technology.  Even though we are experiencing one of the most difficult economic situations in 50 years, CIOs must continue to deliver additional business value in the face of consistent budget cuts.  The old models increase complexity and generate additional cost.  IT departments of all sizes are now looking to the cloud to break the cycle.  I find this to be especially true with hospitality IT departments worldwide, as they are reevaluating their strategies and looking for innovative ways to create competitive advantages.  CIOs are redefining their value to the enterprise by looking for new, cost-effective alternatives for application enhancement and development, including cloud computing.

IT projects have always been judged by three financial criteria: initial capital expense, ongoing operating costs, and time to value.  In 2010, while planning for gradual recovery, IT projects will continue to be evaluated rigorously by this criteria. 

Many hospitality organizations have already made, or are in the process of shifting to cloud-based solutions.  However, for those that are still on the fence, here are five reasons why companies are betting that cloud computing is the right technology strategy for 2010 and beyond:

  1. Delivers faster time to value
  2. Requires no up-front capital expense
  3. Minimizes operational costs
  4. Requires fewer technical resources
  5. Simplifies integration

1.  Delivers faster time to value

Many organizations are delaying projects that won’t deliver a return on investment within weeks.  With cloud computing, companies can speed up time to value.  Cloud computing streamlines all stages of the application development cycle – requirements gathering, design, coding, testing, application delivery, and training – with a fully integrated development environment.  This environment provides complete, prebuilt applications and project management services.  Instead of spending weeks on the project and administrative setup for each new application (including authentication, globalization, workflow, mobile device support, and much more), developers can get to work immediately on value-added activities such as defining the data model or business logic and creating the user experience.  For example, once Libra OnDemand applications are built, they are automatically supported by the Force.com platform with world-class security, sub-second performance, full disaster recovery, and instant access to multiple production-quality environments for development, training, and testing.

One of the most overlooked advantages of cloud-based applications is how much faster and less expensive it is to scale to multiple applications.  Because cloud development is based on subscription pricing, there are no additional costs to deploy additional applications to existing users.  And because all applications are built on the same platform, pre-existing application services such as authentication, data objects, UI layouts, and logic can be reused across multiple applications.  This approach results in economies of scale in which each additional application deployed decreases the overall costs of the applications.  This model is the inverse of on-premises development, in which each additional application increases costs because it requires additional infrastructure and resources over its lifetime.  To take advantage of the cloud-based approach, Libra OnDemand now builds and deploys its entire application portfolio on the Force.com platform.

2.  Requires no up-front capital expense

Cloud computing platforms are based on subscription pricing.  This approach is a major departure from the traditional IT procurement process.  With subscription-based pricing, no capital expenses are required to kick off projects.  Companies can start small, with virtually no up-front costs, and instantly scale to meet broader business needs.  The ability to pay-as-you-go is expensed as a service or operating expense rather than a capital expense.  This difference makes it a compelling option for CFOs who are intensely focused on financial predictability and project accountability.

The pay-as-you-go model minimizes both project and financial risk because organizations can scale the project based on business results and also ensure that vendors are held accountable over the project’s lifetime.  There are no large up-front investments that lock a project into a specific technology.  That means CFOs can account for the business value generated by the service during the same financial period as costs are incurred.   In other words, cloud computing provides a better way for IT departments and CFOs to match investments in a project with business value or return.

Because there is little risk and no up-front costs, cloud computing helps hospitality companies attain better technology despite reduced capital budgets.  And because charges from technology vendors usually go in the column of business expenses rather than capital expenses, hotels can invest in cloud-based projects even when IT budgets are slashed.

3.  Minimizes operational costs

With cloud computing, there is no software or hardware to purchase initially.  Perhaps even more important, cloud computing reduces overall application maintenance and support substantially over time.  With cloud computing, multiple environments are immediately available to developers, testers, trainers, and end users.  And all environments are vertically integrated with ready-to-use services for project managers and administrators.  These services include user administration, security, globalization, and centralized governance, all of which help to reduce project time and cost.

Once the application is built and deployed, the vendor manages the burden of operational maintenance.  Performance tuning, patches, and upgrades are delivered as part of the service, with minimal demands on the property’s IT team.  As a result, your IT team can focus on delivering business value instead of keeping busy with standard maintenance and administration tasks.

Such operational efficiencies are the result of a true multitenant architecture.  Multitenancy is a key Salesforce.com innovation that’s at the heart of the Force.com platform.  Multitenancy makes possible a pace of innovation and collaboration that’s simply not achievable with on-premises platforms.  For example, instead of providing an upgrade every other year, at considerable expense to the customer, Salesforce.com delivers three or four major upgrades every year that cost customers nothing.  Every time a major innovation is released, every customer instantly benefits.

