Over the past few years, personalisation has emerged as one of the most dominant and prolonged trends in marketing, favoured by both big brands and small brands alike.
In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a marketing team that doesn’t employ some kind of data-led personalisation. One of the reasons personalisation tactics have become so commonplace is because they provide impressive ROI and enable brands to tailor their service or offering to their customers, driving loyalty and increased spend.
But while personalisation is the bread and butter of every online marketer and retailer, the hospitality industry has been slower to adopt this valuable practice – and operators are losing out on the bottom-line benefits personalisation can bring about. To stand out from the crowd, hospitality venues need to learn from marketers and embrace personalisation across all areas of their business.
Perfecting guest experiences
The entire online experience is now personalised for each individual user.
Whenever someone logs onto a website they’ve visited before, marketing algorithms kick into action and begin leveraging an array of data points – such as purchase and browser history, psychographics, and social activity – to tailor every element of the page to their particular likes and dislikes.
Yet despite the fact that many of these same opportunities to personalise service and improve Customer Experience exist for hospitality operators, few have deployed the technology necessary to enable personalisation at scale.
One of the big barriers to entry for restaurants is the issue of data capture and storage. Currently, many operators rely on seasoned service staff using antiquated systems to capture notes and store guest data – which merely function as digital notebooks.
But these low-tech solutions are no longer viable for a business in 2020. What if staff turnover or simple human error lead to a valued, long-term customer not receiving the highly personalised experience they are accustomed to?
In this instance, hospitality operators need to begin leveraging the same personalisation tactics that are used online for offline, in-service experiences. For instance, online marketers typically use a platform that helps them capture, store, and leverage user data.
Likewise, data-driven operations, marketing and guest engagement hospitality platforms such as SevenRooms empower service staff to log, database, and then use guest data to personalise diners’ experiences on the fly.
Much like online marketers tailoring every element of a website to individual users, restaurants that use hospitality platforms with a strong focus on helping capture and activate guest data can ensure guests are always greeted by their first name, showed to their preferred table, and offered their favourite drinks – regardless of who waits on them.
By perfecting guest experiences in this way, restaurants can deliver the sort of memorable service that drives repeat business. And, given that regulars can account for up to 40 percent of a restaurants’ total revenue, leveraging personalisation tactics to boost guest loyalty should be a top concern for every hospitality venue.
Personalising menu recommendations
With this in mind, the need for restaurants to offer as personalised an experience as possible is clear. One area of the restaurant experience in particular that hospitality operators should look to personalise is their menus and menu recommendations.
For diners, especially those with special dietary requirements or preferences such as allergies and vegetarianism, there’s nothing more frustrating than having to wade through pages of irrelevant menu choices to find a dish to order. But just as online retailers already leverage customer data to only display products that consumers will be interested in, hospitality venues, too, can make use of guest data to tailor menu recommendations to particular diners.
For example, when a returning guest arrives at the restaurant to eat, service staff can refer to their guest profile on their hospitality platform and check for any dietary requirements. If the guest is marked down as being vegetarian, staff can provide them with their vegetarian menu or point out vegetarian options on the standard menu.
Improving service standards by tailoring menu recommendations like this can help hospitality operators improve their guests’ overall dining experience.
Opportunities for menu personalisation extend beyond the in-service experience and into post-service email marketing, too. By tracking a guest’s order history, operators can gain an understanding of the types of dishes guests enjoy eating – and those they’re likely interested in hearing more about.
For instance, every time a guest visits the restaurant, they always order a pasta dish. If this restaurant then introduces a new pasta dish to their menu, operators can leverage the order history data and deliver a marketing email that invites these guests to try the new dish. This personalisation tactic can not only directly drive sales, but also demonstrate the kind of personalised understanding of guests that will boost customer loyalty.
Tailoring offers for special events
How many times in the week leading up to a special occasion, like a birthday, have you received an email from a brand inviting you to enjoy 10 percent off your next purchase?
Probably every year. How many times have you actually used this offer? Probably very few.
Now, how many times have you celebrated a special occasion with a meal out? Again, probably every year. But despite special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries presenting hospitality venues with a unique opportunity to boost revenue and build brand loyalty, operators have been slower to adopt the personalisation-led tactics used by marketers that are needed to make the most out of these opportunities.
Rather than waiting for guests to come to them on special occasions, operators should make use of guest data to invite them to their venues in the weeks prior to big events. For example, say a guest has an anniversary coming up in a couple of weeks.
Restaurants can leverage this information by emailing them about an offer for a complimentary bottle of champagne upon arrival as an incentive for them to book. In this way, hospitality operators can learn from marketers and embrace personalisation-led tactics to drive repeat business.
Whilst online marketers have long used personalisation to improve consumer experiences, build customer loyalty, and ultimately boost profits, hospitality venues have been comparatively slower at tailoring their offerings to individual diners.
But despite industry reticence, there are many untapped opportunities for hospitality venues willing to invest in operations platforms and begin leveraging guest data to personalise and perfect guests’ experiences.
