Bavarian Inn loyaltyMany people may not have heard of the Bavarian Inn Lodge, but customer loyalty marketers gathered this week at the 8th annual Loyalty Expo presented by Loyalty360 – The Loyalty Marketers’ Association certainly have now.

During Monday’s 2015 Loyalty360 Awards, Bavarian Inn Lodge secured a Silver Award in the Best Loyalty or Rewards Program category.

Nancy Sommer, Manager of the Bavarian Inn Perks Club loyalty program, sat down with Loyalty360 to discuss the company’s customer loyalty approach.

Can you talk about Bavarian Inn’s customer loyalty approach, as far as what is involved, and why you think it resonates so well with your customers?

The Bavarian Inn’s customer loyalty approach can be best described in two words: “Extended family.” Our private loyalty program is set apart by the opportunities our members have to meet and interact with members of the Bavarian Inn Zehnder family. Our members enjoy the sense of “family” extended to them each time they visit. Many people have told us of how they came to visit our restaurant and lodge in Frankenmuth, MI as children and that they are now bringing their children and grandchildren. It became evident that we needed to reward these guests for coming back all these years and being loyal to us. 

As a result, the Bavarian Inn Perks Club was created in 1999 to reward the loyal customers of our 1,200-seat German-themed restaurant, 360-room European themed water park hotel, and 24 retail stores. Our members earn points toward valuable gift certificates, take advantage of discounts and earn special membership privileges. The Perks Club is an enterprise-wide program. Members can earn points based on purchases from any of our Bavarian Inn entities and can also redeem their reward certificates at any of our Bavarian Inn entities. Our members earn 10 points for every dollar spent. When our members earn 2000 points (or $200 worth of purchases), members are issued a $20 reward certificate to be used on a future visit.  The Club has an initial $10 membership fee and is just $6 to renew each year. If members earn 5,000 or more points in their calendar year, their membership is free for the next year. 

We opted to create our own private loyalty program as opposed to a third-party version. By creating our own program, we were able to tailor our rewards more to individuals because we did learn more about them as people, not just membership numbers. We know that some portion of members are all about the “hard benefits” of points and rewards credit. But we continually focus on the “soft benefits” that our competitors cannot easily replicate.

I have some fun examples of the “extended family” opportunities that resonate so well with our customers that I would like to share. Each year we invite our members to a reserved seating area on the beautiful Bavarian Inn Lodge grounds to view the local Jaycees fireworks on July 3. Before the fireworks begin, members are greeted by Perks Club staff and members of the Zehnder family. Top Perks Club members of the Bavarian Inn Lodge received a personal phone call from the Owner/President, Judy Zehnder, prior to the Christmas holiday. The call was made to thank the member for their business, wish them a Merry Christmas, and to solicit their feedback on their experiences with us over the last year. 

Members of the Zehnder family also make table visits at the Bavarian Inn restaurant. Dorothy Zehnder, our 93-year-old Bavarian Inn Restaurant co-founder, continues to be active in managing the kitchen and frequently is on the dining room floor interacting with customers. Our members are also invited to selected special events. An event that our members still talk about occurred in the fall of 2013. The Bavarian Inn Lodge Owner/President, Judy Zehnder, held a 40th birthday party for her 1973 Volkswagen Beetle at the Lodge. Top Perks Club members and community leaders were invited to celebrate and have the opportunity to meet owners and management.   

What are your customer loyalty goals and how have the results matched or exceeded your expectations?

Our goals are to Increase the number of new enrollments, increase the average spend per member, and increase return visits by members. As compared to last year, our new enrollment increased significantly, our Club member average length of stay at our Inn was higher than non-members, and our Club members redeemed 86.5% of the reward certificates issued to them upon a return visit. These results have far exceeded our expectations and we continually enhancing our infrastructure to embrace further growth in our Club.

How do you define Customer Loyalty at Bavarian Inn and how does Customer Feedback impact that theme?

Customer Loyalty is a mindset that we try to instill in our entire team. It doesn’t start when a person visits us a second time. It starts when every service is delivered from reservationist interactions prior to booking a room or dining reservation and continues on with every “moment of truth” or guest interaction. The decision for the second visit HINGES on this experience. We know an average or poor product doesn’t deserve to be supported by a loyalty program.

Since exceptional customer service is key to customer loyalty, customer feedback is one of the most integral components of continued improvement.  We recognize all feedback as a “gift” from our guest. If we don’t like the message, we get past our personal feelings and take the notes to heart. This is an attitude and approach that all managers and supervisors work with. We have a formal system for assembling research to respond “rapidly” to every interaction that we can. We respond to online reviews, our own web based reviews–even if the person is anonymous. TripAdvisor.com is a key travel feedback site in the industry. We focus on daily interaction with reviewers. We encourage our guests (loyalty members or not) to tell their story on TripAdvisor if they have a wonderful stay. If they have any challenges, we want to know right now so we can make amends and improve our opportunity for a return visit.  This approach and system has made the Bavarian Inn Lodge the most reviewed hotel in Michigan. The Lodge has 87% more reviews than the second-most reviewed hotel in Michigan. Our engagement with our membership and our overall satisfaction rate of all guests create the passion to write about their experiences at the Lodge.

With an abundance of technology solutions available in the marketplace, how do you know which ones best fit your customers and their expectations?

We currently operate our Perks Club loyalty program via a property management system that is developed for large full service resorts. The loyalty program module was rather basic back in 1998 when we began research. PAR Springer-Miller System was willing to make enhancements based on our education on developing a loyalty club. With our primary CRM being the hotel database, our capabilities have been defined by the capabilities of this one system for 17 years. 

So for us right now, the “best fit” for getting more sophisticated will lie heavily on our interaction with partners on the Loyalty Expo floor in Orlando. We will be looking for partners who can help a smaller loyalty club with personal engagement of our guests based on their likes and patterns of travel. With only 21,000+ members in the independent resort world, we know we are a minnow amongst whales at the Loyalty Expo! We are confident there will be opportunities to grow!

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