Multitenant applications are designed so that users share the application’s physical instance and version.  Individual “deployments” of those applications occupy virtual partitions rather than separate physical hardware and software stacks.  Multitenant business applications built on the Force.com platform, which run on the same proven platform as the packaged applications from Salesforce.com and its ISV partners (such as Libra OnDemand), benefit from the highest levels of security and performance.

The multitenant architecture makes possible the quick deployment, low risk, and rapid innovation for which Salesforce.com is known.  The Force.com platform passes on this architecture’s operational efficiencies to customers, including automatic upgrades and lower costs.

4.  Requires fewer technical resources

Because the concepts and technologies used to develop Force.com applications are similar to those used for on-premises development, developers trained in Java, .NET, or PLSQL can ramp up in just a few days.  And because performance tuning and maintenance are handled by the vendor, resources that would be required to support the applications are freed up for other projects, improving the overall productivity of the IT department.

Force.com provides a more agile development environment, based on configurable metadata, in which changes can be made, tested, and deployed in a fraction of the time of on-premises platforms.  One of the advantages of this environment is that, once applications are built, they can be rapidly changed to adapt to shifting market demands.

5.  Simplifies integration

Gartner estimates that up to 35 percent of the implementation costs associated with on-premises application development is for integration.  In comparison, cloud computing makes integration faster, easier, and less risky than ever before.  In fact, more than half of all transactions supported by the Force.com platform today are Web service integration calls to the Salesforce.com API.

By making it easier to integrate and extend legacy environments, and with built-in toolsets for connecting to other cloud services including Amazon, Google, and Facebook, Force.com delivers a new level of integration across the enterprise.  To ensure customers can integrate to any endpoint, Force.com provides comprehensive technologies that offer maximum flexibility while dramatically reducing the integration effort.  Force.com has proven integrations with every major enterprise application and middleware solution in the market, including SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, Informatica, and many more.  Because the Force.com API is based on a multitenant architecture, integrations no longer “break” during upgrades, require intricate technology dependencies, or lead to vendor lock-in.

With Force.com, the multitenant model makes an ecosystem of partner applications available on Salesforce.com’s AppExchange.  The AppExchange is a marketplace similar to the App Store for the iPhone.  Here, customers can find, test drive, and install solutions from major applications business categories, including ERP, SCM, HR, IT, Finance, and many others with just a few clicks.  The applications are automatically installed and integrated in customer environments and instantly deployed to users, either as part of a custom application (such as Libra OnDemand) or on their own.  The AppExchange connects customers with thousands of commercial application developers who are constantly building new and innovative solutions for the Force.com platform.  To date, more than 800 applications and components are available on the AppExchange.  Recently, Libra OnDemand was named one of the “Force.com Top 40” applications on the AppExchange.

Summary

In today’s economic climate, with limited budgets and a highly dynamic market, it is critical to be able to refocus an organization and its systems quickly, with minimal resources.  With cloud computing, hotels can extend the life of their existing systems with new innovations, improve time to market of new systems, and create competitive advantages faster than ever.  If you are considering cloud-based technologies, the time is now to make your move.

Friday
Nov132009

HTML Email Template Editor Now Available

Since the release of the Email Marketing module in Libra OnDemand, our customers and partners have been asking about a visual tool that would provide email template editing functionality natively within Libra OnDemand CRM.

We are now happy to announce the release of a brand new HTML Template Editor, built around the open source CKEditor platform. We are very excited about this new feature. It is not only very functional, flexible and fast, but also innovative, smart and user friendly.

To start using the new HTML editor, just click the Templates button when creating a new campaign or select the template URL in an existing campaign.

All templates are saved as Salesforce Custom HTML templates and are accessible from the native LOD/Salesforce template folders as well as directly from the Email Campaign forms. Our Vertical Response integration automatically converts these templates into the VR format for use in your email marketing campaigns.

Last but not least, you can merge any Contact or Reservation related field directly into the template. Simply press the Insert Field button to select the Contact or Reservation field that you want to use in your form.

If you are a Libra OnDemand customer and would like help getting started to use this new feature, please call your support office or log a case through our Support Portal.

Thursday
Nov052009

Hooray to the Team!

Libra OnDemand hospitality CRM selected as finalist in the Force.com 40 Innovation Showcase! Please follow this link for additional details. Congratulations to the Libra OnDemand Dev Team! Our app will soon be featured in the Force.com 40 Innovation Showcase Gallery as a Round 3 finalist - hooray!

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