#434: Travel Loyalty Insights with Collinson and Salesforce

Today’s episode features two powerhouses of the travel loyalty sector who have joined forces in recent years.

Stephen Gilbert is the VP of Salesforce Loyalty working within the Collinson Group, with responsibility for creating the next generation of Loyalty Programs on the Salesforce Loyalty Ecosystem, and he joins us today along with Ram Machiraju, Vice President of Product Management at Salesforce, focused on loyalty and referral marketing.

Stephen and Ram share insights from airline, hotel and rail clients in the context of growth in the travel eco-system and explain why Collinson and Salesforce have joined forces.

They also share and what they each believe are the key success factors for clients, with more and more consumers committed to spending their disposable income on travel and experiences.

Listen to hear their insights on extending the value of your loyalty program beyond the basic transactions, through smart partnerships and everyday earn and burn solutions, so you can engage with your members even when their purchases are infrequent.

This episode is sponsored by the Collinson Group.

Show Notes:

1) Stephen Gilbert⁠

2) Collinson Group

3) Ram Machiraju

4) Salesforce

5) #362: Discovery Vitality: Behavioural Change Programme is resulting in Healthier Lifestyle through Generous Rewards

Audio Transcript

Paula: Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m your host, Paula Thomas, and if you work in loyalty marketing, join me every week to learn the latest ideas from loyalty specialists around the world.

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Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Let’s Talk Loyalty, featuring two powerhouses of the travel loyalty sector who have joined forces in recent years. Stephen Gilbert is the Vice President of Salesforce Loyalty, working within the Collinson Group, with responsibility for creating the next generation of loyalty programs on the Salesforce loyalty ecosystem.

He joins me today along with Ram Machiraju, Vice President of Product Management at Salesforce, focused on loyalty and referral marketing. Stephen and Ram share insights from airline, hotel and rail clients in the context of growth in the travel ecosystem. They also explain why Collinson and Salesforce have joined forces and what they each believe are the key success factors for clients.

With more and more consumers committed to spending their disposable income on travel and experiences. Listen to hear their insights on extending the value of your loyalty program beyond the basic transactions through smart partnerships, and everyday earn and burn solutions. So you can engage with your members even when their purchases are infrequent.

I hope you enjoy my conversation with Stephen Gilbert from Collinson, and Ram Machiraju from Salesforce.

So Stephen Gilbert and Ram Machiraju, welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty. 

Stephen: Hi Paula. Very nice to be here. 

Ram: Thank you, Paula for having us on the podcast and excited to be here. 

Paula: Okay. So guys, as you know, we always start this podcast talking about your favorite loyalty programs as industry professionals. So Stephen, I think I met you first.

So just by default, I’m going to come to you and just, would you share with us now, you know, as a loyalty and travel loyalty professional, what is your favorite loyalty program? 

Stephen: Okay. Well, thanks, Paula. I suppose I think we’ve probably been on this podcast before talking about the, the value of brand loyalty, embedding your loyalty program in the heart of everything you do and extending that brand. So I’m gonna go with Vitality. 

And the reason behind Vitality is just, it’s just a very, very smart loyalty program. It’s something that’s taken what is a very kind of particularly boring subject of insurance and basically just turn the whole thing on its head and basically just embedded loyalty throughout that. And not only embedded loyalty to actually think about how it changes the lives of the individuals, but obviously changes the commercials of the company when they really own that space and have extended that space through partnerships.

So I just think it’s very smart and obviously driven from the board level down and permeates throughout that company. So a very, very smart program. 

Paula: Totally. Yeah. And Stephen, I think our regular listeners will know that I also answer Vitality when I get asked my own question. So wonderful that we share that. And just if anybody is not familiar with Vitality, obviously started in South Africa. I think it was about 30 years ago, Stephen. Would I be right with that? It’s quite.

Stephen: I think it was quite, quite some time. 

Paula: Yeah. Yeah, and I know certainly very strong in the UK and various other markets, but you’re absolutely right. When I think about, you know, the purpose of loyalty, somebody even asked me this morning, like, what’s the point of of a loyalty program? And I always love, they supposed traditional definition of driving profitable behavior change. And I think that’s exactly what you’ve articulated there. Vitality, not only drive, you know, profitable behavior for the business, but absolutely life changing behavior.

And we did actually do an episode with them. So I’ll make sure we link to that in the show notes, if anybody’s curious about how to make, I suppose, health insurance super powerful. Exactly. So a great one to kick us off. So thank you for that, Stephen. 

And Ram coming to you from sunny India. Tell me, what is your favorite loyalty program?

Ram: I would go with Starbucks being a loyal Starbucks member. What I like about the program is essentially the simplicity of the program. As well as, you know, how efficiently they’re able to kind of drive value back to the members on a constant basis and making the program more sticky you know, so I like Starbucks from that standpoint.

