Leveraging Voice of Customer Data to Optimize the In-hotel Experience
What can we learn about what visitors are looking for in order to personalize their in-hotel experience?
By Nancy Wiesenfeld Vice Presidentt of Strategic Accounts, iPerceptions | April 07, 2013
Prior to the digital age, traditional market research practices involved collecting consumer data mainly either by mail, telephone or in person. The arrival of the internet, however, revolutionized how consumer data was collected, and now, the online channel is a key driving force behind most consumer initiated feedback and behavior. Specifically, companies can use the web to collect feedback about their brand through the consumer's experience on their website. Additionally, they can track visitor behavior on their website by looking at their online session, which pages were visited, how much time was spent on each page, and so on. Finally, they can even dialog with their customers through contact information provided, thereby allowing them to manage customer relationships and stem negative word of mouth by resolving issues directly. Therefore, brands have access to more data about their customers than ever before. Along with that comes the opportunity to personalize and therefore maximize the brand experience of their audience – both online and in-hotel – so that they will return and develop longer term loyalty.
Let's first look at how brands can help personalize the online experience. Personalizing website content presents a conundrum, as it can be perceived as either effective and useful, or intrusive and creepy. When we visit a website for a hotel brand, for example, and then go to a newspaper site and see an ad displayed for the hotel site just visited, the feeling of "big brother is watching you" sets in, magnifying the "creepy" factor. This is because the personalization of content is occurring out of context. However, if a brand site can detect if a visitor is from Canada, displaying prices in Canadian dollars is considered helpful.
Another good example of useful personalized content is Amazon.com; based on prior purchases and personal information provided by the customer, they are equipped to suggest products that might be of interest to them, which not only facilitates the purchase decision, but can work to increase the transaction value. Yet another example would be when shopping on most retail sites, where based on the visitor's browsing behavior within the website, suggestions for products of interest are displayed. Therefore, optimal content personalization in the online world likely involves gathering a combination of information that is both detected as well as volunteered by the visitor in the context of the website environment.
Most hospitality websites provide filtering tools and features so that visitors can refine results and display the most relevant content. Imagine, then, if the brand website knew a little bit more about their visitor, for example where they are from and if they are traveling for business or pleasure. The site would therefore be in a position to immediately display content relevant to the visitor's demographic as well as their travel context. Hotels would then be able to show prices in the relevant currency, as well as information relevant to an either business or leisure stay – for example distances between the hotel and convention centers, dry cleaning services, etc. for the business traveler, and information on nearby attractions and coupons or promotions for restaurants for those with a leisure focus.
Introducing Voice of Customer data into the online space creates a whole new dimension in customizing the online experience. In order to obtain a representative sample, many VOC studies are deployed after the respondent completes their online visit. The goal of these studies is to inform website strategy by getting a balanced perspective of what is working well on a website, and what areas need improvement as indicated by the respondent. Comment cards, on the other hand, are often used as a sounding board, and are as such an excellent tool to help brands understand what issues need to be resolved immediately. While both listening tools allow for the respondent to provide their contact information for follow up, there is an opportunity to resolve their issues even more immediately. One way of achieving this would be to present an online chat feature to visitors who indicate that they had a negative experience, or that they were unable to complete their task, for example. This results in not only a personalized experience where the visitor feels that their voice is being heard, but the website becomes a helpful, more convenient way to research or book their travel since their issues and concerns would be addressed immediately. Noteworthy is that according to iPerceptions research, the convenience of a website is a key influencer in the outcome of the online experience, including returning to the website, referring it others, and developing long term brand loyalty (Hospitality and Tourism Industry Report, 2012).
Now let's take a look at how brands can personalize the in-hotel experience. Historically, hotels differentiated themselves through branding efforts, but largely catered to all customers equally. Unless you were a returning customer or called for special requests, getting a personalized experience was not the norm, and hotel guests did not have high expectations either. Then when the recession of 2008 hit, brands were hard hit. As result, consumers have come to look for more value for their dollars spent, and they expect hotels to play ball. Since the competitive landscape in the hospitality industry is intense, consumers have become accustomed to shopping around for the best value they can find. And part of that heightened value is when the hotel goes the extra mile by catering to their personal needs and preferences. With a plethora of information at their disposal, brands can learn about their customers in such a way that allows them to cater to them individually. For starters, they know what type of accommodations, view and bed type they prefer based on prior stays. They also know what temperature they kept the room, and if they used the internet connection. They might even have access to which television channels they watched and which toiletries they used. The next time the customer visits the property, their room can be prepared exactly as they had used it previously, thus personalizing their experience. Similar to online, a personalized experience makes customers feel special, which facilitates a stronger relationship with the brand.
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