Hotels are being forced to face up to changing customer tastes that could spell the end for room service food.
Industry thought-leader, EP Business in Hospitality, recently hosted a topical business forum featuring world-class hoteliers, alongside guest experience management firm HGEM.
The event focussed on the idea that the delivered-in food model could actually replace hotel room service in the near future. This follows a growing trend of millennial guests snubbing hotel food and wanting to order in their favourite takeaway brands and have them delivered direct to their room.
In a lively debate that raised a number of thought-provoking questions, leaders from the hotel industry listened to new research from HEGM’s latest consumer survey, which revealed that two thirds (66 percent) of hotel guests had used a delivery service to order food to their room.
In fact, 71 percent of guests aged between 26 and 35 years say they order-in food while staying in a hotel. This is due to a combination of personal preferences, quality, and cost, with 48 percent of consumers saying they find hotel food unappealing and 35 percent arguing that hotel food is too expensive.
The debate, which led to a heated discussion on whether hotels should embrace the offer of collaborating with external food delivery brands or risk causing embarrassment to their customer, was led by Alberto Lo Bue, Head of Business for Deliveroo, and Paul Fitzgerald, Director for Bespoke Hotels.
Suggested ways forward presented at the debate included delivery brands creating their own kitchen spaces in hotels; the provision of spaces to eat delivered food; and partnering with delivery firms to cater to guests.
Chris Sheppardson, CEO at EP Business in Hospitality, said: “This is a fascinating topic and one that has left many wondering if hotels will adjust and raise the bar of what is offered to their customers while looking at new ways to increase their profit lines. The general consensus was that this is a fast-paced evolution that is becoming an accepted norm today. It’s a growing trend that won’t go away, in fact one of the attendees recounted how they will often ‘order in’ food in a five-star London hotel and walk downstairs in their pyjamas to collect the food, almost to make a point to the hotel of the need to diversify their services or lose their future custom.”
He continued: “This debate does however lead into a wider question as to ‘what does the customer really want?’. What will be the next stage in the evolution of what constitutes the service provided to a guest?
“It wasn’t long ago that hotels charged for wifi and other in-room services that have all been eroded – phone calls, film streaming, room service etc. One thing is clear, hotels will need to look at how they can provide new services if they are to engage and retain their guests in the future.”
Employers are risking alienating millennials by treating them as if they are a different ‘culture’, a hospitality industry forum has heard.
Hosted by industry thought-leader, EP Business in Hospitality, in partnership with online learning specialist Upskill People, the event in London highlighted that continually referring to millennials as though they are a different ‘culture’ or ‘nationality’ is both patronising and short-sighted and puts businesses that do not place compassion and people at the top of their agenda at risk of alienating future talent altogether.
In an industry clearly changing at speed, core messages emerging from the session included the need for a modernised learning culture that seeks to understand all perspectives while embracing shared knowledge across all genders, ages, and job titles.
CEO at EP, Chris Sheppardson, explained: “It’s becoming more apparent that the younger generations do have a different perspective and agenda on work and life. They are less focused on getting onto the housing ladder and being saddled with a lifetime mortgage, and are instead living more ‘in the moment’ with a genuine interest in environment and society – arguably to a higher degree that many business leaders. As businesses we must build a stronger connection with our people and change our approach to developing talent.”
The debate also reinforced the harsh reality that talent today doesn’t remain with one employer long-term and will move around more regularly, suggesting that employers need to embrace and even support this concept in the future. Leaders also agreed that to develop talent successfully today, there is a greater need for stronger coaching-led approaches.
Chris added: “Empowerment has almost become an old-fashioned concept and re-engagement is needed here. Too many companies try to control and limit any risk. Too many decisions on people are based on spread sheets and figures. Talent looks to embrace culture, compassion for people and communities in work. People are still the greatest asset of a business and young people today expect companies to play a meaningful role in society as well as in business.”
The demand from hotel guests to be able to order in takeaway food from outside sources could eat into the profits of hotels who fail to listen to customers, it has been warned.
Industry thought-leader, EP Business in Hospitality, along with guest experience management firm HGEM, has jointly hosted a thought-provoking business forum made up of world class hoteliers, to question how external food delivery services such as Deliveroo and Just Eat are impacting hotels and food service today.
The debate was triggered by new consumer research conducted by HGEM, which revealed that 67 percent of millennials are more likely to make room reservations with hotels that are prepared to accept third party food deliveries ‘in-room’.
In addition, although a further 80 percent of consumers expect hotels to have an on-site restaurant only 72 percent will use it, and only for breakfast. Even though many hotels offer a room service menu, which also spans ‘out of hours’ a resounding 81 percent of hotel guests say they would never use room service. Yet the appearance of external pizza delivery drivers turning up at luxury hotels to deliver food ordered by guests directly from their rooms is becoming far more commonplace today. In fact, external in-room deliveries are predicted to rise by 83 percent in the future.