And then of course, you know, the value proposition is increasing with bringing on more partners into the forum like Delta and you know, others into the mix. So I think it’s, it’s a program that I like. 

Paula: Totally, totally. And would they be strong Ram in the Indian market? I know, as we talked about, actually, you’re heading off to to the United States tomorrow for the annual Dreamforce event. So obviously Starbucks is, is plenty available there, but are they present in the Indian market as well? 

Ram: They are, they are. And they are partnering with Tata’s you know, Indian market, and it’s kind of positioned as a premium brand in India. But the loyalty program is really good. 

Paula: Amazing. Yeah. It’s one that we’re, you know, super keen to get on the show actually, because when we do ask this question, we’ve started to count who gets what votes and Starbucks actually is getting the most votes from loyalty industry professionals round. So you’re certainly not the first person to, to mention them. So hopefully we’ll get to share their story at some point in the near future. So all very exciting things. 

So let’s get into the reason for the conversation today. I think we’re really here first and foremost to celebrate the context of travel loyalty. Dare I say it exploding again after a difficult few years. And I, for one, I’m actively planning not only the rest of 2023, but all of 2024, both for professional and personal travel. 

And I know it’s at the core of what we’re here to talk about, both from a Collinson perspective, and of course, from a Salesforce perspective. And I’m guessing that not everybody’s fully up to date in terms of the role of Salesforce in our industry, given how relatively new you guys are as a player in the industry.

So before we get into all of the Salesforce side, Stephen, you guys in Collinson have been in this industry for many, many years and doing some extraordinary work. So maybe just for people who mightn’t be familiar, will you just introduce the Collinson Group and what you guys do in the loyalty space?

Stephen: Yeah, thanks very much, Paula. Well, Collinson is wholly a loyalty business. And that loyalty business is kind of born out of the travel, transport and hospitality sector. So I think I see really Collinson in three ways. We provide loyalty benefits. And whether or not that’s kind of things like our lounge accesses or our experiences in airports that we package up to sell to banks and large corporates to kind of maintain loyalty with their largest and most important customers. That’s one part of our business. 

The second part, and I’m sure we’ll talk about it today in that travel ecosystem is how do we think about how brands extend their partnerships and how brands can kind of bring their brand to life every day by every day earning options. And also how do we really think about personalized rewards and how do people want to exchange currencies and actually redeem them for something that actually is meaningful to them. So that’s another part of our business with value dynamics, which is a kind of a wholly owned operating company of Collinson.

And then the last part before I kind of hand over to ram and the reason we’re on the podcast together is we also build loyalty programs so we have an advisory practice and we’re really proud to say that the loyalty programs that we build, they generally stick around for around 10 years. So a loyalty program needs maintaining, it needs calibration, and it needs calibrating to the customer experience, commercial calibration, and ultimately it’s a complex world out there now, and one of the things that we took a decision on was it. 

Actually, you know, one of the really complex things underneath it is actually the technology. There’s so many places you can actually take the value of an individual and the value of a loyalty program and expose them across that customer experience. So we took a decision to think who could we partner with? What platform could we partner with? And how do we really future proof what we’re actually doing from a loyalty perspective? So we entered into a partnership when Ram and his team started to add the loyalty side of the business to Salesforce. So it’s been a great journey. We hope to talk through some of that today.

Paula: Yeah. Absolutely. And tell me, when did that actually all start, Stephen? I know it’s still fairly new, but first and foremost, I think it was a huge decision because obviously Collinson has plenty of, you know, capabilities and would be, I suppose, well within your rights to, to develop your own technology.

But I do remember you know, when we had the last conversation with Collinson, it was, you know, there was a wonderful comment that, you know, you will never out develop Salesforce. So tell us when did you actually, you know, I suppose formalize this partnership together. 

Stephen: So I think there was, there’s very much thoughts around two and a half years ago about what the strategy was. And I came on board two years ago. And it won’t probably be a surprise to anyone that I actually did work at Salesforce beforehand, flipping over the proximity of those business models and being able to kind of leverage conversations, relationships to get these things moving. 

So I suppose Ram will talk more about his product development side, but we’ve been in anger looking at how we build programs on this for just under two years now.

Paula: Amazing. Amazing. Thank you for that background, Stephen. And Ram, I think we all know Salesforce as an iconic software company. I was looking on your website today and saw some cheesy videos from 1999 when you were set up as a Salesforce automation platform. So give us a bit of the background and context and how you, I suppose, first of all, realize the opportunity to develop a product in the loyalty space and bring us up to date to where we are now.

Ram: Sure. Thanks Paula. Yeah. I think Salesforce is, like you said, an iconic company. Almost, you know, 25 years in this market. It started off in 1999 and we are the number one CRM company in the world. So the journey really started around, you know, 2019, then we realized that, you know, loyalty is so central to any CRM business, right.

