Cendyn’s sales and marketing chief on loyalty, people and its partnership with Sabre

This is the latest in a series of articles spun out of tnoozLIVE@ITB, recorded live over three days at ITB Berlin this March. More clips and interviews to come here, as well as on our YouTube channel.

Cendyn’s “About Us” page  references its “twenty years of success in the hospitality industry” which means that it arrived on the scene a year or so after Expedia and Priceline (and a bit before TripAdvisor).

It is now active in 143 countries and has more than 30,000 hotel clients. It has cloud-based tech solutions broken down into three areas – marketing, sales and events – which gives it a wide-ranging operational overview of business-critical areas of interest for the hotel industry.

And, like many of its technology focussed peers, Cendyn believes that the human element of hospitality should never be overlooked. Its chief of sales and marketing, Tim Sullivan, highlighted the importance of making sure that the data and insights which allows the technology to recognise an individual guest – are shared with the human being interacting with the guest on property. One-on-one marketing is pretty pointless if the receptionist is welcoming all guests from a one-size-fits-all script.

“I’ll go to check in, being a top tier member of [a loyalty] program, and the first thing they ask you, ‘Have you stayed with us before?’ It’s like, ‘Really? I’m spending 15% of my life with you away from my family and you don’t even know my name?’ You’re resetting our relationship to zero with every interaction.”

tnooz talked to Sullivan at ITB Berlin earlier this year. At the event, Cendyn announced a strengthening of its existing relationship with Sabre Hospitality Solutions, the main element of which was the integration of Cendyn’s CRM capabilities into Sabre’s SynXis. One outcome of this will be “to enable hotel staff to provide consistently remarkable service and generate new revenue opportunities based on guest attributes…”

Sullivan says this human-to-human, guest-to-staff exchange is important:

“[The hotel] is  creating that kind of surprise and delight moment where people are saying, “Yes. This brand gets me. They know who I am. I’m going to give my loyalty to them because they’re connecting with me on this deeper level.”

And with loyalty comes more spending, more upsell, more advocacy.

All the metrics show that there’s real money at stake if you can resonate with people and get them loyal to your brand, and ultimately you want them then to become a brand advocate and they’re on Trip Advisor or Booking.com talking about what a great experience they have and that just becomes a virtuous cycle where more people discover you and continue to book.

The link with Sabre is one to watch, especially as the announcement is unusually specific, in terms of the timings at least, in promising that the Cendyn/SynXis tie-up “paves the way for cutting-edge innovations [for SynXis customers] later this year”.

Here’s the video interview, followed by an edited transcript.

Here’s an edited transcript of the interview

Nick Vivion: We’re with Tim Sullivan, chief sales and marketing for Cendyn. For those who are not familiar with the company, what do you guys do?

Tim Sullivan: Cendyn is a global hospitality technology solutions provider. We have our software solutions under the Cendyn Hospitality Cloud and there are really three main components there; the Marketing Cloud which is integrated CRM and data-driven digital marketing; the Sales Cloud which is the suite services for hotel sales teams to rapidly respond to RFPs; and then the Events Cloud which is strategic meetings management software. So, three core integrated SaaS platforms.

We’re a global company and about 30,000 hotels around the world. We work with the full-range from independent boutique hotels up to large global hotel chains, but 100% in the hospitality technology space.

So, CRM is a big part of that?

It’s the flagship product for us right now. We’re seeing a ton of growth there. We have an enterprise CRM solution called e-Insight which has been in market for about ten years now, and then some additional products. We acquired a company called Guestfolio out of Whistler, British Columbia, about a year and a half ago which is also a CRM product, more for the independent boutique hotel market. So,  cover the full range – from independent boutique, quick-and-templated CRM to get up and running with marketing automation quickly, all the way to multi-unit hotel company, with multiple interfaces, enterprise implementations, and that suite includes things like an upgrade engine, a loyalty platform for managing a bespoke loyalty program, eConcierge for guest engagement, a very robust BI analytics platform for guest intelligence.

That’s something new, right? So, is there’s an announcement or you–?

There is an announcement. Yes. We’re very excited about this. We’ve been a long-time collaborator with Sabre Hospitality Solutions around integration and profile sync and different things. Through conversations over probably the past year with them, they have now selected Cendyn as their CRM provider to provide marketing automation, reporting and loyalty within the SynXis platform for their customers.

We think that it brings two technology leaders together . The SynXis platform is one of the most widely used central reservation system and internet booking engines platforms, and  now has  our marketing automation, audience segmentation and targeting capabilities for their customers within that ecosystem.

So, there’s been a lot of discussion about direct booking. Loyalty is one thing that plays right into that conversation. So,what is the future of CRM? Is this piece the most important, even more than the reservation system?

