Interview: a signature experience

13 September 2012

Guoman and Thistle hotels in the UK have recently launched their first loyalty programme 'Signature', supported by the ICLP UK team.  Its launch is timed to complement an extensive refurbishment programme including their flagship hotels 'The Grosvenor', a five star Guoman hotel at London's Victoria station and a £130m refurbishment programme across the Thistle estate over the past three years.

Guoman and Thistle hotel group operates two hotel brands; Guoman Hotels - an exclusive collection of deluxe hotels located in central London - and Thistle Hotels, a chain of quality full service hotels in the UK and Malaysia.  Guoman Hotels in the UK consists of five landmark properties, including The Grosvenor Hotel at London Victoria and The Royal Horseguards. Thistle currently has 32 hotels across the UK including all major city centres.

ICLP talked to Tara Farnham, Brand Loyalty Manager for Guoman and Thistle Hotels, about some of the key rationale for launching Signature.

-   Guoman and Thistle hotels have launched their first loyalty programme. Why have you taken this initiative at this juncture?

We wanted to reward our loyal customers and encourage potential new customers to make Guoman and Thistle hotels their hotel brand choice. A long term relationship with a customer is hugely beneficial to both parties; the key is for us to have a better understanding of our guests which enables us to offer a more personalised, relevant and unique guest experience. Signature reflects our brand values; doing the important things really well, as this is what our customers genuinely value.

- What are the main objectives from this initiative?

Both the Guoman and Thistle hotel brands have always strived to deliver a personalised, customer centric approach, putting customer experience at the core. The aim of the initiative is to enhance our engagement with guests and strengthen brand loyalty.

To achieve this we identified the need to collect more meaningful insights about our guest's lifestyle and preferences so we could ensure our service offering was more targeted and relevant.

- What sort of gaps did you spot in today's loyalty programmes? What are they normally missing and how have you tried to ensure your loyalty programme is going to be more attractive?

The focus on the individual and ability to deliver targeted, relevant and more immediate rewards are sometimes missing across many programmes. Signature offers direct benefits to its members from the moment they join. Furthermore, each reward adds to the experience that members receive when staying with us, and the more they stay the bigger the rewards.

- What factors did you take into consideration while coming up with this programme?

A lot of time was spent considering the most suitable loyalty approach which would work across both brands. With support from ICLP we considered a variety of strategic programme factors and options, such as how to reward and recognise customers in the most appropriate way. We also looked at our data across both hotel brands, to create a complete picture of who our customers are, how frequently they stay and what their spend levels are, which helped us to develop a strategy to drive greater loyalty.

- Assuming that no pre-existing loyalty programme or central systems technology was in place, how challenging was it to set up the loyalty programme? Also, what advantages did this give you?

Of course we faced challenges when setting up the programme, mainly because our customer data was held in two separate core databases. As a result, some of the enrolment and registration processes needed to be carefully designed to ensure data synchronisation at all member touch points.  The actual member transaction processing was clearly defined by the ICLP team and aligned to the programme rules through agreed configuration.

- How has it been aligned with your customer centric service approach and the personalised experience your group strives to offer?

We aligned the programme with our existing Guest Services approach and extended this to form a dedicated Membership Services team. This team specifically focuses on loyalty programme related queries and issues, enabling us to provide a more personalised service to our members.

- How does the programme reflect the brand promise?

The programme had to reflect both brands, Guoman and Thistle, without necessarily introducing 'another' brand to customers, in the guise of the loyalty programme. Continuing to deliver excellent service and making customers feel special every time they stay, is core to our brand promise and is reflected in the Signature programme.

- How was the staff involved to offer a sense of pride and ownership at the hotel level?  

A training programme was developed and delivered with ICLP, to ensure that all hotel staff were completely briefed and prepared for the programme launch. Having loyalty champions at hotel level is important to ensure we foster a sense of pride and ownership at each property.  

- How are you ensuring that guests are going to be confident that they are going to be rewarded for their loyalty?

Our members are recognised the moment they join the programme. Benefits reflect the things we know make a difference to our members every time. This starts with free WiFi, when a member signs up, and continues with recognition benefits and rewards for their loyalty as they progress through the tiers; such as complimentary tea and coffee at weekends and a dedicated check-in area. In all tiers, from time to time, members will receive exclusive offers and 'unique treats' as a thank you for staying with Guoman or Thistle.


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