Personalization has become an overused expression when it comes to customer experience in our digital age. In the case of the hospitality industry – an industry built upon the principle of providing great personal service to guests, it is vital this same level of ‘personal service’ that is provided by well-trained staff, face-to-face, is replicated by a hotel’s digital persona.
The initial technological overhaul of the hospitality industry, which saw many previously manual tasks automated, resulted in hotels losing the more personalized human element of the hotel booking experience and customer service touches.
Advancing technology can now facilitate a much more unique approach online, enabling hotels to collect and analyse vast amounts of guest data in order to tailor their offering.
With the development of artificial intelligence (AI), digital technology has moved on to a level where guests’ digital interactions can be optimized specifically for them.
By tracking and analyzing customer behavior and trends across multiple hotel properties, based on geography, guest history, booking preferences, interactions on site, conversations and more, AI can develop targeted and relevant sales and marketing material aimed at specific individuals or groups and create a user booking journey tailored to individual needs or preferences.
Hotels need to make the most of these features if they are going to appeal to new customers, retain existing ones and encourage people to book directly with them, rather than always reverting back to the OTAs.
Today’s guests are used to the internet giants of Google and Facebook tracking their online behaviour daily and using this information to carefully curate what adverts, products, deals and news they are presented with. They almost expect all companies they deal with online to know them better than ever before.
To stand out from their competitors and reduce reliance on the OTAs, hotels need to appear better suited to each specific guest.
Learning from other sectors
As technology has become the key factor in ensuring customer needs drive interactions across all industries, we are seeing a growing number of people entering the hospitality arena from other sectors to share their insight and user experience expertise from these markets.
Knowledge sharing around what true digital personalization means in hospitality is vital if hotels are to develop further and take advantage of what is out there. Hoteliers are not expected to be digital technology experts but they can easily partner with those who are to get great and commercially tangible results.
Retail is one of the markets which we as a sector can learn from. Just look at how Amazon and Netflix have developed a deep understanding of their customers. Enough to make recommendations which are a direct reflection of our shopping and media consumption habits.
This is where personalization can be achieved. Applying this to the hotel market means that we look at guests first; rather than just present them with a one-size-fits-all website, we need to adapt our online presence to capture insight right from the first click.
For example, if you’re searching a hotel’s website you will be doing it for a specific purpose. It could be a weekend break as a leisure visitor, an overnight city stay on business or a golf weekend with a group. The first key step to effective personalization is to find out what the purpose of the guest visit is. That data can then be used to provide a tailored online experience which offers much more than a ‘book now’ button but presents the user with options, offers and information relevant to their purpose.
As an industry we need to really accept the current consumer behaviors that exist and the drivers behind this. All guests know that they can book directly with a hotel. But they also know they can easily go to mainstream booking sites where they are offered incentives, e.g. a tenth night free, straightforward booking, no-fee cancellation terms and easy comparisons with other similar properties.
Making direct worth it
Guests need to be given proper incentives to book with a hotel direct, whether through special deals or bonus services limited to direct bookings. But the key element is to choose the incentive that will be most effective for the individual booker. This is totally possible using the right technology which can select the most relevant offer or booking information to present to your potential guest.
Personalization must be applied throughout the sales and marketing journey from pre-booking adverts, offers and incentives, to the booking system itself and later to continued marketing output and ‘bring-back offers’ whether through emails or other channels.
If hotels are using databases to mail marketing material, they must ensure the database is carefully segmented according to key descriptors such as geography, interests – i.e. food, wellness, walking, age or family status. All these descriptors help define what deals, offers and news will be relevant for each person.
Hoteliers need to ask guests questions from the outset and collect as much relevant information as possible. This does not need to be an onerous task and a well-designed website should be able to collect this information quickly and seamlessly. The more we personalize emails and other marketing output, the more effective it will be.
Good hoteliers know that what makes guests feel really special is a truly personal service and this now applies just as much to a guest’s digital interactions with a hotel as to their face to face interactions with hotel staff.