WisBusiness: GuestBridge aids hospitality industry

By Peggy Sue Dierickx

MILWAUKEE – For GuestBridge Inc., the key to developing customer relationships is building bridges.

The Milwaukee-based company provides a software and database service for hotels, restaurants and night clubs that allows them to track the frequency of guests while storing basic data on the customer.

“Our real concept is to bring customer relationship management to the hospitality industry. That is critical to who we are and what we do,” GuestBridge owner Lewis Schrock said. “We provide tools that can function as a bridge between the hospitality industry and guests.”

GuestBridge Inc. got its start as ReservationSource.com in 1999. In its beginning, it provided a portal for diners to make on-line restaurant reservations. Schrock was an employee of the start-up company in Houston, Texas, and he bought the company in 2001 and renamed it because he saw a greater future for the reservation tool.

“The idea was to bring permission-based marketing to the hospitality industry, specifically reservation preferred restaurants,” Schrock said. The system today is based on the premise that the customer provides basic information when making their dining plans and receives their reservations and specialized treatment in return.

For example, when customers call to make reservations for a restaurant, the program may store their name, phone number and e-mail address. Now that they are part of the system, the GuestBridge system has details such as how often they visit, their preferred seating, how much money they spend and other specifics.

This is where GuestBridge software becomes “a tool that helps servers identify customers appropriately,” according to Schrock. When the guest makes another reservation, his or her personal history at that location comes up on the computer screen. Wait staff can then personalize service by reserving that customer’s usual seat or bringing out a favorite wine.

“Our goal is to give our clients a method of politely interacting with and tracking guests,” Schrock said. He added that the service builds rapport with guests by making them feel special, and, in turn, drives repeat business. “You can identify your best customers, new guests and repeat customers,” he said.

Schrock pointed out that GuestBridge does not track information that is too private. “It’s not meant to be creepy, it’s meant to be personal.” In that respect, a customer who provides his or her e-mail address may receive a message from the restaurant confirming reservations or inviting them to an upcoming event.

This type of e-mail internet marketing has already proven itself useful among GuestBridge users. Schrock mentioned said a restaurant owner who formerly had few customers on weeknights used GuestBridge e-mail tools to successfully drive business to the restaurant’s jazz nights during the mid-week.

Other clients find that GuestBridge facilitates expansion as their businesses open up in new locations. “In a growing business,” Schrock said, “managers can feel like they are always present – even when they can’t physically be there.”

For someone who understands and meets the needs of the hospitality world, it may come as a surprise that Schrock had no prior background in the hospitality industry. He and the original founders came from a variety of technology-based careers.

Schrock did marketing for the Compaq Computer Corporation which is now part of Hewlett-Packard before working with a number of software start-ups and then funding GuestBridge. He credited that experience with helping him to “understand customers’ needs and delivering products that meet those needs.”

Schrock’s assessment of his clients’ demands has paid off in substantial growth of GuestBridge over the past few years, and he anticipates further success.

“We are looking into growing in a couple different areas based on customer needs and opportunities. We hope to add tools in the hospitality space like for spas or golf courses connected with hotels,” Schrock forecasted. “If we provide a tool that meets these needs, then we have a growth path.”

Dierickx is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.