Many are questioning if there is a business opportunity for hotels to allow delivered-in services from external providers or if it is simply case of if you can’t beat them, join them? The debate is forcing many operators to re-evaluate their guest service options to decide whether the ‘delivered-in’ model should become a natural extension to those services already on offer, or perhaps a natural extension to a more luxurious service.
Chris Sheppardson, CEO at EP Business in Hospitality, said” “It’s a fascinating topic for our industry, interestingly the initial thinking was that hoteliers would be resistant to third-party food services delivering food to their guests, but that wasn’t the case. Many believe it is now a guest expectation to be able to have food delivered in from outside providers and that refusal could alienate future generations of customers. Boutique hotels in particular, believe that this can actually work to their advantage in terms of add-on sales for beverages to accompany the deliveries and also building relationships with local restaurants, which can be effective and authentic.”
Anyone who has booked a flight recently will have likely noticed the level of personalisation creeping into their travel experience.
Even before you’ve settled on timing or your destination, airlines are tapping into yourintent, with some shrewd speculative interventions.
For example, if you have ‘liked’ a resort on Instagram or Facebook, you may find yourself targeted by an app that provides all the options for getting there, followed by itinerary recommendations via TripAdvisor. It seems all the main players in the travel ecosystem suddenly ‘get’ you and are able to anticipate your plans and preferences.
Advanced analytics that can glean deeper actionable insights from customer data are fuelling this transformation, compounded by greater industry-wide collaboration, and improved sharing of this intelligence. The result is more relevant products and services which have raised the bar of personalisation, along with the expectation that the personal touch shouldn’t stop when we book our travel plans.
If we stay in the realm of travel, we can see how this extends to the hotel sector. For an industry outside of the high-end luxury segment that has taken a one-size-fits-all mentality, it poses an interesting challenge.
This shift is set to disrupt some of the familiar routines that have long been part and parcel of the hotel experience. Think of the multiple adjustments that we make to a room on arrival almost on autopilot – the swift rejection of the wrong pillows and hair products that don’t fit our unique preferences, the trial and error that goes into resetting temperature, often with limited success.
It’s a routine on the cusp of being rendered entirely redundant if data collected prior to arrival based on previous stays can inform the housekeeping team of a preference for non-allergenic bedding or a particular branded hair product.
Behind the scenes, data platforms are doing the heavy lifting, with advanced analytic algorithms that combine customers’ historical engagement data, purchase history, digital behaviours, and environmental data. Predictive analytics then inform the kind of contextually-rich engagements that add value, ramp up the convenience and comfort factor, and provide a meaningful connection that can differentiate an experience in a saturated market.
And it needs to; customer expectations have changed irreparably!
Digitally-empowered and more discerning, consumers no longer fall into the crude categories based on gender, age, or marital status that were once used to determine rudimentary personalisation. In short, they know what they like and what they don’t; who they are and who they’re not. Today’s consumers expect to be treated as individuals rather than a segment, and with intelligence, relevance and empathy.
Yet there is still a fine balance to negotiate to ensure that such intervention remains engaging rather than intrusive and creepy – a trend often rooted in data overload and a heavy-handed approach to its personalisation.
Without question, we’re in a world of big data, where gathering ever-rising volumes and the ‘more-the-merrier’ ethos, can be the default approach to throw at any issue, sometimes at the expense of consumer consent, internal ability to act on the data, and ethical practice to how the data is applied.
Manyorganisations are struggling to manage the data they hold. Common challenges include navigating through too much data, managing the complexity of data, determining which data are appropriate for decision making, and upholding the security of data in an increasingly dangerous world of identity theft and fraud.
Nowhere is this more challenging than in financial services, where major decisions of credit worthiness, loan pricing, and customer service are increasingly based on analytics from integrated, intelligent data platforms; and where sensitive data must be protected from fraud and other cybercrimes. No wonder regulators are also balancing the need to protect personal data from both discriminatory decision making (e.g. the use of gender in insurance pricing models) and the rules for data protection.
It’s a reminder of the need for big data to become ‘impactful’ data, in order to cut through the excess and address the data basics; clean it and make it available to run in advance analytics platforms. Injecting a big dose of transparency into the process, by taking the cue from the customer in terms of the financial information they are comfortable sharing, is the next consideration. While this might be a slower burn approach, it is one that is fundamental to developing and instilling the requisite levels of trust.
Crucially, a common dominator of all this activity is the investment in time and commitment. Personalisation by its nature is not a quick fix; it demands innovation on multiple fronts if is to be applied successfully. Furthermore, technology cannot thrive in isolation and must be supported by a broader cultural shift that sees all staff committed to the process.
Returning to the hospitality sector, it is notable how many of the intuitive service touches depend on both the observations and initiative from front line, customer facing teams who are best placed to notice the small details and act on them directly with the guests. Ensuring they understand how their actions can resonate and be informed by the technology to build on this further, is a crucial piece of the jigsaw.
Being mindful of the pitfalls, while being open to embracing the innovation at our disposal, is a tightrope to negotiate, but once achieved can deliver the CX breakthrough on everyone’s wish list.