The devil is in the detail: thoughts on customer preferences

Calum McIndoe of Infor Hospitality explores how to capitalise on the small things at large scale

One of the toughest aspects of modern hospitality is explaining how the industry really works to an outsider. So much of it seems like simple common sense, only to be revealed as anything but simple.

The preferences themselves are quite simple. Typically we are looking at very, very small details such as what kind of scotch or wine a guest likes, their favourite newspaper or preferred kind of pillow? Do they want a room near or far from the elevator or ice machine? Do they want the view from a high floor or the speed and convenience of a low floor? And of course there are critical factors such as allergies, diet considerations and medical conditions.

But how these preferences are mapped to a specific properties’ ability to accommodate them is somewhat akin to rocket science. Applying a code that corresponds to the preference to the code for the department that is responsible for accommodating the preference is a challenge in itself, and that is before we look at getting all this detail onto a departmental arrivals report, or someone’s tablet or mobile device.

Mining and applying customer data

Any given guest stay is a gold mine of such data but it is a safe bet that no one person has responsibility to collate that information and add it back to the database. Simply put that role would be never ending, so the question becomes how best can this information be captured and then put to most effective use?

There is also the need to factor in not only prescriptive preferences, but also the impact of reactive incidents that may happen to a guest throughout their stay. What problems did they have? What have they complained about? And what have they asked for on top of the prescriptive list, or indeed, what have they complemented the property on?

And of course there is the fact that these preference data points (positive or negative) will change over time. What if a guest does not want scotch this time? What if they want a different view? And from the hotel’s perspective, is there an opportunity for greater customer service or increased revenue by suggesting such a change?

The role of the technology therefore, is not just to help the hotel figure out if a guest has actually been there before, and then reactively track all the associated detail, but also intelligently figure out how best to use that data.

Lessons outside of the industry

This technology is already making a difference in other industries. Online content distributors such as Netflix and Apple Music service have both made curated suggestions a powerful feature. As people use the service, it continually learns different users’ preferences and refines the proactive offers.

Furthermore it cross-references the users’ choices to truly understand what it is that they enjoy about a given film or music track. To use Netflix as an example, rather than a blunt understanding of genre, the system may identify that the user likes that genre with a specific actor, or age rating.

Applying this to hospitality, it opens up the possibility that, amidst the wealth of guest data, hotels can stop relying on guests telling them what their preferences are or needing employees to add to a data store on guest requirements.

Instead, based on what a guest actually does throughout a stay, the hotel can develop an individually curated “For You” menu. This can be based on the data on what a guest has reserved, bought, eaten, drank, played, toured, seen, requested, changed to, praised and complained about, both within the hotel and via openly available social media.

The return on this investment is an exceptional level of insight into customer preferences and the opportunity to develop the most compelling offerings. Hotels can use this technology to suggest an experience to the guest that won’t assume he wants the same thing all the time, but makes an educated guess at what he will welcome to broaden his horizons, that will consider his interests, but operate within the constraints of what is actually available and commercially viable. This level of detail and consideration will become the hallmark of real competitive advantage.

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