There are few disappointments in life quite as indelible as a long-anticipated vacation that crashes and burns because of a bad experience at a hotel. Most consumers have at least one horror story about a long-anticipated trip derailed by the sound of jackhammers all day because of a hotel renovation, or a room that smelled of mildew and cigarette smoke, or being in a hotel that also happened to be hosting an annual conference for amateur heavy metal enthusiasts who like to practice in their hotel rooms late at night.
How it goes wrong — Francis Hondal, president of loyalty and managed services at Mastercard, told Karen Webster — is usually not as important as the fact that things did go wrong, at least from the consumer perspective.
“Travel is the ultimate experience. It’s aspirational. Think about a family or an individual traveler who has been planning a major trip, only to get to a hotel and find it’s a disaster. It’s such a big disappointment, and dealing with it is not what anyone wants to do on vacation — they want to relax and enjoy,” Hondal said.
That is why, Hondal told Webster, Mastercard is rolling out a new digital travel platform for World and World Elite cardholders in the U.S., which provides two new services that issuers can activate for cardholders. First, it provides a lower-rate guarantee, meaning that if cardholders book their room and find a better price, the difference will be refunded to their card.
Second, the perhaps more eye-catching addition is the new Hotel Stay Guarantee. According to Hondal, going forward, cardholders who experience any problems with a 3-star-or-higher rated hotel can contact a Lifestyle Manager 24/7, who will work directly with the hotel to resolve the issue. In a case where the issue cannot be resolved, Mastercard will move the customer in question to a comparable facility — saving the customer from that hotel, and even covering costs in the new hotel up to $1,000.
Building A Practical Standout
Travel — being a favored vertical, particularly among affluent consumers — is especially popular when it comes to building enticements and rewards. That makes creating new offerings something that isn’t a “me too” (a variation of a travel benefit already out there), a challenge that Hondal said she and her team embraced to build something genuinely different and useful because the stay-gone-sideways is such a universal experience.
Of course, the definition of “sideways” varies from customer to customer. Some people will leave a scathing one-star review for pillows not properly aligned on a bed, and others won’t complain about anything less alarming than the hotel actually catching fire in the night. Hondal noted that the parameters of the just-launched program will need calibrating, as the occasional individual might well make the occasional crazy complaint.
“From our standpoint,” she said, “anything that is really considered an inconvenience or not what was expected, that has suddenly dropped the level of your travel, qualifies.”
By giving the consumer the option to hand off the issue to a Lifestyle Manager, the customer gets to turn to an advocate with leverage and let go of the stress in knowing that it will be handled.
While the benefit today melds specifically with travel, the broader applications are many, she said. The goal is to find the moments in a consumer’s life where Mastercard can intervene to build a better experience — and those opportunities, she noted, obviously exist outside travel.
Stopping A Chargeback Before It Starts
When Mastercard was building this program, Hondal noted, it had the great benefit of looking at troves upon troves of data from customers about disappointing hotel stays. There was even more data from its issuing partner, which had “been on the end of a lot of dispute resolutions.”
All that experience generates much insight. It also creates a rather keen desire to get ahead of these issues — before the issuer finds itself stepping into a dispute resolution mode, and before the hotel finds itself facing a full chargeback.
Instead of stays gone wrong generating full refunds, bad reviews, anger and negative feelings, inserting Mastercard’s Lifestyle Manager into the conversation increases the odds that the stay can be salvaged. The customer has their issue fixed, the hotel can retain a guest — even if a partial refund is involved — and the issuer no longer has to negotiate a dispute on the back end. Everyone leaves the table happier than they would have otherwise, and everyone has saved what Hondal said is really the most important resource to many people: time.
The Value Of Time
Consumers, often more than anything else, don’t want their time to be wasted. Going through the hassle to redeem rewards points, Hondal said, also fits that description. Customers build rewards points, which can be an excellent tool for engagement. However, redemption mode is so friction-filled, that many consumers don’t even bother — so they, in turn, place very little value on the points they redeem.
Hondal said that’s why Mastercard has added digital redemption options, so cardholders can instantly tap into and redeem their points for a variety of purchases, both in-store and online. The time-consuming part is taken away, the customer doesn’t have to think about it, and the merchant and issuer reap the rewards of the happy consumer, who can use points as currency to buy things.
The power of consumers living highly digital lives, she noted, is the power to create many more moments of direct interactions between consumers and issuers, and between consumers and brands — whether it is making rewards redemption more seamless or purchasing more contextual, or even offering them a Lifestyle Manager who can save them time and create the better user experience that keeps them loyal.
“For customers, the real asset to protect is often their time,” Hondal concluded.