And this is a white space and our customers have been asking us, you know, what Salesforce position in this. And that’s when we really started thinking about loyalty. So I was part of the journey and we decided that it makes sense for us to build this organically ground up on the Salesforce platform.

So it’s the same platform that our customers have been using for two decades. So we just decided to build this on the Salesforce platform to be able to really you know, re imagine loyalty. Because it’s a great opportunity for us to, you know, start from scratch and then look at loyalty from a perspective where we do not have to, you know, take any baggage coming from, you know, any other platform or from past history. So that was the Genesis of this. 

And early 2021 is when we launched and like any other Salesforce software that we build, we typically go with pilot customer pilots a year before. So we had an opportunity to talk to, you know, tens of customers gather requirements, understand what their parent, you know, pain points are and what’s their vision.

And then test the software with a handful of pilot customers who gave us valuable feedback, to then be able to successfully launch early 2021. So that has been an incredible journey. And you know, I’m, I’m so happy that we were able to kind of launch a great product and really, you know, take it to the market successfully.

Paula: Amazing. I mean, it’s really hard to imagine, Ram, you know, any other company that could achieve so much in two and a half years from building a brand new product in the loyalty space, because, you know, honestly, as Stephen already commented on, it is a complex space. And I guess you’ve got that core kind of trust and established client base. I know, of course, with the CRM platform. 

So super exciting to hear maybe some of the clients, even that you’ve managed to launch. We did have one of your clients as you know, here on the podcast recently Emarat fuel stations are, I know very proud Salesforce clients as well. So they were certainly delighted with your I suppose, expansion and innovation into this space. 

So tell us then about the advisory piece then Ram, just from your perspective, because again, lots of clever people in the business, you could absolutely have, you know, built your own, I suppose, strategy and I suppose loyalty program design team. Had you felt that, that was appropriate but instead you decided to partners with the guys in Collinson? Maybe it was because you were so happy with Stephen. So tell us about the the thinking around, you know, having that, you know, core partnership to, to build these for your clients. 

Ram: Yeah. I mean, the, the entire loyalty ecosystem is typically into three areas. One is the advisory or the program design. The second one is the platform, and the third one is essentially the value offerings, you know, like redemption catalogs and things like that. 

So for us, the core for Salesforce was essentially to get the platform, right? And we cannot really have a, you know, a successful product unless we have a, you know, an ecosystem that can really help us drive this value to our customers.

And that’s where Collinson has been a great partner, given their long you know, expertise in the space and very well recognized in the industry. I think that really you know helped us in really driving this across industries. 

Paula: Amazing. Absolutely. So you were convinced. Okay. Fantastic. So listen, let’s get into the travel context. Here we are in 2023 Stephen, you’ve already given us a great outline. And again, I know you guys extremely well and you know, use the products, of course, thankfully things like lounges and all of those amazing airport facilities, but just give us a sense of what are you hearing from your own clients.

And I guess directly from consumers themselves, I think it’s fair to say there are, you know, many tough economic times around the world in lots of markets, and I guess travel could be seen as a luxury. So what are you hearing in terms of, you know, whether it’s growing or maintaining or what are the kind of trends in the actual demand for travel?

Stephen: Well, I suppose the good news is by keeping everything up for two years or so it’s, it actually kind of leads to a recovery that bounces back and bounces back stronger. And I think, like you say, people don’t have as much money in their pockets. So what do they want to spend their money on? They don’t actually necessarily want to spend it on kind of products, but they want to spend it on experiences.

So that sense of how travel can deliver experiences. He’s basically seeing that whole kind of travel industry growing at about four and a half percent by 2027. So I suppose some of the things you, and when I use the word experiences, I suppose people are now buying experiences and travel. So they expect more from customer experience.

So that customer experience then pervades out into the loyalty programs and the loyalty motions that we actually see kind of in travel so increased traffic but increased expectations, to really putting a kind of a sharpener on all those brands whether they’re airlines, hotels, whether they’re rail companies to think about how they’re going to drive great customer experiences that drives the loyalty is the outcome.

And I suppose, you know, we, we see this within our lounges and the capacity in kind of lounges. And it’s really just, as I say, just driving people to innovate in the market which is obviously great news. 

Paula: I think that’s absolutely right, Stephen. And I think, you know, the big evolution, you know, you use that term loyalty as an outcome and I know there’s also, you know, a lot of people just using the terminology and thinking about CX as a discipline.

So rather than thinking about, you know, great, we’ve got a lounge. So the product is you know, complete, I think there is a much more holistic understanding that customers, as you said, you know, they’re investing in this experience. So therefore they absolutely need the best in the world. So it sounds like it is all about innovation. It’s not like that the same old suspects, the same old loyalty currencies, there’s a demand to do something new if I’m right.

