Starwood Continues Personalized Service Even After Checkout

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When visitors check into any hotel, they expect prompt and personalized service. At hotels in the Starwood Hotels & Resorts chain, customers get that same punctual service once they check out, too.


Thanks to the efficiency and customization available through a variable digital print initiative, Starwood's guests quickly receive information about the hotel's rewards program.


Hotel guests are automatically entered into the Starwood Preferred Guest Program, which lets them get discounted rates and free stays at the chain's stable of 750 hotels -- which includes St. Regis, Sheraton and Westin -- in 80 countries. This multitier loyalty program, begun in 1999, boasts a membership base of 3.5 million globally. Guests can advance to different levels of the program depending on the number of hotel stays they accumulate or the amount of money they spend on stays within the chain.


There was just one problem. Membership material wasn't reaching customers in a timely manner, and it was far from customized.


"The main issue was flexibility and speed to market," said Tony Hayes, director of print production and procurement at Starwood, White Plains, NY.


To improve quality and speed for its membership kits, Starwood started work with direct marketing firm and digital printer Jerome Group, Maryland Heights, MO, nearly two years ago to create a digital printing initiative addressing these concerns.


Customers now receive a more customized packet that includes a membership card reflecting each individual's member level and additional marketing materials outlining the benefits of that particular membership, all designed to entice customers to use their memberships further. Jerome produces the pieces using its proprietary DigeCard product, working with The Lacek Group, a marketing firm that designs the member materials and helped develop Starwood's guest program.


The materials are customized by member name, member number and member level (there are seven, including Preferred Plus, Gold Preferred and Platinum Preferred) as well as regional graphics that are determined by a member's preferences. The brochure that holds the membership card and the outer envelope both contain photos of various Starwood properties.


"So if you're staying in the Sheraton in Atlanta a lot, we may put a photo of that particular property on it," Hayes said.


Starwood also can personalize the pieces based on the language of a guest's native country and can customize the messaging and graphics to suit the various partners (including AAA, AARP and American Express) of its Vacation Ownership Program.


Once customers join the loyalty program, their information is entered into Starwood's internal database. Employees of the company's data center in Braintree, MA, collect the data and send it to Jerome on a weekly or twice-monthly basis. Jerome then essentially serves as a one-stop shop, slicing and dicing the data to create the customized cards and accompanying brochures as well as printing and mailing the materials.


This print-on-demand capability lets Jerome produce only as many pieces as Starwood needs, thus reducing costs associated with paper and storage. In addition to increased flexibility, Hayes said, working with Jerome has helped Starwood cut marketing costs. The chain saved more than $400,000 in the first year alone.


"There is no obsolescence and no inventory to throw away," said Ken Brown, executive vice president at Jerome, adding that the print-on-demand program also yields efficiencies regarding Starwood partners and potential partners. "If they sign a deal today, the [partner's] logo could be on the card tomorrow."


And these marketing pieces and membership cards reach members within four weeks of the start of their membership. Before working with Jerome, Starwood communicated with members with less-customized pieces in a four- to seven-week timeframe.


Starwood cannot further customize its communications, even though the technology is available. Privacy laws prohibit the chain from using all of its customer information to create targeted marketing materials, Hayes said. However, preferences such as mattress size and favorite newspaper are collected so front-desk clerks can better personalize the in-person interaction.


Marji McClure covers CRM and analytics for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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