REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Hoteliers are increasingly using technology to personalize services, and sources said the practice is opening new doors to directly connect with guests.
Greg Horeth, COO of management company Spire Hospitality, said many brands have platforms within their property management systems that deal directly with customer preferences, amenity requests and so forth, which he said is “very effective.”
“On the brand side, when the customer makes the reservations via phone or online, it goes into (his or her) customer profile,” he said. “The majority of them have frequent traveler or loyalty profiles, and profiles are built with requests included, much like what you see with car rental agencies or travel agencies.”
Horeth said front-desk agents also can update a customer’s profile with real-time requests during check-in. For instance, if a guest wants a feather pillow in the room, hotel employees can update that in their profile to make sure a feather pillow waits at every subsequent check-in.
Jon Wardman, VP of CRM for Hilton Worldwide Holdings, said profiling guests for personalization doesn’t happen only on-property. It’s used at every touch point possible, whether digital or analog, to build direct relationships with customers.
“We want to make any interaction with the customer relevant, consistent and timely,” he said. “Specifically in CRM, to help achieve that, we think a key ingredient to delivering these exceptional experiences is through personalization.”
In the digital space, Hilton uses modeling tools to help calculate a propensity score for individual travelers. That is, what is the traveler’s propensity to travel to a certain destination or to book a certain package deal or exploit a type of experience, such as a golf or spa experience.
“If we’re sending marketing communication, then we’re going to do the utmost to make it relevant to you,” Wardman said.
Hilton then uses that same model and propensity scoring when a guest contacts the call center or interacts with brand.com. Certain parts of the website will be personalized to the visitor based on those propensity scores.
“We also use optimization tools to match the right offers to the right customers because we have hundreds of offers and millions of customers,” Wardman said. “So using those propensity scores against the customers and attributes against the offers, we have optimization tools that calculate which ones we should show to you.”
Additionally, Hilton uses an omnichannel engine that “listens” to each customer touch point and then reacts to the behavior on the channel, he said. For example, if Hilton sends a marketing email and a guest opens it and clicks on a certain package and then visits the website, Hilton can make the site reference the package that was previously clicked on by that customer.
Mobile technology is then used on-property to help create personalized experiences by matching geo-location information with guest preferences to serve up relevant offers.
Wardman said that while the brand tries to use the tools to personalize experiences for non-loyalty members, most of the profiling is tied to Hilton HHonors members.
Putting it into action
Spire’s Horeth said the brands own the data, and when a reservation is made, the individual property is able to call up the profile.
Wardman said individual properties won’t see all the back-end analysis Hilton has done. Instead, the output of Hilton’s analysis is resurfaced.
Horeth said that Spire is beta testing supplemental technology to further help personalize the guest experience at its hotels. The digital technology platform allows the hotel employees to connect with guests on a personal level “without them having to talk to a person,” he said.
When a customer checks into a hotel, the front-desk associate asks if the guest would like to provide a phone number. That number is then added to the platform’s database and then can be used for real-time communication opportunities. For example, after check-in, a welcome text is sent to the guest’s mobile phone, encouraging the customer to text with any requests.
“Next thing you know, we’re getting a roomservice order from them,” Horeth said. “I can tell you that the ability to have this real-time text interaction has become more powerful. By using this medium, they can have a complete dialog conversation that we may have previously never known about.”
The legal side
But with data security a major concern in the industry, are there any legal issues hoteliers need to keep in mind when storing and using this information?
Sandy B. Garfinkel, chairman of the Data Security & Privacy Group for law firm Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, said it’s important to realize that not all data is created equal in terms of legal obligation.
“Things that you disclose about yourself voluntarily, or … in a context that you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy, are open to other people gathering that information and using it within reason in ways to market to you,” he said.
That means guest information that hoteliers store and use, such as if a customer likes a bottle of water in his room at check-in, wouldn’t be as protected as social-security numbers and payment information, for example.
Laws vary from state to state, Garfinkel said. If a hotel lost consumer-behavior information used in marketing, it wouldn’t necessarily be a legal issue akin to a personal-information breach. For example, there wouldn’t be a legal obligation to send letters to the affected population if consumer-preference data were breached.
“It’s not everything about a guest that’s going to be of concern,” he said. “The things that are obviously protected are what we call personally identifying information. Those are things that might be used actually to steal your identity if they’re mishandled.”
Privacy concerns or not, Garfinkel said this type of profiling is the wave of the future.
“It’s becoming pervasive,” he said. “Consumers are desensitized to it, or they don’t care or understand what’s going on. …
“This is a reality that’s going to continue, and the laws will start to mold around it as opposed to us knowing right now exactly what the up and down sides are legally in using and protecting this information.”