New Loyalty Program Announced by Sheraton… I Only Wish

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Deutsch_Scott_07aI had an online exchange the other day with Sheraton Hotels that made me mad and will have an impact to Sheraton and Starwood revenue for years. It made me think about how you treat “loyal” customers. Most importantly, how do you treat new customers to make them more loyal to you and minimize the opportunities for your competitors? Apparently, Sheraton has so much business that they do not want   me as a new loyal customer. Right now, I am a loyal Marriott traveler and Starwood has done nothing to make me want to be one of their loyal customers. I have spent exactly one night in a Sheraton hotel in 2013. I guess they think people have no choice but to stay at their outdated properties. That was my one and only experience with Sheraton this year. Well, I have a choice and my choice is to NOT stay at a Sheraton unless I really have to.

So what makes us “loyal”?  I think loyalty starts with being respected, having a positive experience and convenience. Think about the various products and services you purchase.  These three attributes are paramount to your decision making to spend your money for various products. The other attribute is the timeliness to participate in the advantages of being loyal. The grocery industry understood this early in the loyally business. Sheraton marketing does not understand this. My friends at United do understand this. They provide immediate benefits to members of their loyalty program and offer greater benefits to those that fly with them more than everyone else

My Sheraton experience got me to think about the “loyalty factor” from buyers of enterprise and business solutions.  Now, I know some of you can tell me about the metrics you use to measure customer satisfaction and how the more satisfied you are the more that these “more satisfied” customers will buy over time.

Paying it forward and the ripple effect

Our organization makes the improvement of our overall customer satisfaction a level-one organizational initiative. Improving the experience and loyalty for our customers and our partners around the world is what has helped make our business continue to lead the market forward. Customers who have moved from competitive voice offerings have specifically stated that the reasons were not just product deficiencies. Mostly, they told us it was the inability of these other companies to properly support their products. The scale of a business really has its advantages in building out a world-class customer support team.

One of the key differences between customer satisfaction and loyalty in my mind is the customer’s ability to make changes quickly. As an example, if you are “unhappy” about your enterprise product implementation, it’s not possible to decide to replace it quickly… not when the solution has just cost you lots of money and 18 months to implement. You may not be satisfied, but you still will use the product and try to make it better. But, for products that are easy to replace, then that’s a completely different story. Which brings me back to my friends at Sheraton hotels.

While all hotels have a “loyalty” program, I want to propose a new product to their marketing teams. And you airlines, listen up, this applies to you as well. I propose that hotels give me an opportunity to show my loyalty by staying with them, but do not make me “earn my loyalty”, starting with from zero nights. Have I not proven as a Marriott Platinum member my ability to spend evening in a hotel?  I have no problem with having to “prove” my competitive loyalty standing to Sheraton. They would get more nights from me if I was able to participate in the perks of a loyalty program from day one that is “equivalent” to the competitive program I already participate in. Now, to protect the hotels, so others do not abuse the “access loyalty”, I must earn my status with them throughout the year. If I do not meet the night’s stay plateau for my desired loyalty level, they place me at the earned tier. Oh, and Sheraton, I’d call it the “Pay Ahead” Loyalty Program. Market the program around the concept that “I know you are loyal and so are we. Give us a chance to earn your loyalty”.

Customer Loyaty

Customer loyalty is what helps every company succeed. In a world of so many choices, it’s important that loyalty is earned each and every day. Now I wonder how I get Sheraton to listen to other loyal Marriott customers.

By the way, what made me mad is that when I stayed at the Sheraton, my room was old, my tv was a 19” from 2005 (at least it was color) and the bathroom looked like it was from 1995. All for the same price as a nearby Marriott… now, why was I staying there?… that story is for another day.

Omni Channel Order Management- A Personal Experience

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Deutsch_Scott_07aI have been writing and talking about omni-channel order fulfillment for the past year with passion. I’ve been one of many leading the discussion around how businesses need to improve systems and infrastructure to support the demands of their customers. The other day, I participated in the execution of an omni-channel order fulfillment process and, boy, was I smiling.

My story begins with me deciding to buy a new TV on a rainy Saturday, so much for sunny South Florida. Knowing that others would also use the rainy day to run various errands, I really was not in the mood to fight the crowds.  For months, I’ve been doing research on what to purchase, now it was time to do some pricing research for the TV that I wanted. After 30 minutes, I found the best price at a well-known and trusted large retailer. 

Normally, I would have just jumped in the car, but this time I decided to try something that I have never done before. I wanted to see if the nearby store had the desired TV in stock. I just did not want to go there and find out that that they did not have it in stock. Think about it, consumers have now been trained to check stock online and they actually trust online information. Linking real time inventory is the heart and soul of successful omni-channel order management. So, I started to place an order and check stock availability. Bingo, the store had the TV I wanted and it was in stock, and I believed them.

Previously, I would have simply abandoned the online order and went to the store to pick it up, but this time I decided that I wanted to have it waiting for me when I went to the store. This store unfortunately is known for its long and slow checkout lines and I was not in a mood to wait 20 minutes to pay for it. So, I decided to select the order option to pick up the web order at my desired store. I also could have had it shipped to my house the next week at no cost, but I wanted to set up the TV that Saturday while it was raining.

To the store my wife and I drive. As I enter the store, I ask where you pick up web orders. The “greeters” were quite helpful and gave me clear directions on where you pick up web orders. As we weave our way to the back of the store, a large sign can be seen clearly indicating that this is where you pick up online orders. Next, I simply give them my receipt that I printed out at home after placing and paying for my online order. Two minutes later, out from the back of the store warehouse comes my TV.

Label from omni channel pickup

It would not have been any easier an experience. I also was impressed that this store had dedicated people in this area. I marveled at how seamless the retailers systems worked. Two years ago, this just was not the case. When people talk about omni-channel order management and fulfillment, this retailer gets it.

A world of Change has occurred in Retail.

Omni channel order fulfillment

As the graphic above shows, our industry has gone through tremendous change in order to reach the present day omni-channel state. My own experience helped me witness first-hand some of these changes. Many of these changes we take for granted. By my TV buying experience, here are some example changes that we take for granted:

·        Real-time linkage between a website and a retail location

·        Access to real-time accurate inventory

·        Back-of-store inventory fulfillment processes

·        In-store signage supportive of another sales channel for the retailer

·        Dedicated staffing from a different channel within the retailer

·        Willing customers to pay for something online and believe it will be ready for pick up as expected

I am enjoying my new TV and was fascinated by the personal experience. I think the next major retail battleground will be brick and mortar retailers fighting back against pure e-commerce retailers and leveraging their local inventory to provide them a competitive advantage.  But, that’s for another column.  By the way, I was not alone picking up an online order. The person before me picked up two new tires.

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