Stephen: Yeah. What else if you think about it from the brand’s perspective, the travel journey is so fragmented from understanding, you know, data’s key to this and Ram, you know, will be an expert in talking about data, but, you know, somebody books a piece of travel, they have an intent.

If you don’t know that intent you can’t basically start to really think about what products and services they might need throughout that travel journey. So it might be T minus four weeks out, you book something, who knows why you’re actually really going there. Then you’ve got to go to the airport, then the airport has control of you for a while.

Then you go to the airline, you come out the airline, you go into the lounge, you walk through a retail area and have food and beverage in the airport. You’re back into the the airline, you’re off the airline and then you’re into this wonderful experience. And you’re, you know, the, the, these modes of transports are taking you for that experience.

So understanding the intent of the traveler and stitching the intent together and partnerships in this travel ecosystem can be extremely important to basically serve products and services to people in real time that actually they truly value. 

Paula: Yeah, you’ve used the word partnerships a few times, Stephen, actually, since we’ve been chatting, so am I right in understanding that you’re advocating for all of those fragmented service providers to make sure that essentially they’re connecting the dots for the consumer, you know, obviously using, you know, a great strategy and great software, but just really to make it to make it as seamless as possible, dare I say it?

Stephen: To a certain extent yes, I mean, as a company, we’re doing that and thinking about the brands that make our experiences better. But obviously technology is an enabler you know, and working with Salesforce and a number of other kind of players, there are many more capabilities to actually think about how data would be exchanged in real time and how services could be delivered in real time and how brands could connect together.

So when we’re no longer kind of tethered by architectures and data and technology that won’t allow this to happen. So I just think we’ll start to see more of it, a more value exchange between brands. 

Paula: Yeah, for sure. And Ram, you gave us a really startling statistic, actually, in terms of data sources when we were talking off air, and I was quite amazed at the the complexity.

Again, we all know it’s complex, but when you actually start to count it up, do you want to give us a sense of what you’re hearing from marketers in terms of those different data sources and being able to bring them into, again, that seamless experience? 

Ram: Yeah, sure. If you look at you know, the, the number of data sources that marketers are using, they have constantly increased and, you know, the 2023 projection is that marketers on an average would use about 18 different data sources you know, to glean transactional data, to know their digital identities, understand their declared interests and preferences.

And most of the marketers find that getting a unified view of the customer is still a challenge. And with the cookies gone soon, there is definitely a growing need for zero party and first party data. And that’s where loyalty programs are really gaining traction because marketers are now looking to really understand customers preferences, their lifestyle. And, you know, like Steve mentioned their intent and that is, you know, a key, one of the things that we are hearing from our customers. 

The second thing is, you know, there are, there is growing traction of experiential programs where 50 percent of the customers are likely to purchase more frequently if the program offers experiential rewards. That also has increased personalization, you know, better reflecting their individual needs. 

While all of this is happening, there is also one of the challenges that we are hearing from our customers is that there is a declining membership activity in the program. And that is primarily due to the value proposition and the execution of the program. So overall, while there is definitely a lot of focus on loyalty programs, there are still some, there’s still some work to be done to be able to really address, you know, the changing landscape. 

Paula: Yeah. Yeah. And as Stephen said, increasing expectations. And even when we had a previous conversation, again, the term bland loyalty came up. So I do think there is a jadedness around, particularly in mature markets where members are saying it’s just not good enough to maybe just put a, you know, a currency in place, for example, and have a tiered structure. There is very much these increasing expectations. 

And one of the particular ones that you guys highlighted previously, and I’d love both of your perspectives on this, because it’s a personal passion of mine, but the idea that brands are open to, and I guess looking for, maybe ways to engage in non transactional context.

I think it’s particularly exciting in travel with all of the wonderful destinations, of course, but maybe Stephen, I’ll come to you first in terms of what are you hearing about this, you know, and why is non transactional becoming an important part of the travel loyalty ecosystem? 

Stephen: I suppose, I suppose there’s a couple of things to think about there, isn’t there? Yeah, you know, I think I may have borrowed this actually from a Salesforce presentation, but 20 percent of, sorry, 40 percent of your loyalty members by 2026 will be Gen Z. You know, you’ve got to think very differently about who’s actually traveling and what types of things that they actually want and what they actually need.

So you know, that’s I think it’s a very powerful thing to think about, you know, again, back to the complexity of the program. And I think, you know, from a couple of perspectives, we will work with a number of rail companies, you know. You could be seen as a transport utility, but actually if you start to think about the experiences you’re delivering people for, and onwards and through the partnerships and the experiences you can deliver, you can actually really extend yourself and start to think about yourselves as a travel company.

And then I suppose another perspective. You know, just coming back to our value dynamics business as well, you know, often people would have thought about taking their points currencies and exchanging those for a product or, but actually increasingly now actually in that portfolio of redemption options, it’s more important to actually deliver those for experiences.

