Ditch the old loyalty program - steps to keep customers in a world of choiceNews / Distribution | OnlineBy Patrick Landman | June 6, 2014Share This article was originally published on Hotel loyalty programs should be consigned to the history books - your guest has moved on so too should your efforts to convince them to come back.This should not come as a surprise to you, it’s really been out there for some time now.As returning guests are key to any hotel management structure, we'll have a look at current challenges and possible solutions.There are several simple reasons why loyalty programs have become obsolete: The return of being a loyal customer is not immediateThe return of loyalty is not rewarding to the customerAlternatives are too easy to find and accessThere are plenty of pitfalls related to the effort of having someone become part of your loyalty program and getting them to stick around to reap the benefits. Let's break these reasons down further:Immediate return Consumers want everything now. There is no need to wait. The internet put consumption at the fingertips of anyone on the globe. Therefore, there is no reason why consumers would want to wait to get a return on their loyalty.Instead they’d prefer getting it now.Rewarding returnPrograms rarely offer true value to loyal customers.A free stay every 50 nights? Just imagine how much I would really want the 51st night per year at the chain where I spent 15% of my nights this year already.With chains, loyalty programs are still regularly an important reason for customers to return.But, loyalty programs are starting to show cracks in their performance and most chains have de-valued their loyalty programs over the past couple of years.Too many alternativesThe big enemy of loyalty is choice. And, if anything is readily available nowadays to consumers, it’s choice.OTA’s enabled ease of choice. Then metasearch engines built a mash of these OTA’s. And, all of these travel supermarkets incorporate reviews and allow for ever easier search and property comparison.So, if there's anything easy for consumers to avoid, it's routine.Pitfalls to look out for in getting customers in and keeping them thereThere are many pitfalls in keeping your customers loyal to you, and the competition around the corner is relentless. A lower rate offered by the competition will easily lure supposedly loyal customers into the open arms of competitors. Signing up: If your guests need to go through any type of lengthy sign-up process that does not guide them to something they want immediately, they simply will not sign up. Fair is fair, most of your guests have enough work on their desks as it is. Maintaining the loyalty of any customer: If guests need to have a loyalty card, then I can tell you upfront their wallet is too small for your program. And any password to access member areas is impossible to remember, especially keeping in mind your customers would only log in once or twice per year.And, whilst I personally am a huge fan of revenue management, and it almost hurts to admit this, think twice before you actively start yielding your rates to your loyal guests.To regular guests this very often feels like you are betraying their loyalty. They are coming back to you on a regular basis and as a thank you they receive a higher rate on their 4th stay.There are also plenty of mistakes that many marketers and sales managers are easily lured in to. Try and bug your carefully selected guests with three unsolicited marketing emails, and they’ll probably unsubscribe from your mailing list and ignore all future messages.A different approach toward loyaltyIn short, a core question to ask yourself today is why your customers are loyal to you? Is it because of your brand? Is it because of your loyalty points? Really, is it?Most travelers have a large list of items that rank higher on their agenda then being loyal to your hotel.So if loyalty has become so much harder to get right, what can you do?Step 1)If everything that customers look for is about what they can get now; ensure the advantages you offer are immediately available. Think about a lower rate in the form of a discount bookable for members only.Alternatively consider a guaranteed room upgrade, complimentary access to specific onsite amenities, or a truly funny gift that will simply put a smile on their face.Whatever you offer, try to focus on ensuring it's: Available immediatelyTangibleRewarding to the customer.Step 2)Don't complicate getting access to any advantages. Logins require effort. Maybe if you have a social sign-in button for customers, they can skip this entire hurdle.Step 3)Loyalty is not easy to obtain and loyal customers are not to be taken lightly. Think every single one of your marketing actions through. Make sure your offers are real and try to push them when customers are looking for you.Don't blast them with cold offers that are not adapted to the needs of individual travelers.Step 4)Make your actions remarkable. Remarkable gifts generate word of mouth. Having said that, I believe it's obvious you should include social media in the communication strategy of your loyalty program. Loyalty is so much easier to maintain when you listen to your guests and speak with them.Don't get me wrong, loyalty does exist - it's just that traditional programs don't cut it anymore.No matter how much marketers would like to believe the contrary, traditional guest loyalty programs are a thing of the past.It’s just very hard to squeeze their loyalty into a square program based on points and hard-to-obtain rewards.NB: Loyalty dial image via Shutterstock.