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Interview

First off Chris tell us a bit about your background and how you came to  the role of VP, Sales Distribution and Loyalty at AccorHotels

I was attracted to AccorHotels by their ambitious growth plans and  €225m investment into their digital strategy. It is a very exciting time to  be a part of AccorHotels.

Career-wise, I have been in the travel industry for over 25 years, working  for many great brands such as TUI Group, BSkyB, Expedia, and more recently Virgin Holidays, where I held various board positions.

AccorHotels is the world’s biggest hotel group which may come as a surprise to some of our readers, tell us a bit about your hotel brands and their positioning in the marketplace

As the world’s leading hotel group, our ambition is to be the world’s benchmark hospitality player so we can offer our guests, employees and partners a unique experience. We are present in 92 countries, with more than 3,700 hotels and 480,000 rooms available to our guests. In the UK and Ireland alone, we have a portfolio of 205 hotels and 5,200 employees.

Our portfolio of internationally renowned brands cover the full spectrum, with luxury (Sofitel, Pullman, MGallery, Grand Mercure, The Sebel), midscale (Novotel, Suite Novotel, Mercure, Mama Shelter, Adagio) economy (ibis, ibis Styles, ibis budget, adagio access and hotelF1) establishments. Our excellent choice of international brands puts us in a position to cater for a wide range of customers’ wants and needs more effectively.

You announced last year a £225million investment in digital including a focus on what you have identified as the seven key elements to the customer journey. Would you be able to give us a progress report on that?

Last year our deputy CEO, Vivek Badrinath, outlined our €225 million investment in key areas to transform the business. Since then, an exciting development has been our app which went live in June 2015.  This puts all of our mobile technology and customer centric tools in one place. This allows customers to book a hotel, check in, manage their Le Club points or going forward book a restaurant or a spa treatment.  With the app being updated every 3 weeks, this allows us to constantly develop the content and capabilities to meet our evolving customer needs.

Additionally in June, we announced the acquisition of Fastbooking and the transformation of AccorHotels website, to allow independent hotels to showcase their properties on our website.  This will go live in Q3 2015, and so far we have had hundreds of hotels applying to be part of this exciting project.

I understand the development of AccorHotel’s ‘Big App’ is key to your digital transformation and the customer experience – please tell us how this has been developed and your plans for the future

We have all been there – scrolling through different sites on our phone to access different services. The AccorHotels app aims to provide a unified app solution and offer an enriched experience at every stage of the customer journey. For example, the app assists with pre-stay and trip preparation by storing information like flights, train tickets, e-check-in details and provides the “Welcome by Le Club AccorHotels” service. During their stay, customers can access the digital press, city guides, and other services which will be gradually introduced, notably taxi booking and room service ordering. Post-stay, customers can access their loyalty program. Our aim is to establish the ‘Big App’ as one of top three travel apps for all mobile users.

AccorHotels’  loyalty programme Le Club already has more than 2million members. How critical is the development of Le Club to your overarching customer engagement strategies?

Le Club is at the heart of everything we do. Loyalty is a key reason customers choose AccorHotels rather than a third-party hotel seller. Loyalty is essential – people want instant gratification. If you do not sufficiently reward and recognise customers’ business and loyalty, then they will quickly move elsewhere. Transparency and openness are key, particularly over price and price parity. At AccorHotels, we also give customers the choice to give their loyalty points to charity, which underlines our commitment to social responsibility.

Are you able to share some tangible results from your huge investment in improving the customer experience at AccorHotels?

We have undertaken numerous initiatives to secure our market-leading position and improve our performance. Strategies such as the rollout of the digital plan has contributed to our good results in the first half of 2015, which included a significant increase in revenue, strong cash flow generation, more robust positions in the fastest-growing markets and an improvement in the value of our hotel assets.

AccorHotels is a truly global brand operating in 92 countries in a sector where your people are so critical to the customer experience – how do you forge the link between employee engagement, customer engagement, performance and profitability?

We spend a lot of time listening to our guests and our staff – particularly our front line staff who talk to our guests every day. Our customer-centric approach means we really understand our customers’ behaviours and product needs. For example, customer feedback showed us what people were looking for in regards to our meetings and events offering at an ibis. This allowed us to make some changes and launch “Space by ibis”, which is a concept offering flexible meeting spaces, unlimited wi-fi, unlimited tea and coffee, no kick out time and a warm and thorough welcome. Space has a very simple pricing structure with no hidden charges that was clear and easy to understand. This concept is now live in ibis Euston and Birmingham with further roll out across the country planned

Finally Chris please give us a flavour of what’s coming up at AccorHotels as you further enhance your customers’ journey and  develop your Le Club loyalty programme?

We will continue to talk to and listen to our customers to develop and evolve the programme here in the UK and beyond. We have more research planned for Le Club customers to gain a deeper understanding of their needs and requirements going forward. For instance, some guests may appreciate the free drink they get for being a Silver Card holder but this may differ by age and may not be relevant for our future younger guest, who may appreciate a superior free Wi-Fi service or loan of an iPad. Unless we ask talk and engage, we will never know.

Chris Roe will be presenting an AccorHotels case study at our flagship Customer Engagement Summit in November