Well, loyalty is definitely a big piece of it. If you think about most of the global hotel brands – to reach the top tier of their loyalty program requires 50 stays or more with them, right? If you do the math on that, that’s about 15% of your year spent with them, and so you’re spending all of this time and money. Again and again, I’ll go to check in, being a top tier member of those programs, and the first thing they ask you, “Have you stayed with us before?” or you get an e-mail that says, “Dear valued guest” or “Dear member” and it’s like, “Really? I’m spending 15% of my life with you away from my family and you don’t even know my name? You’re resetting our relationship to zero with every interaction.”

So, loyalty is a key component tied into CRM. It’s about leveraging that guest data to understand who are your guests, who are your most valuable guests, and how are we communicating with them in a way so that every touch point on the guest journey is a meaningful interaction. “We know who you are. We know why you travel, we understand you and we’re going to communicate with you, offer you products and services that resonate with who you are and why you’re choosing to stay with us,” instead of this just kind of blanket communications, one size fits all.

The time for CRM is very ripe in the market right now. I think people get and understand that that golden profile, that you can make portable, where you understand all of the data elements, the preferences, people’s intent to travel, what they like to do when they travel, and then, leveraging that both through electronic communications through e-mail, so you’re receiving things in your inbox that resonate and you want to open and engage with.

But also pushing that information to the front lines of the business. So, the person who’s standing there checking you in instead of saying, “Have you stayed with us before?” is going, “Well, welcome back, Mr. Sullivan. We’re so pleased to see you. We see your last day was with our property in Palm Springs. We’re thrilled to welcome you for the first time to our property in New Orleans,” or whatever it may be.

So, you’re creating that kind of surprise and delight moment where people are saying, “Yes. This brand kind of gets me. They know who I am. I’m going to give my loyalty to them because they’re connecting with me on this deeper level.”

Do you find in your conversations with these hotels that this guest engagement piece is really critical? 

It’s huge right now. Points serve a purpose. If you’re Marriott or a global hotel chain, those programs drive a lot of business. If you have 20 or 50 hotels or 100 hotels and you’re trying to compete on a level playing field, you’re really going to win that conversation through the personalization you can offer, the surprise and delight, the special perks through knowing your guest better than your competitors do, and be able to deliver that at a higher level.

The technology really can enable all of this to happen, but should recede into the background.

We believe the hospitality business is a people business, a relationship business. So, our technology is all about enabling those folks who you’re interacting with at the hotel to do a better job, to be smarter, have more information at their fingertips, so they know how to engage with the person standing in front of them. That can make a big difference.

There’s real money behind this. So, if we look at the data across all the loyalty programs that we’re managing, we find that people who are members versus non-members stay 115% more often. They book at a higher ADR. All the metrics show that there’s real money at stake if you can resonate with people and get them loyal to your brand, and ultimately you want them then to become a brand advocate and they’re on Trip Advisor or Booking.com talking about what a great experience they have and that just becomes a virtuous cycle where more people discover you and continue to book.

It always seems to me too that the front line employees are happier when they’re doing that better, more personalized job because their life must be really boring being like, “Hi. Welcome to X,” just this automated thing.

Especially for upper upscale properties, these are highly trained people who are pros at engaging with guests. But if they’re starting with a blank slate when you walk up, they have to kind of figure it out as they go and you risk the chance of asking questions that are going to either insult the person or just make me feel like, “Really? You have a screen in front of you. You’re going to ask me if I ever stayed here before? I’ve stayed here 15 times in the past six months.” So, if you empower them with that data, they’re going to run with it and they know how to have the conversation with the guest for sure.

Does training play into that, just with the front line staff? How do you guys help make sure the technology is actually being used correctly?

There’s an adoption curve, right? Anything that’s going to slow down a front desk agent is not good. The best technology, we believe, kind of sinks into the background – you don’t notice but it’s used as an enabler to drive those interactions. We provide full training as we do a deployment and really show best practices and how to best leverage this solution to be most effective.

Looking ahead at the two years, what other products, features or trends Cendyn be addressing in the next couple years?

Two things that are driving a lot of the conversations right now. I think most people get marketing automation and that it’s important to have a very robust profile about your guest and how you can leverage that to target people in different scenarios based on the recency, frequency, monetary value, their intent.

But taking that information and kind of democratizing it within the hotel is a big task. You’re making that portable so at every touch point, that same information is available, and that’s not easy to do and people are kind of locked into their way of working. So, we have some really compelling solutions that are very lightweight that can kind of run on all those screens wherever there is a terminal, that are providing these recommendations based on what we know about the person.

And then, the second piece of that is, I think loyalty continues to be a huge part of the conversation, and different for everyone, right? This idea of kind of a traditional points-based loyalty program is morphing into more of a recognition-based program. There may be tiers to our program for some of the hotel companies we work with that are completely opaque to the guest. They don’t even know they’re part of a program or what tier they are but based on what we know about them, they have a special amenity in the room or they have a different welcome ritual when they come to check in, and those are the type things that really are locking in that long-term loyalty to the brand.

So, we see that technology in those two areas are really continuing to expand and evolve.

Well, thank you so much for sharing the vision. I appreciate that.

Yes. Thanks for having me.

 

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