Telling the right story: Best Western's customer experience journey

We find out how data-driven personalisation, story-telling and good old fashioned customer service are driving this hotel brand

Personalisation is the current catchcry of marketers looking for a way to better demonstrate value to their customers. For the marketing team behind the Best Western group, it’s also the personality of each member location that provides the foundation for brand and customer success.

Best Western encompasses an independent collection of hotels in the mid-market space. Over the last five years, the Great Britain team has sought to improve its brand position by transforming its customer engagement strategy.

European director of marketing and ecommerce at Best Western Hotels, Tim Wade, told CMO one of the challenges is that member hotels are not owned or operated businesses, limiting the control the overarching group has on end-user experience.

Wade will be speaking about the group’s customer efforts across the 280 hotels in Great Britain at the Customer 360 Symposium in Sydney’s Hunter Valley on 7-9 April.

“Our task was how to stand out within a market place where budget hotels are dominating and mid-market needs to prove value,” Wade said. “Our independent owners, however, don’t have to follow the same rules and are all independently owned, so the question was: How do we stand out as a brand?

“The answer is our individuality; we are hotels of personality. It’s easy to say that, but the critical thing for us is how to demonstrate that personality in the customer experience.”

To tackle the task, Best Western launched an ambitious program, dubbed ‘hotels with personality’, to put experience and customer centricity at the heart of its business. The program encompasses a multichannel go-to market strategy stretching from above-the-line advertising and digital channels to CRM programs, loyalty scheme and hotel staff training.

“The business and marketing team have worked in silos over the years,” Wade admitted. “Customer experience is much wider than that now – it’s about the whole organisation and how it integrates employees with systems, processes and products. The business needs to work together to deliver that better customer result.”

Ensuring the brand message became a reality first needed the buy-in of each hotel owner. To do this, Wade said it was important to invest in the brand. So it put Best Western on TV for the first time.

“It was as much a statement to consumers as it was a statement to our owners and stakeholders that we are a big brand,” he said.

Another vital component of ‘hotels with personality’ is a training program touching every employee across the hotel group. Led by consultants, Smith & Co, the training looks to empower staff by giving them the tools they need to tell the brand story and create “wow” moments for customers, Wade said.

Data and technology are also playing significant roles, particularly in obtaining a more granular understanding of the customer. Best Western has invested in improving skills in digital channels and data insights, as well as rebuilding its website, and is now working to integrate customer databases to be able to drive more personalised and data-driven activities. The group has also rolled out the Monetate system for website personalisation and multivariate testing to allow a more agile marketing approach.

“The more we understand the customer, the more ways we can personalise that experience for them through emails, follow-up communications, and also push that information to the people in the hotel to deliver on that experience too,” Wade said.

As an example, Wade said Best Western’s email communications and direct mail activities are highly personalised, through things like birthday and anniversary emails to loyalty customers, as well as new offers. He claimed the return is more than 45 to 1 on these activities today.

“We are six months off having something that is truly world-class and where we want to be,” Wade added. “We have a database, are tying all the analytics into a single view, and we’re building a new platform for the websites to offer personalisation.”

The ‘hotels with personality’ program is big step forward for Best Western and results have been impressive, Wade claimed.

“We have had double-digit revenue growth in recent years, and the loyalty scheme has grown from 18 million to 50 million in the last six years,” he said. “It’s significant growth and a story centred around customer experience.”

Telling the right story

Alongside the back-end investments, a cornerstone of the ‘hotels with personality’ program is having the right brand stories to tell customers. To do this, Best Western has employed a team of journalists to visit each of its hotels, capturing stories about their personality. These stories will be used for website content, on social media and relayed through the physical hotel experience.

“From 12th century castles to hotels that make their own wine, we have lots of stories to tell and we know it’s these stories that make the Best Western brand come alive,” Wade said. “We also recognise the best people to capture and tell these stories are not marketing people; journalists are trained to go and find the stories, then retell them.

“It’s utilising the stories that ties the experiences together.”

Wade said it’s vital for the brand to engage on an emotional level with guests, and added that the approach becomes even more powerful if guests retell the stories too. “We have to create experiences that guests want to retell to their friends and family,” he said.

“It’s an ongoing challenge to bring together our stories and the consumer’s. Traditional PR has been powerful in this and we’ve had some success through social media to do.

“It’s difficult to see the wins in terms of a hard ROI, but if it’s written and shared on social, we know it’s a powerful message that will ultimately increase brand awareness around Best Western.”

According to Wade, brands need to have faith that by making these investments at the front end, the long-term business is more viable.

“You have to work at both ends – look at brand and long-term strategy of where you’re taking it, as well as hard-nosed elements like website conversions, revenue management, maximising revenue and so on,” Wade said.

For other organisations looking to take a more customer-centric approach, Wade stressed the importance of having a bold vision of where you want to go.

“Start with purpose and it should all flow from that,” he advised. “Get the purpose centred around the customer, and take it from there. With so many technology, people and process elements it can be overwhelming. If you start with a clear purpose and work to ensure everything delivers on that purpose, you’ll find the road.”

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