Playing for Keeps: A Personalized Approach to Loyalty

A new survey of travelers found that airline and hotel loyalty programs are on the decline and suggests these industries target what is most meaningful to their customers to help maintain loyalty—a tactic one association is already employing.

Dangling from most people’s key chains, or possibly stored in their wallets, are at least a handful of membership or loyalty cards. From drug stores to clothing chains, it seems like almost every retailer or business offers some kind of loyalty program.

It is clear that travel brands need to up their game if they want to drive genuine loyalty among consumers.

But one area where these programs are apparently losing steam is the travel industry. In a new survey of 4,000 hotel and airline customers, researchers at Deloitte found only 8 percent of travelers said they always stay in the same brand of hotel, and only 14 percent said they always fly the same airline. A mere 19 percent of survey respondents said a loyalty program was important when choosing a hotel.

The study determined that point-based systems are not attracting repeat customers like they used to, and in order to rebuild their loyalty programs, hotels and airlines should uncover what is “personally meaningful” to their customers—whether that be free WiFi, lower rates, or free breakfast.

“It is clear that travel brands need to up their game if they want to drive genuine loyalty among consumers,” Adam Weissenberg, vice chairman of the Travel, Hospitality, and Leisure segment at Deloitte, said in a statement. “With heightened competition and eroding customer loyalty, hotels and airlines, now, more than ever, need to focus on enhancing and personalizing the consumer experience.”

How does this relate to associations? Travelers have seemingly endless options for the hotels they can stay in or airlines they can fly, but most of the time people only have one association to choose from—or a few, at best—when they’re looking for one to join. So why worry about loyalty if there’s no other option?

Because there’s the option of not joining at all, or potential members can look to other sources for the services associations provide. So maybe there’s something to be said about the personalized tactic Deloitte recommends.

The Massachusetts Hospital Association is trying this method with a new, more individualized approach to its recruitment efforts.

To better understand the business goals of prospective members, and ultimately why they would want to join the association, Patty Crowley, vice president of member relations and governance, and Kirsten Singleton, executive director of MHA’s Center for Education and Professional Development, began meeting face to face with potential members and sponsors.

“Each has a different reason for investing in the association,” Crowley told Associations Now . “We work hard to understand each prospect’s particular needs and provide personalized service. … We use the meetings to assess whether or not an organization is a fit for either membership or sponsorship—sometimes both—and we offer them guidance on how they can best leverage their networking opportunities, using MHA as their platform.”

And the new approach has proven successful. Not only has it brought in significant nondues revenue, it’s also established a greater connection between the association and its members. Through their meetings, Crowley and Singleton have identified several thought leaders who can lead education programs or work with the association’s policy staff.

Crowley and Singleton also said they are gaining valuable feedback on what members truly want and how best to provide that.

“It’s helpful for us to stay on top of those trends so we can do a better job for our members,” Crowley says. “We are also able to spread the word about MHA as an industry leader.”

Maybe associations can’t offer free WiFi or a continental breakfast to maintain member loyalty, but there’s value in better understanding what members want. How have you taken a personalized approach to augment member recruitment and retention?

(Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!