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A Registered Guest Ledger of One

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October 01, 2001
Customer | Relationship Management
Michael Schubach, CHTP - michael.schubach@ourclub.com

© 2001 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction or transmission without written permission.

Have you managed to catch The Weakest Link yet? Well, you must. That Ann Robinson is so rude, so condescending, so malevolent in the face of stammering stupidity and so overly British that she must be worshipped as the living bitch goddess that she is. So you must watch – you have no choice. I say so. I also say that you must prefer Thai food to Italian and that you must be of the singular opinion that a SUV is the only model of automobile worth purchasing. You will only ever stay in mid-range hotel accommodations because once you get into bed, turn off the lights and close your eyes every hotel room in the world looks exactly alike. (The trick here is to get into a hotel where they don’t leave a light on for you.) There will be no more discussion on any of these subjects because I have spoken.

And how is it that I have become the authority of all that is good and right and true? Who died and left me in charge of the way that the world should and shouldn’t work? Why, your marketing department did. I am the most powerful decision-maker on earth: I live in a zip code blessed with abundant purchasing power and I can dispose of my disposable income faster than my employer can write the check. Just ask any telephone solicitor or bulk mailing house in the United States: I am the man. And if you are a college-educated head of household making more than x thousands of dollars per year who reads TIME and Newsweek on a regular basis, then you want everything I want. If I sleep at your hotel and like the food in your restaurants than you’re lucky beyond your wildest dreams, for all you need to do is cross-reference my profile with a zip code directory in order to flood your domain with my psychological clones. I am every man.

Or so our friends in the business intelligence community would have you believe.

It seems that our industry has once again rediscovered and loudly heralded what ought to be the perfect union of hotel revenue and expense: the blissful marriage of the marketing and information technology departments. This year’s HITEC took advantage of its June timeframe to stage the symbolic nuptials of these two powerhouses of productivity. The HITEC guests nudged one another and whispered how lovely the couple looked and how fortunate it was that information technology has finally found someone who could support her in the style to which she has become accustomed. The groom, however, had only one motive for making an honest woman of such an exotic, but endlessly demanding mistress; he wanted issue. He marched down the aisle counting the minutes until his bride’s confinement and her production of a blessed event…that precious little bundle of joy known as a mailing list.

Scratch the surface of any perfect marriage and you’ll find the intrigue that seethes beneath. As a member of the groom’s family, my suspicion is that the marketing department’s infatuation with information technology is less about how we can serve our clients or improve their stay, and far more about how we can continually recruit a fresh supply of new guests. The current focus on customer relationship database mining is to drill through the zip code crust until we hit a mother lode of like-minded lumps who are statistically accepting of what our niche has to offer. It’s not the only business intelligence function that information technology could fulfill, but it is the closest at hand. For better or for worse, that’s as far as most of us ever get.

Ask a marketing manager for the most accessible source of room night sales and you’ll hear a predictable answer: court your repeat guest. After all, we don’t need to exert ourselves to find the guest that has already found us. Conventional wisdom leads us to the conclusion that the second best source would be to locate a psychological clone – someone that acts, wants and buys like a repeat guest in training. The problem with this approach is that it turns marketing into pandering and produces the kind of creativity that we expect from a Xerox copier. Taken on its own, the mailing list mentality abandons the better mousetrap in favor of a steadier supply of mice.

But our vows have been taken. For richer or poorer we’re in each other’s departments until death do us part. When our perfect honeymoon ends, what guidelines can we follow for blissful coexistence and mutual admiration? Here are three quick tips that keep you focused on guest-centric marketing and technology:

1. Don’t stop with the mailing label. Winning a hotel’s market requires more than churning out targeted messages. At the end of the day our business is all about providing superior experiences. Concentrate your marketing efforts on individual guest recognition and stay personalization. The marketing messages should be the icing and not the cake.
2. Remember that you’re a consumer as well. What convinces you to buy? Is it a glossy “thanks for buying and please do it again” brochure or an e-mail that begins “Dear [Your-Name-Here]?” Apply your own standards to your guests and you’ll please a much wider audience.

3. A guest is more than his or her sub-species. Never would I contend that marketing demographics are unimportant, but I worry when they become more significant than the people they represent. Knowing your guests by their profile demographics is fundamental; recognizing them as distinct and important individuals is vital.

My bleaker than necessary outlook assumes that information technology is in service exclusively to marketing, and we are safe to assume that is not the case. But I watch with guarded care as we excite ourselves with our newly rediscovered love affair with data collection. We may be capable of finding those who would be interested in our products and services, but it’s delivery that counts. We in marketing and information technology should work together to redefine business intelligence as the intelligence with which we conduct our business. Don’t court me because I fit the profile – after all, I am only one person buying one product, occupying one room night at a time. Instead remember that each time I make my choice, I think about how I’ll choose next time. When service providers treat me like a commodity, a statistic or an extra in a crowd scene, there rarely is a next time.

Michael Schubach, CHTP, is VP resort technology for The Pinehurst Company, the resorts division of ClubCorp. He offices at Pinehurst, the site of the 105th U.S. Open golf championship in 2005. He has slept in many hotels and resorts and as a result of his patronage of these establishments he receives many e-mail messages and brochures, several of which he has actually read. He can be reached via e-mail at michael.schubach@ourclub.com.

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