When looking to join your first travel rewards program, what is the most important thing to consider?

Jamie Russo: Ensuring you get out what you invest in the program, in both the short- and long-term. Can you easily achieve rewards, or do you need to wait so long that there is not value for you? Then, are there redemptions and benefits that improve your everyday, your once-a-year, and your once-in-a-lifetime moments?

Bill Linehan: Shouldn’t loyalty programs be all about the perks and benefits? When looking to join a rewards program, the more important thing is to consider is if it’s worth it. Do you have to invest a lot of time to reap rewards or does recognition come immediately? Meaning, does the program cater to you or are you expected to cater to the program?

What are some of the biggest challenges right now in matching customers’ expectations?

JR: Does the value proposition that the company provides, coupled with the loyalty program, make me think twice before spending with a competitor? The biggest challenge I see is that loyalty programs now make rewards harder to achieve, so customers are less likely to believe that the value proposition works for them. We need to restore that value to the customer.

"Loyalty programs are more than just points; at best, they can be a relationship."

BL: A loyal customer is one whose opinions and values are aligned with that brand’s positioning. You know this to be true when the consumer becomes an ambassador for the brand. This only happens when the consumer and the brand appreciate each other, just as any meaningful relationship where they both want to spend more time together. The challenge is in personalizing the program to each member as opposed to publishing all details of the program for everyone. 

What are some of the major changes you see happening in the mobile space when it comes to providing customer engagement?

JR: Mobile now allows us to own the travel experience in a very positive way. But companies need to earn space on a customer’s device, so we must use mobile to uniquely solve travel needs better than anyone else. Loyalty programs can assist here. Instead of big redemptions once every few years, redemptions can be more often and be part of the travel experience.

BL: Our mobile app is evolving, and no wonder. Mobile devices are the fastest growing medium and they’re transforming the marketing communications landscape across all industries, making it critical to adapt to behaviors we expect from our mobile devices. For example, we are adding the ability to use your phone as a key and we are communicating with Hello Rewards members, based on their geo-location, at any given time.

What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your experiences in the loyalty industry?

JR: That loyalty programs are more than just points; at best, they can be a relationship. Our members have told us about all the ways their points allow them to do more. Some of these stories are so moving that we review them at meetings to remind us of why we do our jobs.

"Hello Rewards is very unique in that we recognize our members, regardless of how they book their reservation."

BL: Loyalty programs originated from consumer recognition programs intended to gain more of that consumer’s available business by building a meaningful relationship with them. What’s become of loyalty programs is that there are more disloyal members than there are loyal members. Only 1 in 4 hotel travelers allocate more than 75 percent of their share of business to a preferred brand.

This is why we decided Hello Rewards would be different. Instead of hosting a points-based program expecting its members to climb various tiers in hopes of getting better treatment, Hello Rewards is a program that is personalized to provide great service and build a relationship during every touchpoint the guest has with our brands.

As a larger company, how do you make sure you’re still able to deliver personalization, special experiences and build relationships?

JR: We are fortunate that there are so many outlets for customers to provide feedback. We ensure we do call listening, survey member satisfaction, read forums and do proactive outreach at the executive level when there are issues we can solve. We talk so much about digital personalization, but we don’t want to lose the human touch.

BL: Hello Rewards is very unique in that we recognize our members, regardless of how they book their reservation. As a consumer, I don’t like being manipulated to behave in certain ways. However, most loyalty programs expect particular behaviors before they recognize the consumer. For example, most hotel loyalty programs provide entitlements only if the reservation was booked through their systems. Our hotels honor Hello Rewards members regardless of how they choose to book their reservation.