But what makes an experience exceptional in the first place?

In the age of hyper-personalization, it’s worth taking a more fundamental look at how these experiences are composed, and what we in the hotel industry can do to help create them. We need to go beyond the bold new design scheme sprawling across the hotel lobby, creative new room styles, disruptive marketing schemes, or even the promoting of world-class chefs. We need to focus on the fact that personalized experiences are just that – hyper-personal. For some guests, it will be the aforementioned items, the glitz, and glamour of the hotel they stay in – while for others it may be as simple as being left alone, while having access to services when and where they want them.

    The focus on CRM over the last 20 years, retaining and augmenting personal information and preferences was supposed to help achieve that. However, if after over two decades, countless hours, and large sums of money, we still aren’t seeing the desired outcomes, maybe it is time to re-evaluate that strategy too. For starters, repeat guests are increasingly less common, and the loyalty-free guest has become a frequently mentioned artifact. We talk about hyper-personalization, but what we are actually doing is trying to standardize to an individual guest. Repeating the same experience every time hardly makes them memorable and I would even argue that trying to predict guests’ desires based on CRM data goes very much against what we are trying to achieve. Personalizing experience goes well beyond a guest profile, and much of it is right there at our fingertips. We should therefore start by focusing on what we already have, and what we can directly influence, and improve on, right now!

    In many cases, guests are already letting us know what is important to them. They booked a specific type of room, telling us what is critically important to them – the bed type, the view, a balcony. They may also have made additional requests for a high floor, a connecting room, or the proximity to an elevator, should one of the guests have difficulty walking. In other cases, we know little about the guest and their desires, but we do have information available to us. We know what room they booked, we know how far in advance they did so, how long they are staying with us, whether they are traveling with children, as a couple, a group, or by themselves. We know the weekdays, and the season they are at our hotel, and we may even have collected information about their stay purpose. All this information that we have on every single reservation is, more often than not, completely ignored.

    And when things don’t go as they were intended to, we limit ourselves to reacting to guest feedback. By then, it is too late to act, and the guest is not only lost but leaves a permanent mark that will influence future bookers.

    In the past, hoteliers had a personal relationship with their guests. A [good] GM would go through arrival lists daily, and make sure that the high-value guests would have a perfect stay. If things didn’t go to plan, the GM would ensure that some compensatory action was taken – perhaps a dinner on the house, or an upgrade to a suite from the second night. They would call and influence the guest into submission if needed. These times are long gone, we don’t personally know our guests anymore, but we still try to create that same experience. The problem is, we do that using the tools of the past. Tools that in today’s consumer-driven environment are just no longer up to par.

    Instead of seeing our business go elsewhere, we should and can use modern technology to not only create that same experience for those guests we know, but we can scale it to encompass virtually every guest arriving at our hotel. For this, it is necessary to have direct insight into every aspect of the operation, starting with our primary product, the rooms we sell.

    Delivering superior guest service lies in the hotelier’s ability to instantly understand when something did not entirely go the way the guest had imagined it. And where something does go wrong, empower staff to act accordingly. Someone didn’t get the exact attributes they wanted? Have your GM give them a call to express understanding for their disappointment, and see what can be done to make things whole. Don’t believe it? I invite you to scan through TripAdvisor’s best reviews and see how many of these started with a problem that was quickly addressed and corrected. Aside from the fact that a disappointment is something we should strive to avoid – when things happen, and they do, these events are also great opportunities for engagement. For this, we need to become constantly aware of what happens while the guest is at our hotel – and most importantly, what the first impression is we made on the guest.

    Gaining deep understanding of what happens to every guest at check-in, the level of fulfillment of the guests’ desires, how long their check-in took, who checked them in and when, is critical. All this important information is hidden away in your PMS where the data is organized around guest profiles and reservations. But which profiles and reservations should you be looking at? I know hoteliers who spend several hours every day working to better understand what happened the previous day, week, or month. That is good in practice, but too late to action on.

    Insights, hospitalityPulse’s operations BI tool, gives you that level of information in real-time! A guest, maybe even a VIP guest, was downgraded or didn’t receive the expected bed type – call him or her. Schmooze them into submission and win them over. The fact that they aren’t part of your loyalty program, that they weren’t categorized as VIPs, or that they even booked your hotel on a discount site, will likely lead to an even greater and lasting impression. And because we are famously in a human relationship business, it makes a personal call all the more valuable.

    There is no need to dream of, and wait for the ultimate tool that helps us understand who our guests are, and that accurately predicts what they don’t know themselves they will want. Amazon, Google, and Netflix are quite open about there being too many unknown variables that are needed to reduce the human experience into mathematical algorithms. Why we still believe that we can do better than them with much less access to information, is a mystery for another time. But we can, and must focus on what we already know, and then begin thinking in terms of the feasible today, rather than the imaginable of tomorrow. If we don’t, we will find ourselves losing more business to those that relentlessly pursue the possible, and provide guests with a superior experience on their sites and their apps.

    With hospitalityPulse’s insights BI platform, you can immediately improve your hotel’s operation. You not only enhance the guest experience – but you also hone in on additional revenue potential. And once we get the experience right, we can gain more of our guests’ loyalty, be it in the form of repeat business, the recommendations to their friends, or those to the world on social media!

    Pierre Boettner
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