And even in our own business you know, within the lounge business and the loyalty benefits, actually, you know, sleep pods, dining, gaming in the airport becomes something within our portfolio to really drive the use of that time and the experience of the time when you are in that travel ecosystem. So yeah, lots of innovation to deliver that. 

Paula: And would I be right as well, Stephen, actually, because to me, rail travel is super romantic and I, you know, it’s one of those things where I don’t travel by rail to get there as, as quickly as possible. Like it’s a very different intent and actually you’ve already used that term.

And just for, I suppose, some of our audience around the world, Stephen, like we’ve a huge audience in the US for example, mightn’t be familiar with I suppose some of the even legislation that’s coming in around, you know, rail travel being I suppose officially from almost a government perspective coming in, you know, as a priority, whereas airlines, for example, might not necessarily be allowed to, to fly people.

If it’s a very short flight that rail is, I suppose, just having a resurgence of popularity and therefore those experiences just become absolutely more, more powerful and more exciting. 

Stephen: Yeah, very much so. I mean, we’ll be at the World Passenger Forum in October and everyone will be talking there, but probably what you reference is maybe some of the things that are happening in France where I think if it’s less than a three hour train journey or so you’re not allowed to actually fly.

So obviously there’s a, there’s an eco side to that. There’s obviously an investment in the kind of the infrastructure and keeping the infrastructure up and running. And also then kind of, you know, the comfort of using those and the, and the actual reward of using those rail systems. So definitely kind of things are changing.

Not so much kind of in the UK, if you have a franchise model it’s a little bit different when you’re only got a three year contract. So you really need to have competition against your rail route to really want and need a loyalty program. You know, most, most rail companies will have some kind of extension of rewards, trying to think about where that’s taking you and what you might do when you get there, but deep interesting and, you know, kind of future focused loyalty programs are a little bit lacking in the UK at the moment because of that franchise network. 

Paula: Okay. Yes. But I do know that you work on one of the, you know, really powerful European brands with Eurotunnel. Am I right? You’re, you’re doing some exciting stuff. I was actually a dream for here in Dubai recently. So I’d love if you could give us any insights in terms of you know, what kind of intention might be coming through there. 

Stephen: Yeah, I suppose you know, what an amazing piece of engineering to dig a tunnel underneath two countries for 26, 27 miles into Connecticut you know, and exactly, it does exactly what it says on the tin. It delivers cars through the tunnel to the other side of the actual continent. But actually, yeah, really what we’re trying to do there is turn the focus away from the car that travels through the tunnel and actually start to think about what actually who’s in that car and what’s the purpose that that person is using the tunnel.

You know, and when you start to think about the people in the car and you start to think about what they’re doing, why the tunnel might have been useful to them taking their pets, taking sports equipment, getting away really quickly. You then start to think about, as I said, that intent and you know, the, the understanding of who’s in the car very much goes back to Ram’s point in the marketing side of things within the loyalty allows me to think about inventory at short notice. You know, highly personalized offers and all the things you would see in a normal kind of loyalty kind of mechanism. 

So it’s a bit of a shift change there from a digital perspective in what they’re actually doing. And that, that it will only kind of the start of the journey will only grow over a period of time. 

Paula: Yeah. Yeah. It’s definitely so high on my wishlist, Stephen. And again, I know, you know, rail operators are obviously competing with other forms of transport, as well as other railway network operators, like you alluded to in the UK. So really exciting to hear that the likes of Eurostar are investing in loyalty propositions to deliver that that standout experience. So yeah, super exciting. And again, as, and when they’re ready to come on the show, we’d love to have the the story directly about the work that you guys are doing with them.

But I want to go over to Ram now, just on that same question about non transactional context for loyalty, Ram. What are you hearing from Salesforce clients? Is that something that they’re expecting the platform to do? Is it something that they’re aware, I suppose commercially, has value? Or is it something that you guys are coming and saying, actually, as well as the transactions, here’s some cool new things to think about?

Ram: Absolutely. I think this is a top of mind for our customers as well. And the primary reason essentially is, you know, to keep the brand top of mind. Particularly in travel and hospitality, the number of times that you would interact with the brand directly in the transactional context is finite, right? It’s probably three or four times. And if you’re a business traveler, it’s probably a little more. 

But how do, how do brands actually keep the customers you know, the brand top of mind with the customer? That is what they’re really looking at. And they’re finding really innovative ways to kind of engage with the customer. And constantly drive value so that the customer always keeps the program top of mind and then comes back again and again. That is the key thing that we’re, we’re, we’re hearing from customers that they want to really engage with them on an ongoing basis and not necessarily in a transactional context.

Paula: Very smart, actually, you know, because, you know, we all know what the best will in the world, you know, the budget mightn’t stretch to us, maybe flying more than a few times a year, particularly Gen Z that Stephen just referenced. But if there are other either partners or propositions that you can, I suppose, earn and burn between the travel itself, that’s incredibly powerful just to keep people connected.

