Back in 2015, a guest staying at Starwood Hotels tweeted that his room was cold. A few days later, he walked into his room to find an alpaca throw, a box of tea and a handwritten note waiting for him on his bed. He immediately took to Twitter to share a picture, tagging the hotel in the post, with the caption: "Above & Beyond!!!"

This story perfectly illustrates how easy it is to personalize the guest experience. You see, the concept of personalization has evolved in an interesting way over the years. In my opinion, it has been unnecessarily painted as an intimidating and costly initiative for hospitality leaders looking to go above and beyond. Yet, Starwood did just this with a very simple effort.

If you look at the research, it's easy to see why brands feel overwhelmed:

  • 74% of guests appreciate hotels that customize messaging and offers
  • 67% of loyalty program members want personalized messages based on preferences
  • 62% want hotels to deliver rewards based on shared preferences
  • 86% want their room selected based on personal preferences like window location and bed configuration

There is no shortage of opportunities for hotels to personalize the guest experience, and it is expected that brands get on board. Yet again, personalization is not as daunting as it seems. In fact, every hotel can succeed here with a simple mantra: listen and do.

I assure you, there is no need to immediately invest in advanced analytics to drive personalization (though you will eventually want to, but that's for a different article). Even then, the best analytics solution is essentially worthless if a company's values are not there. First thing is first: personalization must be driven by a genuine caring for guests. Consider, for example, how the Landmark London demonstrated real empathy and concern for a customer's complaints in a TripAdvisor review (you can see the full response in this report from Cognizant).

On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of brands who dropped the ball. Consider Netflix: in 2011, the company ignored its customers by splitting its DVD and streaming businesses, increasing prices by 40%. As a result, it lost 800,000 subscribers and its stock price fell to less than half its previous value.

When companies don't listen to customers, they set off an unfortunate domino effect. At this point, this should go unsaid; however, a constant surge of customer service nightmares suggests otherwise. When you stop and listen—really listen—you will see there are endless opportunities to personalize, and they are not all as difficult as you may think.

Listen Up

There are a few simple ways to perk up your hotel's ears. For instance, you can push out an automated customer satisfaction survey via email or mobile (72% of guests say they want online satisfaction surveys delivered to them). Meanwhile, you should always go out of your way to make contact with guests nearby (remember the 10/5 rule at all times). One of the best ways to listen is to monitor social media. About 60% of travelers post about their trips on social, with half doing so in real-time (like the Starwood guest above).

So, how can your brand succeed here? Let's revisit Starwood. In an interview with Forbes, the company's SVP of Customer Contact Centers shed light onto the brand's winning formula: a 30-person team with access to 26 different languages operating social 24/7.

"This team works closely with our hotels to build meaningful connections with our guests, both in and out of stay," he explains. "We closely monitor the use of new and emerging platforms around the globe so our team can serve them on the latest platforms."

Whether you're an international hotel chain with thousands of associates or a boutique hotel with a dozen employees, this approach can be applied. Listen as closely and as often as you can to what customers are saying across as many channels and touchpoints as possible. Then, do what you can to respond.

Do What's in Your Power

If something isn't in your power to provide or change, acknowledge it to guests and simply move forward. Many times, however, you'll be surprised by just how little it takes to deliver a personalized experience that speaks volumes about your brand. Starwood's shining moment proves that, despite today's rapid pace of technology, little things still amount to a lot.

Perhaps our guests' expectations are simpler than they're made out to be.

Robert Reitknecht
Hospitality Leader and Guest Experience Expert
+1 203 733 6794