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Robert McDowell, chief commercial officer of Choice Hotels, explains why he’s making sure the company’s technology team has a seat at the table — and not just to fulfill business requests or resolve tickets.

Travelers have more places to stay than ever before, and more avenues through which to book. While Choice Hotels is one of the world's largest hotel chains with over 7,000 properties, we must constantly differentiate ourselves to stay ahead of the competition by providing seamless customer experiences.

With so many options for shoppers to consider, every brand needs to do more than simply keep pace with customers and competitors. Your company must be in the places and on the platforms your shoppers are headed next. Whether you’re a travel company or not, versatility matters. And the only way to stay versatile is by embracing new technologies.

That’s why the foundation of Choice Hotels’ customer experience is built at the intersection of hospitality, franchising, and tech. Our roots are in lodging, but we behave more like a technology company. And if an 80-year-old company can embrace technology to better deliver on customer needs, you can too. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you build for the future.

Find room to build better experiences from the inside out

Before you can get on the same page as your customers, it’s important to get your internal teams speaking the same language. For Choice, this meant aligning all of our processes and KPIs to focus on delivering a frictionless experience for our customers and franchisees across platforms.

Making sure our technology team has a seat at the table … makes a huge difference in the actions we're able to take.

A few years ago, we realigned our internal digital commerce and marketing teams under my purview. In doing so, we broke down organizational silos and established a shared test-and-learn mindset between our business and technology teams. Making sure our technology team has a seat at the table, not just to fulfill business requests or tickets, but as equal thought partners at the beginning of the process, makes a huge difference in the actions we’re able to take.

When all teams are working toward the same vision and with the same processes, they're freed to experiment and make informed decisions. That, in turn, shows we trust our people. If something doesn’t work, we iterate, reframe, and try again.

It was this mindset that led to the creation of ChoiceEdge, a cloud-based booking system and distribution platform we launched in 2018. The platform manages all distribution for Choice Hotels, optimizing rates, availability, shopping, and booking reservations across our websites, mobile apps, and third-party partners. We are now able to create the intuitive experience customers want and provide data-driven solutions that boost efficiencies for both our franchisees and guests.

We can offer the customer more ways to interact with us through their preferred channels.

As a result, we can offer the customer more ways to interact with us through their preferred channels, while using the most personalized and relevant approach. Launching ChoiceEdge allowed our teams to come together to design a platform built on proactive assistance through technology.

Technology is the ticket, not the destination

The technology isn’t the end game, but rather a tool that allows us to learn about and test new technologies much more quickly.

By reducing the number of clicks needed to book a room, we're giving our customers a better overall experience.

With our ChoiceEdge platform in place, we’ve been able to quickly improve our marketing opportunities on Google Hotel Ads and Book on Google. Book on Google helps us remove friction, particularly on mobile, as guests research and book hotel rooms. We’re able to connect with potential guests outside our proprietary channels. When they’re ready to book, guests have the opportunity to book on our site, or through a Google-hosted site that’s designed to minimize drop-off. By reducing the number of clicks needed to book a room, we’re giving our customers a better overall experience.

And the numbers don’t lie. The Book on Google feature increased conversion rates by 30% while decreasing cost-per-click by over 10%.

Lean into automation to deliver convenience across the journey

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: At first, our desire to keep control over prices and campaign adjustments made us hesitant to embrace marketing automation. It was only last year, after we attended Google Marketing Live, that we were convinced of the power of automation to inform the proper channels, drive conversion rates, and move our business forward.

We started by running an “all-in” automation test with one of our brands, using machine learning across search ads. From this test alone, we saw a 48% lift in ROI, a 34% increase in click-through rate, and a 30% reduction in cost per click. Tests like this proved the value of automation, which frees us up to focus on more strategic and innovative business opportunities.

In partnering with Google, Choice Hotels has leveraged data to locate the right customer segments in the right moments of their research journey, and has leaned into machine learning to remove the guesswork when setting bids. With technology and marketing working together, we were able to deliver seamless experiences at scale without wasting marketing dollars.

Technology and automation shouldn't be goals in and of themselves. Instead, they should be used to help achieve objectives that satisfy the needs of your customers — and your business. You don’t have to be a technology company to meet your customers in the right places, create seamless messaging, or offer friction-free shopping. With the right tools, every brand can build better experiences for their customers.