Ram: Absolutely. And this is where they are coming up with different types of engagement, like gamification or, you know, leveraging you know, capturing zero party and first party data, you know, trying to capture their interests and preferences so that they can better personalize their experiences and offers when they are really in that transactional context, right? So it becomes more and more important to be able to really engage with the customer on an ongoing basis to have that connection to the brand. 

Paula: For sure. And any case studies you can mention? I know we can’t do anything too commercially sensitive, Ram, but given that as we’ve said, it’s it’s fairly new, two and a half years, but you guys have built some extraordinary programs. Can you give us a sense of some of the ones that you’ve launched already? 

Ram: I think ITA Airways is one example that I can talk about you know of course there are many more, but as you know, ITA Airways is really, you know, came out of you know, of Alitalia because of the you know, the European regulation where they had to really, you know, bring A new airline, a new flight carrier of Italy.

So it is fully owned by government of Italy. And, and, and the airline flies to multiple destinations across, you know, Europe you know, domestically within Italy and also intercontinental. 

So they have, you know, implemented loyalty essentially to engage with the customer. And this is again an opportunity for the airline to reimagine loyalty. So for them, it was establishing trust with the members with a program that is highly personalized and always connected so that members are able to kind of engage with the brand, even in a non transactional context. 

So for them, by deploying loyalty, what they have essentially achieved is one unifying the data with their marketing with service. So that they have a loyalty program that is really across the enterprise and they are able to streamline the communication and provide that consistent member experiences across channels. So this has been a great story and in the, they went live under 14 weeks. 

Paula: Oh my God. Wow.

Ram: Yeah, and it has been a tremendous journey. I think in the first year itself, they crossed 1 million plus members, and it has been an incredible story with ITA Airways, and they have been a great partner. 

Paula: Incredible. Yes. Yeah. I knew there had been a lot of change in Italy Ram and I hadn’t actually appreciated the new brand that you guys were delivering the loyalty proposition, unifying data, of course, as you talked about instead of 18 sources, if you can launch.

You know, with a single view of the customer that’s where things like 14 weeks absolutely. I think that’s the fastest I’ve ever heard. And we have talked to some programs that have launched in pretty tight timescales. So pretty exciting. 

Stephen: I think, I think, I think one of the things when we looked at this at the start, one of our reasons for kind of, you know, working with Salesforce is there’s a general pivot now in the market from on premise loyalty to SaaS based loyalty for exactly that it gives access to new people that want to get a program up and running from a good program design to the first kind of members rolling in, in super quick time. 

And I think we’re probably at that point where there is more SaaS based loyalty in the market than there is on premise based loyalty in the market. So, you know, I think there’s only one direction that we’re actually going here and it makes it, like I say, more inclusive for everyone. I’d also be quicker to kind of change those programs and those systems within that environment as well. 

Paula: Yeah. Yeah. It took a while. I think as we all know, back in 1999, there was you know, a lot of concern about how that model was going to work. But  certainly prove it itself to be an extraordinary solution. And again, I suppose, future proof programs for everyone like us who has to think about absolutely what do I need today, but more importantly, what do I need tomorrow? Because I think we’re all under increased pressure to to drive revenue from our programs.

Would that be fair to say that you guys are hearing from clients in terms of, again, I think particularly travel loyalty because it’s so mature. There is that expectation now, and again, probably even accentuated by coming out of the pandemic where first of all, people realized how much revenue we can drive as a individual business units. But then I suppose the expectations just go in one way as well.

Ram: Absolutely. And, you know, Steve has hit the nail you know, in, particularly in travel and hospitality, we are seeing customers who have been using systems that are probably 20, 25 years old. And that has really curtailed their ability to kind of launch new promotions and respond to market situations or even competitive situations as well.

So what we hear from customers, particularly when it comes to technology is like you mentioned, Paula, they want to really have a technology platform that can future proof. We’ve heard some the stories where to launch a promotion, it takes anywhere between eight to 12 weeks. And the process really is that the business comes up with a, you know, with, with a need for launching a new promotion, they go to IT and IT can, you know, then has to get into, you know, some, some of the third party who has to third party vendor who has to write code. And then it has to be validated before, you know, the product is launched. So that is something that you’re seeing a lot of travel hospital companies are dealing with. So speed of innovation is something that they are really looking at. 

The second one is really about, you know, flexibility and extensibility of the systems. So it’s no more about going back to the vendor and asking for enhancements. It’s more about do I have the tool set in addition to the feature functionality that allows me to innovate you know, because if you look at some of these real innovations, that is that happens when the organization along, you know, the business along with IT are sitting down and then doing an innovation that their competitors cannot copy immediately, right? So you need to be able to have a tool set that can really help them innovate. 

Paula: Yeah. I like that. Yeah. 

