Personalizing the Hotel Reservation Process

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July 07, 2017
Reservations
John Burns - john@burns-htc.org

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Personalization is hard. Nonetheless, in the hotel industry we are determined to personalize our dialogue with our guests and prospective guests. Our goal is to move from, “Have you stayed with us before?” to “Welcome back, Ms. Green.” 

Achieving this level of familiarity by tapping all the accumulated data, displaying the right pieces of that data on our website, the call center reservation sales agent, the front desk clerk or the lounge waitperson, requires numerous, complicated behind-the-scenes activities. Similarly, moving from a “show everyone the same thing” approach on our website (and particularly on the booking engine in our website), requires information access and automated decision-making which is still in development.
 
So Many Moving Parts
 
Much of the needed personalization “raw material” is in our property management systems, central reservation systems, guest profiles, social media databases, (including reviews), revenue management systems and loyalty program databases. In some cases, we also have demographic data such as age, marital status, income and much more. 
 
We have a remarkable amount of information on many of the people who will contact us for new reservations. But when one of those individuals about whom we know so much contacts us, by calling or visiting our website, we struggle. 
 
At the call center, our reservation agents will likely see a caller profile only if the individual has entered their loyalty program number (or, in a few cases, has called from the phone number listed in their profile). If they use the brand website, they may sign in, after that they will receive a “Hello, Ms. Green,” and access to some aspects of her profile or they may receive limited recognition based on cookies assigned during previous visits. As the shopping process progresses though, Ms. Green will be shown the same rates and offers as everyone else who requests that hotel on those dates.
 
 Our IT colleagues are working to connect these databases and enable multi-point data extraction and synthesis, and our programmers and data scientists are developing the artificial intelligence engines that will allow us to evaluate new shopping queries and propose a “thoughtful” guest- and situation-appropriate set of rates and offers. Until that is done, we ask ourselves, “What more can we do today to personalize our dialogue with hotel shoppers?”
 
For voice reservations,
 
1. Ensure that when they begin a call, on-property and call center reservation sales agents search for guest profiles in the PMS, (and where possible, in the CRS) so that they can speak with the caller fully informed about the caller’s relationship with the hotel and brand. Finding the profile will assure that the new booking is recorded in the existing profile rather than creating a new one.
 
2. Ensure that the system utilities for automatic de-duplicating and consolidating of PMS and CRS guest profiles run on a regular basis. This will simplify (and speed up) the reservation agents’ profile search since there will be fewer records to review as they seek the correct one for the caller.
 
For hotel website reservations,
 
3. Identify and use whatever facilities are available in the website’s design structure and in the booking engine to modify photos, rates and offers displayed to the shopper based on the information that shopper is entering on the site.
When shoppers enter information about lodging needs, they are giving us valuable data that can help us personalize the on-screen presentation (and our call center conversations as well).  
 
They are telling us when they will arrive (weekday, weekend or at a holiday such as Christmas, and we can then surmise the visit purpose – business, leisure or bliesure), visit duration (one night or several – which can mean a very different agenda and more opportunities to sell the hotel’s services), number of occupants (one, two or multiple – a family), and number of rooms, and even the youthfulness and tone of voice used if it is a call.  
 
If we have developed personas of the various traveler types who visit our hotel, we should apply the appropriate rate/promotion/offer strategies to prospective guests who fit those personas. Example personas are the business traveler, the romantic couple, the adventurous couple, the young family, etc. In other words, we should adjust photos, promotions, rates and offers made on the website and in our telephone dialogue, to customize the information presented to deliver a personalized range of images, activity descriptions and offers.
 
Automated personalization (which sounds like a bit of a contradiction) is still some ways away. Until then, the opportunity and responsibility is ours, to apply readily implementable techniques that enable us to communicate in a more personalized manner with our guests and prospective guests.

John Burns is president of Hospitality Technology Consulting and he can be reached at john@burns-htc.com.

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