As discussed in the first article in this series, in order to survive and thrive in today’s extremely competitive hospitality environment, hotels need to continue to distinguish themselves from the competition by improving the guest experience.  Those companies that can take all of the Big Data about their guests and their operations, and turn it into a personalized experience that provides value both for the guest and the hotel will be the ones that win. 

Recent innovations in technology are making it possible for hospitality companies to move beyond the limitations of traditional Web analytics (i.e., aggregated data and enablement of historical performance analysis as opposed to predictive modeling).  Marketing departments can integrate digital data with offline guest profiles, and use that complete picture of the guest in predictive modeling to support personalized content delivery, offers and recommendations. 

Integrated data for digital intelligence – How does it work?

New technology for collecting and analyzing digital interactions is becoming available that will help move the industry beyond traditional Web analytics to a more detailed and flexible view of the consumer.  Here is a review of what you should be looking out for in the technology sphere as you start down the path to personalization:
  • Single line data collection insert: records all online behavior down to the millisecond against the session, visitor, and most importantly, the guest, while reducing tag management challenges. In addition, the data is liberated to be used in any downstream application.  
  • Data normalization: is the process of converting raw event data into usable data with business context.  This can be extremely challenging to accomplish because of the variety and complexity of digital data.  Business rules are typically identified to capture the different permutations of paths to the same goal, resulting in digital data organized into business events that have meaning for your operation.  A good digital intelligence solution will facilitate the creation and management of these rules in an operationalized manner.
  • Proprietary data management: the biggest advantage of a digital intelligence platform over traditional Web analytics, is that you collect your own data, so you are not dependent on the third-party provider sharing (or not) what they collect.  This means you have access to all of your data, you have the flexibility to configure your data model to suite your specific needs, and you can facilitate analysts’ access to the data so they can spend more time analyzing and less time manipulating data.    
  • Tying digital data to the consumer: traditional Web analytics aggregate data for business intelligence around the performance of the website.  Digital intelligence solutions should capture this information for individual consumers, at a level of detail and in a format that is appropriate for data mining, predictive analytics, forecasting and optimization. The interest here is in guest experiences, not just aggregated clicks.
The final crucial component in a digital platform is intelligent visualization.   Your analysts should be able to access digital data through a highly flexible visual analytics platform, where they can not only see the trends and patterns, but apply analytics like forecasting or segmentation-centric decision trees, to visually predict opportunities (or threats).  These visualizations will also help to facilitate conversations between analysts and business owners – making it easier for analysts to effectively communicate results.   

Getting started

Personalization in a service context, especially hospitality, is nothing really new.   Experienced staff give this level of service to regular guests all the time.  The difference is executing that same level of service on a mass scale, and across all interaction points, particularly in the digital environment.  Keep this in mind as you design your programs.  Your personalization process should replicate the good service instincts of your best staff – that keeps the personal and relevant touch without crossing the line to creepy. 

There are many steps you can take now, even if you have yet to implement any technology to support the initiative.  Consider any of the following: 
  1. Evaluate technology offerings and vendor partners.  This step can (and perhaps should) be time consuming, but you need to make sure that you are making the right choices here such that you can execute your personalization vision, and still leave flexibility to continue to grow, innovate and evolve. 
  2. Understand how your website is performing.  Identify whether and where it appears in natural search.  Figure out how to continue to add relevant and targeted content.  Check for opportunities to improve navigation or access to information.  Start to plan what the path through the website will be when you are able to surface personalized content. 
  3. Evaluate the cross-channel experience.  Compare your website, Facebook page, mobile sites and any other digital channels, and ensure the experience is consistent – in look and feel, guest navigation path, available information etc. (obviously within the limits of the channel).  
  4. Evaluate the booking process.  Take a close and critical look at the booking process.  Is it easy to find the book now button?  How many steps does it take to get to the booking screen?  Do you have filters that help restrict the number of choices that are displayed on the booking screen?  The easier it is to do business with you, the more likely your guests will book, and will continue to use your channel instead of a third party.  (And be sure to hold your booking engine provider accountable for this also!) 
  5. Rethink your loyalty program.  Think about how the data you collect through your loyalty program, and the rewards you provide in return for that information, support a personalization initiative.  There might be more data you should collect in the sign-up process, and better ways to align the rewards with the guests’ profile and preferences, reinforcing the value to the guests while growing their value to your organization. 
  6. Design the personalized on-property service delivery process.  Carefully think through how you want the analytic recommendations delivered to the front line, and how you’d like them to react to the information (remember that fine line between engaging and creepy!).  Make sure you are not adding too much time or overhead to the process.  It is never too early to start with change management, since the success of your program will depend on effective execution at the front line! 

In order to survive and thrive in 2014 and beyond the hospitality industry needs to maintain a laser focus on the guest experience.  Changing demographics, and the hyper-connected world in which we now operate are creating both opportunities and challenges for hospitality organizations.  Data and analytics-driven personalization is the future for hospitality, enabling hotels to remain relevant and engaging by turning all the volumes of data about customers into an excellent guest experience – that will keep them coming back.