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Does a hotel need a loyalty program to earn your loyalty?

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Does a hotel need a loyalty program to earn your loyalty?
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It’s a given, right? If you run a chain of hotels, you need some type of loyalty program to keep your customers coming back? Well, if you’re the citizenM hotel chain, you toss the loyalty playbook out the revolving front door and choose to focus on each customer experience, rather than long-term engagement and rewards.

I stumbled upon citizenM by accident when I needed a last-minute room in New York City. They came up on a search at a decent price and once I Googled them, I found they were a small chain with locations in several major markets including London and Paris. But more interestingly to me, they positioned themselves as an “affordable luxury” brand with the stated intent of “under-promising and over-delivering”.

I’d say they delivered on “over-delivering”. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by an eye-catching lobby that was, well, quirky. (See the picture above. Yes, that’s the lobby.) Lots of comfy-looking chairs, high walls covered with colorful tchotchkes and artwork, a bar. And nowhere in sight was there a front desk. Instead, there’s a check-in “kiosk” where we were greeted by two friendly and attractive 20-somethings sporting citizenM t-shirts.

The rooms were tiny but have oversized beds and are tech-y in both feel and function. Each room includes a “MoodPad” tablet that controls the blinds on your picture window, the color of your floor-to-ceiling illuminated bathroom wall, your TV and alarm clock (featuring unique wake-up sounds like a herd of stampeding elephants). Oh, and there’s a “rain” shower, that’s as cool as it sounds.

But no loyalty program? Are there any perks? The hotel has a program called the citizenM club and by becoming “a citizen” there, you’re automatically entitled to 10%-off on each booking. There’s free Wi-Fi. And with each stay, you get free drink tickets which can be used at the lobby bar, or a bar on the top-floor with expansive views of the City via an outdoor deck. These perks are available right from your first stay, no matter how many nights you’ve accumulated—so in essence, the program is being used as an acquisition tool.

Does it make sense for citizenM to treat all its customers the same way? It appears that the first-time visitor is rewarded the same way as a frequent guest. But what if you were checking in for your 10th or 15th stay? I can definitely see how it might irk some customers if they were getting the same perks as everyone else, and not receiving special recognition for their loyalty. Yet, citizenM may be tracking behavior behind the scenes for future use. You’re encouraged to reserve your room at the hotel Web site, as it’s the only place you can get the 10% discount—and the price beats any options Trivago or Expedia can serve up. So the chain does know when, where and how often you’re staying with them.

The net: As Loyalty Truth head honcho Bill Hanifin points out, it’s a good thing when “brands aren’t afraid to try their own way to build customer loyalty.” Bill believes it proves that while “every brand needs a well conceived and executed customer strategy, that doesn’t mean that every brand needs a loyalty program.” And I’m sure citizenM would be in full agreement.

As for me, I’ll be back again in a few weeks, primarily for the unique experience the hotel offers. I’m also interested in seeing if citizenM treats me the same way on repeat visits, or comes up with new ways to surprise and delight me. In the mean time, I’ll enjoy the free drinks and Wi-Fi that many other chains only offer to frequent guests.

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