Industry Experts Discuss CRM Data Dos and Don’ts at HTF 2023

Panelists from Appellation, Frontdesk, Margaritaville Enterprises and TAPS discussed both the problems and opportunities hoteliers face when collecting guest data.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor, Hotels
escobar
CRM data panelists at HTF 2023
CRM data panelists at HTF 2023

During a fantastic panel discussion, Claudia Infante, Chief Data Officer, Margaritaville Enterprises spoke with three different panelists on the subject of CRM data. While most hotels have gotten really good at collecting customer data, activating it so as to better market hotel products/experiences is a different story. During this session at the Hotel Technology Forum, Ed Skapinok, Chief Commercial Officer, Appellation, Jesse DePinto, Co-Founder and CEO, Frontdesk, Inc., and Steven Heselius, Co-Founder and Principal Consultant, TAPS discussed some of the problems and opportunities facing hoteliers today when it comes to data collection, guest engagement, upselling, privacy laws, security, and more.

Here are some key takeaways from the session:

CRM Data Should Be Easily Accessible

Skapinok: “When designing the tech stack for Appellation, we wanted to make sure our guests’ data could easily move from system to system in order for it to be actionable. So, our CRM became the hub where this guest data lives. The way we designed it allows us to have a single customer record throughout the entire guest journey.”

CRM Data is an Asset

DePinto: “Data enables our staff members to be more hospitable employees. We’re looking to empower our employees with data so that they can form great relationships with customers via excellent customer service.”

Skapinok: “We can learn a lot about our guests from their shopping (or even pre-shopping) experience. Then we can use that data to personalize their online experience with us. For example, as they navigate our website – and we learn more about their preferences – the images and offers displayed on the website change to be more aligned with what they prefer.”

CRM Data and AI

Heselius: “Hoteliers often have hundreds of customer data points, but they might only need 40 of them to create a robust guest profile. AI can help us refine those data points by pointing out which ones are the most important so that we can focus on what really matters and not get bogged down in data that isn’t relevant.”

DePinto: “We’re using OpenAI’s ChatGPT (and other generative AI tools) in a variety of interesting ways. For example, most of our customers prefer to communicate with staff via text. We’ve found that generative AI could actually create better responses to guest queries than our own staff members could. So, we allow it to draft responses to customer questions, we have staff members double check the responses to ensure it is correct, and then we allow them to send those responses. It has helped our staff to respond to guests in a way that is faster, more on brand and more relevant which in turn means we’re providing better customer service.”

Skapinok: “We’ve built AI into our CMS to help ensure that our guests get information from us at the right time and via the right channel. For example, guests who like to open our emails in the morning will get our emails delivered in the morning while guests who prefer to open our emails at night will have them delivered in the evening. Additionally, we’re interested in predicting the potential lifetime value of a customer so that we better know how to market and interact with them. We wouldn’t share the same marketing offers with someone that booked a $200k wedding with us, dines monthly, and stays on property a couple times a year as we would to someone who has only stayed with us once in the last three years.”

CRM Data and Cybersecurity

Heselius: “When we’re vetting vendors, we always qualify them via a privacy and security assessment. It’s frustrating because there are some really good solutions out there, but they collect so much PII and then say they won’t be held liable for data leaks. You can’t throw a solution out there and not have a plan to keep the data you’re collecting safe. That’s just a disservice to the industry.”

Infante: “When a guest is willing to give us data, they’re trusting us with their information. As a brand, we’re responsible for how that data is used and who is able to access and use it. Not every staff member needs access to every data piece. Instead, we need to establish policies at a high level that strictly regulate which staff members can access which guest data points. This is a basic step in data security.”

Hidden Sources of Data

Heselius: “WiFi is a wonderful way to instantly learn more about your customers. When they log on to the WiFi, ask for their name, their email address, etc. They’ll happily give it to you for internet access. When we first started testing this, I received five thousand email addresses in 60 minutes. In fact, we had to turn the system off because we received so much data so quickly that I didn’t have anywhere to store it.”

Data Should Inform How You Interact with Guests

Infante: “We have a wide variety of guests that visit our Margaritaville properties. And they all want to interact with us differently. Some of our guest demographics are more likely to want to talk to the front desk agent. So, we empower our front-of-house staff to chat with those who want to chat. But we also look for the option for guests to use mobile check-in/out for those that need or want a faster experience. Either way, we believe that you have to let the guest choose their experience.”

These were just a few of the many insights shared by our panelists at HTF 2023. To hear the session in full, check out the video below!

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