Starwood introduced Apple FaceTime video calling with customer service agents for Starwood Preferred Guest members less than two months ago and already is considering expanding its geographies and video calling platforms.
Dave Godsman, Starwood's vice president of global Web, mentions Skype, emerging video calling platforms and additional wireless carriers beyond AT&T as possibilities for expanding the service, perhaps into Europe and Asia Pacific, but he's coy about the hotel chain's plans.
"We are definitely looking at plans to pursue and to have something in market," Godsman says.
FaceTime, after all, requires Wi-Fi, which is a limiting factor, Godsman says.
Starwood has been marketing the service to gold and platinum SPG members in North America, but the video calling service actually is open to anyone in the loyalty program.
Ten Starwood customer service agents in a Lancaster, Calif., facility are equipped with iPhone4s to handle the incoming video calls, although the volume "has not been overwhelming," Godsman says.
However, the FaceTime service facilitates a high level of engagement with some of Starwood's best customers and the chain has found that video callers have been making an unusually high number of reservations, sometimes for multiple trips, Godsman says.
The types of calls range from these multiple reservations to members just making a quick call to check on their SPG account balances, he adds.
Starwood officials are conducting an ongoing dialogue with Apple about FaceTime, which was initially rolled out as a consumer to consumer feature and was not necessarily intended as a customer service vehicle, Godsman says.
The evolution of video calling will continue and Starwood intends to keep pace with its development.