Ram: Yeah. And then, of course, you know, loyalty is an enterprise wide strategy. It cannot be just, you know, focused on marketing. Right. So we, so we’re looking, you know, customers are really looking at having a system that is so central to their CRM and not really an island sitting somewhere that has to integrate with the rest of the ecosystem. Right. And of course, you know, for them, it is about how we are leveraging AI and some of these new technologies that can really help them differentiate and constantly innovate, you know, on their program. 

Paula: For sure. Yeah. 

Stephen: I’ve got a feeling we’ll hear a bit about AI next week, Ram maybe. 

Ram: Yeah, absolutely.

Paula: Well, we were talking off air as well, Stephen, just before you joined. I remember hearing that I know Barack Obama was a keynote speaker a number of years ago for Dreamforce. So Salesforce really knocks it out of the park when it comes to these incredible events. So I’m just going to have to put it out on the wishlist that some year I get to join you guys there. It sounds amazing. 

Stephen: Please do. 

Paula: Wonderful. Wonderful. So so a lot going on. I just wanted to touch on briefly the, the hospitality piece actually, because we’ve talked about airlines such as obviously ITA Airways and, you know, speed to market actually is something that, that you’ve really emphasized.

You know, simplicity of the data you know, eliminating all those different sources. So, you know, that whole need to be agile is certainly not unique to airlines, but on the ground in, in hotels, what are you guys hearing in terms of, you know, I suppose just general trends in hotel loyalty programs. 

Stephen: I, I suppose the, the biggest thing we kind of see is you, you, you’ve still got some hotel brands that are scratching their head around loyalty. Maybe their loyalty programs aren’t enough and then they realize they’re giving a little bit too much money to their OTA. And so really there is a, an increased focus on retention. And ultimately, how do you drive that retention? Well, you basically, you excel with you know, customer experiences that are built out in those loyalty programs and whether or not they’re personalized experiences.

But also we all kind of know that in, in loyalty, the magic of loyalty is the, is the value, perceived value exchange. So actually how do they use more of their estate portfolio? How do they use restaurants and spas and different ways across their portfolio to actually reward and also how do they kind of cross fertilize across the chains and networks and drive loyalty across their, their whole estate is some of the things that we’re definitely hearing and seeing and people are reaching out to us to, to think about what the design is to kind of cater for.

Paula: Yeah, amazing. And actually, Stephen, I didn’t give you a chance earlier to mention a couple of your longstanding clients because there is some incredible, I suppose, client loyalty as well. So, do you want to mention some of the ones that you’re particularly proud of? 

Stephen: Yeah, I suppose, you know, we, over the years, we’ve worked with a number of different hotel brands, whether or not that’s Radisson or whether or not, Jumeirah and Mandarin Oriental.

So, you know, as we said at the start the Coddington is very much a travel and transport and hospitality type loyalty company. So I think probably over a period of, of you know, existence, probably 40 plus different hotels that we’ve kind of worked with and continue to look at kind of new ways of helping and innovating and the doors are always open to anyone that wants any help.

Paula: Amazing. And I know you work with Saudi as well, of course, close to our hearts in this part of the world. And definitely one, I guess you’re seeing a lot of ambition coming through from them as well. 

Stephen: Yes, we do. Yeah. That’s been a very very long relationship. I think we’ll indeed was actually our founder and chairman Colin was one of his kind of first clients. So very very deep and rewarding relationship. And, and again, something that just shows how you actually need to pivot the loyalty proposition over a period of years and kind of add and extending. So yeah, another great example. 

Paula: Yeah. Yeah. And again, I know because we’ve got a global audience, maybe not everybody’s as aware of it as, as I would be, I guess, paying close attention to the extraordinary explosion of tourism for, for Saudi Arabia.

So that will certainly benefit Saudi, of course over time, I think it’s still quite a surprising market for a lot of people to, to think about because it was closed for so many years, but I have to say, I really admire, and I do believe that they were the, the, second biggest inbound destination, would you believe globally?

I believe in quarter three of this year. So certainly Saudi Arabia is again, fueling that that demand for travel because it’s offering, I suppose, experiences that people just haven’t had access to before, and they do have some extraordinary untouched history and natural resources to share.

Stephen: If you talk about ambitions there, you may find a country that has a, it’s ambition to have a loyalty program as a country. Yeah, that will be a very different type of proposition. 

Paula: Indeed, indeed. And it sounds like we can’t go into too much detail there, Stephen, but I’m certainly hearing about that from different cities, different destinations. So I guess, yeah, travel again, back to your point, I suppose, at the start, it’s really all about, you know, what is the combined proposition rather than those individual elements so much. Amazing. 

So Ram, any comments from you just on the hospitality piece? I didn’t give you a chance. Are you hearing anything again, particularly from your clients, just as I suppose, final points in terms of, you know, travel trends, you know, even currently or looking forward, I guess, because we’re here to educate and inspire our audience.

