Role of initiating a private online community in reducing market research and utilisation costs
A media report has highlighted how InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is using a private online community to learn about the travel habits and preferences of customers in an online collaborative space. (1/17/2008)
According to www.baselinemag.com, since April last year, the company has been experimenting with a highly interactive website for its most loyal and high-spending US customers. The rapid feedback from participants has sharply reduced IHG´s time-to-market with new products and reduced market research and utilisation costs by up to 90%.
The report quotes Ken Bott, Director of IHG´s Global Consumer Marketing Group, saying that staying in close touch with customers, especially the three and a half million most loyal ones, is his priority.
As usage of focus group is a slow and costly method, the company, according to Bott, focused on a web-based tool from Communispace, a Watertown, Mass. software company that builds private online communities. It took about three months to customise the software to meet IHG´s specifications. The report added that customers can provide opinions, suggestions and ask questions in five different ways, including via surveys, chat rooms and topic-specific discussion areas. Surveys focus on the needs and experiences of customers and can accommodate multiple choice responses or open-ended answers.
"Though such comments are qualitative, Bott says enough respondents expressed a desire for easy-to-find Internet access that the company has selected a couple of pilot hotels in the Atlanta area to experiment with a revised room design; it will have a new orientation for electric outlets and a clear view of the desk chair from the doorway—designs approved by the online community," added the report. "There is also a "brainstorming" area of the site where customers can respond to questions from the marketing staff in open text fields. One day, the following question was posed: What do you do with your loyalty club card? More than 50% of respondents said it was a hassle to carry around so many cards and that they often left them at home, consequently missing out on earned car rental or hotel points."
"Within a few days of the brainstorming session, Bott´s team had developed a solution to ease the frustrations of its customers: a rewards card with space on the back for numbers of other hotel, airline and rental-car loyalty programmes. Designers built prototypes of the new card and posted them in the private online community to gauge the opinions of customers. Participants favored one design that was eventually produced and mailed out. And in a single day, the marketing language for the card went from "Customisable card back" to "Customise your card," thanks to the input of community members. The whole process—from initial query on the site to card distribution—took four weeks."
Today, IHG´s most regular customers can go online to the Priority Club Rewards site and enter up to ten rewards numbers to be printed on the back of their card.
In 2008, the marketing team will implement a collaborative wiki on the company intranet, which will allow the staff to post observations and analysis about the customer findings, Bott shared.