Focused Service

Long known for its focus on using guest history to provide superlative service, it’s no surprise that Four Seasons believes strongly in the benefits of centralized CRM. But given the company’s tradition of decentralized operations, implementing it has been quite a challenge.

“We’ve been working on CRM for quite some time,” says Geoff McDowell, Director of Information Technology, New Hotel Projects at Four Seasons. “But although we selected the Customer Information System (CIS) some time ago, we spent nearly a whole year just standardizing the PMS data at each property, repeatedly running automated report card programs to check how clean each was and not uploading it until they had it right. Starting with good data was critical.”

“Since we don’t have a frequent-guest program, we’ve become really good at matching guest records without an individual guest ID number to track, combining an existing cultural emphasis on clean data with unusually refined matching algorithms to identify potential duplicates. We also had to make sure the CIS could hold all the PMS information we needed (such as three addresses per guest, and any comments entered about them or their stay), and that the systems could distinguish between personal and stay-specific preferences. We can offer a no-smoking room everywhere, but a preference for an ocean view has little meaning in Prague.”

“Other technology issues? We were the first truly worldwide client for our PMS vendor, so the CIS had to accept data in all the different PMS local language sets, from European to Asian. Settling on American English for the central data was only one of the many standards we had to define. Until recently, too, we lacked both a Wide-Area Network linking the properties (we now use a VPN over the Internet) and a central reservation system (which will be launched later this year) to tie the guest profile information back to the PMS.”

“Fortunately, we didn’t have too much trouble getting buy-in at the properties for CRM, another absolutely critical factor to its success,” says McDowell. “They’re already very focused on finding out as much as possible about arriving guests to offer them the best service possible – that’s the sole task for one staff member at every property – so they quickly saw the benefits of the CIS. Getting their buy-in for the last-room availability required by the central reservations system was much more difficult!”

A classic case of getting the culture right first, then adding the technology to support it.

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