And I guess what you guys hear from your clients is is really, I suppose, coming hot off the presses. So anything you think we should be thinking about for the free future. And in any of the travel sectors?

Ram: Yeah, I mean, we work with a lot of hospitality companies and, you know, a good number of them have implemented Salesforce loyalty. I think one thing that we consistently hear is, you know, a desire to kind of drive their own property experiences. And drive new revenue streams out of those. So that has become an important aspect while of course they also deal with the same problems around data and speed of innovation and flexible, you know, lack of flexibility in their systems coming out of, you know, probably 20 years or 30 years of you know, systems that have been there.

And then the other unique thing about hospitality is, you know, a lot of big chains work with a franchising model. Delivering consistent experiences across franchises is going to be key for a lot of hospitality and these technologies can really enable them you know, so that when you are on the property that is run by a franchisee, they are able to know who you are, you know, your preferences to whatever extent that the brand would like to share, but at the same time ensuring that there is consistent experience.

And then post COVID, I think one of the things we are hearing is there’s greater focus on asset utilization and making sure that some of the assets like banquet halls, spas, etcetera, are, you know there is greater emphasis on utilization of those assets. And that’s where they want to have offers that can really drive both business customers as well as, you know, leisure customers to be able to really you know, utilize those and then increase the utilization of those assets. And loyalty programs can really play a big role there. 

Paula: Yeah. Yeah. Makes sense Ram. And actually one thing that I’ve just been hearing as well, I suppose is always, you know, that I suppose historically there was the focus on obviously the people coming from different places to stay in the property.

So I suppose the tourists particularly be their leisure or business, but I suppose that focus on local community to your point about utilizing assets, I do think is something that all of a sudden, I think the hotel industry, at least in my mind, have realized that there is extraordinary opportunities to reward local loyalty.

So I do think there is amazing opportunities, as you said, to utilize those assets more. And again, I’m lucky enough to live in Dubai where we have extraordinary hotels. Some of the best in the world. So, and again, with amazing experiences in all of the restaurants. So quite a holistic approach. So again, more demand for innovation, more demand for excellence, and hopefully greater travel experiences for all of us as we go forward into 2024. It’s coming up super quickly. 

So I think that’s all of the kind of questions that I wanted to kind of go through today just to tap into your expertise to celebrate, I suppose, your partnership and particularly is the key message I think we wanted to share with our audience today. 

So in terms of parting comments, Stephen, I might come to you first. And I know you’ve got, first of all, a lot of upcoming events you want to mention, but just want to give you a chance with anything else you want t you know, mention before we wrap up?

Stephen: Perfect. Well, thank you very much. First of all, for the time to, to come and talk as this partnership. Yeah, there was just a few places that if there was any interest in people wanted to drop by and see us clearly both Ram and I will be in San Francisco Dreamforce next week.

We’ll be, Collinson will be at the World Passenger Forum in Vienna talking about rail loyalty. We’ll unfortunately I think you are not gonna join us, but we’ll obviously be the Global Travel Loyalty Awards in Rio and then there, and then there’s a couple of really travel focused events that we are working in that Salesforce ecosystem.

So Salesforce and ourselves. And Amplify Loyalty from Insight to Action event at London’s Salesforce Tower on the wonderful Ohana floor on October the 12th. And then the last thing is Collinson is bringing all of its kind of customers across that travel ecosystem together, to talk about the marketplace ideas and transforming travel loyalty together with some celebrity guest speakers in our new offices on October the 26th. So we would love to anybody that wants to come and see us or anybody that has any interest in those events, please kind of do reach out. 

Paula: Amazing, Stephen. I’ll definitely make sure that we link to your profile so people can connect with you if they are interested in attending. Certainly that Transforming Travel Loyalty one sounds very exciting, particularly at the end of October in London.

So so thank you for sharing all of those upcoming events and Ram over to you. Any final words of wisdom, anything else you wanted to share with our audience before we wrap up? 

Ram: Yeah, I mean, it’s an exciting time to be in loyalty space. And with data and AI and loyalty coming together, I think we can really deliver on great customer experiences for our, for our customers. And yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and thanks for inviting me. 

Paula: Wonderful. Well, listen, I hope we get to meet in person, all of us together quite soon. I’m not sure how that’s going to happen, but it is a small world and I’m still hoping to get to Rio. I just can’t commit just yet, Stephen. So fingers crossed, we’ll just hold that space.

So listen, guys, it’s been a super conversation. So Stephen Gilbert, Vice President of Salesforce Loyalty at Collinson and Ram Machiraju. Vice President of Project Management focused on loyalty and referral marketing for Salesforce. Thank you both so much from Let’s Talk Loyalty.

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On their website, The Loyalty People also runs a free global community for loyalty practitioners, and they also publish their own loyalty expert insights.

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