Uber, Starwood and the Next Stage in Customer Loyalty

“If your early-morning flight to Dallas is delayed, your alarm clock can ring a bit later and the car service automatically notified in accordance with traffic predictions.”

I underlined this sentence in 1995 while reading Nicolas Negroponte’s Being Digital. I was completely geeked by the promise of digital, interactivity and what we used to call “new media”. I immersed myself in Wired Magazine, R.U. Sirius’s Mondo 2000, Marshall McLuhan and Kevin Kelly. I soaked up any visionary that had a perspective on the coming digitization of our culture.

The thought that this much automation could occur without the individual needing to personally update their paper-based calendar (with a pen) was mind blowing at the time. But here we are today and, if you take inventory, much of what Negroponte wrote in that sentence is around us in pockets. For example, Starwood has enabled hotel guests to dodge check-in by using their app and beacons in their hotels. Their technology recognizes the guest as they arrive at the hotel, provides the room number to the guests app and then allows the guest to open the door to their room using their cell phone. The customer gets to bypass the arrival check-in process. This kind of automated convenience is what Negroponte was getting at in Being Digital.

United-UberUber, by design, provides on-demand pick-up only so Negroponte’s scenario doesn’t apply per se. I’ve had a few personal experiences with Uber where I would rather have the peace of mind to schedule my ride and have them take care of adjusting the pick up time based on changes in flight time. That said, Uber is creating new capabilities that get us closer. This past summer Uber announced a capability enhancement for Outlook users that creates reminders in Outlook and links to the Uber app to order a car. So it gets us close to Negroponte’s vision but not quite.

In this day of “intent-rich” micro-moments, businesses are faced with key decisions to deliver an enhanced customer experience with partners that are highly relevant to their customers in that moment. Uber’s partnerships with Live Nation and Starwood and integrations with apps like United Airlines and OpenTable enable consumers to logically add a service to their experience. Uber brings a luxury brand experience to these partnerships while enabling a level of convenience Negroponte raised in Being Digital 20 years ago.

Loyalty Programs and Customer Engagement are going to get much more complex in the coming years as companies evolve from their “me too” points programs to address customer needs and pain points in innovative ways. Thinking now how to best deliver relevant experiences, how to collect and share data via APIs across program partnerships and how best to measure the impact of these micro-moments will be critical to build customer loyalty over time.

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