Hotel giant Hilton recently dropped the H from its rewards program, replacing the linguistically puzzling Hilton HHonors with an easier to pronounce version, Hilton Honors.
The change is more than cosmetic. The new rewards program will be the first in the industry to allow members to combine points and money for a hotel visit. Members can also combine points with friends or family members for free, or use points to buy things on Amazon.com. And frequent travelers will be able to put their elite membership status on hold rather than lose it when they take a break from travel.
“These new perks revolutionize how all Hilton Honors members can use their Points, senior vice president and global head of customer engagement, loyalty and partnerships Mark Weinstein said in a press release. “Frequent travelers told us they want more flexibility while less frequent travelers want to be able to use their Points in more ways and more quickly.”
This is a great example of a company listening to its customers and giving them what they need and want out of a rewards program. I like these changes. I signed up for Hilton HHonors to get a discount on a hotel room, but I only stay at Hilton brand hotels (which include the more budget friendly Hampton Inn) sporadically. I’d love to give my points to my daughter, or use them to buy some new socks. I’ve also qualified for airline elite status after a busy travel year, and then watched the perks squandered when I didn’t fly as much in the next one.
But rewards programs alone – no matter how good – aren’t going to create customer loyalty. In fact, as we become more and more accustomed to shopping around for the best deal online, customers are likely to shop around for loyalty programs too, ditching one program for another if it offers better perks.
So how does Hilton or any other company create true customer loyalty? Start by engaging the employees.
In our customer experience consultancy, we’ve found that there’s often little connection between the concept of employee loyalty and customer loyalty, and that’s a big mistake. Researchers have found that an engaged employee is essential to success in the global economy. Engaged employees aren’t just satisfied with their working conditions and pay, they want to go above and beyond, to innovate and advance the company’s goals. Through our employee engagement services, we help organizations create a culture that leads employees to become company ambassadors.
Happily, Hilton seems to be on the right track. It was one of Fortune Magazine’s 100 best companies to work for in 2016, and it is committed to giving employees a path to advancement by promoting them from within.
Hilton’s president and CEO talks of looking for ways to inspire people. He personally visits hotels and thanks employees for their work. He holds town hall meetings to update staff on the company and recognize high performing employees. The company is also credited with helping employees achieve personal goals such as living abroad.
Hilton seems to be creating an environment where employees can become what our Thought Leadership Principal Michael Lowenstein, PHD, CMC, calls an “employee ambassador.” Ambassadors are the most active and positive employees you have. They are committed to the company, its value proposition and its customers. They are committed to the company’s mission and to helping customers meet their needs, while delivering great service.
Ambassadors might make up only 20 percent of your workforce, but by studying them, you can learn how to motivate the other 80 percent. When you understand what motivates your ambassadors, you can communicate it to your other workers and improve both employee morale and the customer experience. And when your customer experience improves, so will customer loyalty – with or without a rewards program.