Delivering a tailored personalised experience

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on January 20, 2018

As you like it Serve a guest who likes tea that hot cuppa JOHNNY LYE/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Personalisation has been the buzzword for a while now. The tech is there — especially in the travel trade. But how ready is the hospitality industry?

Why do business travellers often zero in on the same hotel they stayed last time, and choose the same airline over and over again? It’s because the fear of the unknown can lead to stress.

“Predictable data points can make travel less stressful. It’s a known route. The service is familiar. You know where things are. They are locked in your head,” says Devin Sung, VP, Personalisation, for Marriott Hotels.

The very fact that Marriott has a vice president for ‘personalisation’ speaks volumes about the importance that the travel and hospitality industry accords to tailoring experiences.

At the Adobe Summit, a whole session was focused on digitally-driven personalised experiences. Of course, personalisation has been the talking point for some years now, but conversation at the digital marketing conference also revolves around delivering convenience and governance transformation.

Without an organisational rejig, a personalisation programme is simply not possible.

According to Sung, Marriott’s entire personalisation effort hinges around “collecting the personal data points of guests and making more unknowns known.”

What does your customer like?

And this has to start with the planning and booking that’s part of a typical travel journey. “Why do we need customers to push a button to reach us? E-commerce has personalised so much that the online customer does not need to go shopping, but the shopping goes to them,” points out Sung. Most travel companies today have the digital capability to figure out that a particular customer goes every summer to a fixed destination, and can jump in and start throwing offers a few months before.

But personalisation extends to more than that. It extends to anticipating customer needs and wants and delivering them. Hence the race to mine the traveller’s data graph in real time. With data you can anticipate what customers want before even they do! Melissa Lemberg, global partner, IBM Interactive Experience, describes how IBM’s Watson understands different types of data and has the ability to draw a personality trait of a customer. The IBM Watson, coupled with the Adobe Experience Manager, allows hotels to do extreme personalisation. How it works is that by trawling through the social feeds (twitter, instagram, facebook and so on) of a customer who is booked to stay, Watson generates a social graph that gives clues to likes and dislikes, taste in books, food and attitudes. So a proactive hotel could add shows and movies she likes to the TV in her room and delight her.

There are plenty of such tools available with the industry. And yet, as Henry Harteveldt, Principal, Atmosphere Research, points out, most companies still fall flat when it comes to delivering a uniquely personalised experience.

Delivering on the data

A personalisation programme needs a proper foundation. It’s not enough to just gather the insights. And the whole organisation has to be trained to deliver it as well. “You have to focus on the entire enterprise architecture,” says Barry Goldstein, chief digital and distribution officer of Wyndham. Otherwise you will end up with fragmented customer experiences. “All the data coming in has to be in one window so that it is actionable,” says Lemberg. Indeed, there is a long way to go between theory and execution. For instance, this writer, whose Twitter bio highlights her addiction for tea, was far from delighted to find no tea bags in her hotel room. A simple social search — no need for Watson! — would have enabled the hotel to personalise the stay and make her loyal to the chain.

The writer was in Las Vegas at the invitation of Adobe

Published on March 31, 2016

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