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July 07, 2017
HSMAI
Dan Phillips

©2017 Hospitality Upgrade
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Personalization is one of the hottest trends not only in hospitality but in most every industry on the planet. But, how does a hotel or hotel brand incorporate personalization strategies?

We are all working very hard at it. We gather Big Data from PMS, loyalty, CRM, geo-tracking systems and more. And, that data gets put into silos where it is scrubbed, scanned and analyzed–all to create demographic personas that we then think we can better address. But to what end? Have we really stepped up on delivering personalized service?
 
Personalization is not forcing the guest to interact with the technology and formatted service plans hotels have but instead it is giving the guest the ability to use their own devices to receive relevant and timely content that they can intuitively digest to create their own experiences within the realm of that hotel’s, or brand’s, reach. When a personalization strategy starts with the notion that “the guest will have to” that plan will most likely fail. True service is a partnering, not unlike a marriage. If a couple thinks that they need to work together 50/50 to make the relationship work, they most likely will end in divorce. True partnering is both sides going 100/100 to meet the needs of each other at whatever point their partner is at. That is how our industry needs to think about personalization; if we can take on the full responsibility of meeting our guests wherever they are, going 100 percent, and we do it well, they in turn will give us 100 percent of their trust and loyalty.
 
A great deal of effort goes into personalization and its deployment. Some of these steps include: promotion and segmentation of the brand, social media, loyalty programs, geo-tracking and localization, the check-in experience, messaging and notification, in-room services and preferences, sharing economy and local partnerships, post-stay touch points, and the collection of data, data, data. That’s a lot of places that we as an industry need to extend ourselves to meet our guests in their points of need throughout their journey. And, the underlying reason for this boils down to emotion.
 
To experience something involves emotions and perceptions which are different for each person. What is great for one person may be terrible for another. One goal of personalization strategies should be to connect with guests emotionally. Emotions are the motivation that formats the decisions one makes. Guests want to be emotionally stimulated throughout their journey and in so doing will connect more intensely and will identify better with the brand triggering those emotions.
 
We must understand the importance of emotions. We must recognize that our guests’ journeys with us span weeks, even if they just spend one night in our hotel. And, during that length of engagement, guests' emotions will ebb and flow, and we have opportunities to influence that current. Think of the in-store experience you have at an Apple Store or at a Chick-fil-A restaurant. In both places people buy from the same exact menus, getting the exact same (quality) products as every other customer, but when you leave you feel as though that experience and the stuff in the bag in your hand was made just for you. Somehow their service to the consumer supersedes the product and creates an emotional connection.
 
The better a hotel or a hotel brand can stimulate positive emotions the more powerful it becomes. With power comes responsibility. Service needs to be authentic, meaning it feels as if it is just for each person, and it needs to be consistently of high quality. The higher the bar is set, the further we can fall, or fail. All of this must be done with reasonable care of guests’ privacy and also feel non-manipulative.
 
The collection of Big Data is important. Technology is used in many ways to capture that data and then analyze it. Often, that data, in the pursuit of personalization is used to segment a large population into smaller groups based on specific demographic information or personas which can still contain millions of identities. Unfortunately, for many, that is the extent of personalization, creating a “specialized” offer that tries to entice millions and appear to be addressed individually. The lack of authenticity sticks out and those campaigns do more harm than good to the brand’s image. I prefer to think of Small Data, a holistic but individual approach.
 
At one time our industry thought that guests wanted the same, or better, technology and room amenities than they had at home or in their office. This is no longer the case as our guests carry more technology with them than any hotel can provide. Today, they want to be emotionally charged, to be surprised and amazed on all levels of service during their journey – from the softness of the bath towel to the concert tickets they found through a notification from the virtual concierge.
 
Dan Phillips is a regular contributor to Hospitality Upgrade and a partner with Dare To Imagine. He can be reached at Dphillips@dare2i.com.

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