It wasn’t long ago that all the information hotels had on a guest could fit on a single registration card.
In the late 1980s, the introduction of the property management system marked the beginning of the digitisation of data.
Since then, the number of platforms used by hotels to engage guests, streamline operations and drive revenue has proliferated. Today, a hotel may use a dozen or more applications, from revenue management systems to guest survey solutions to marketing automation software.
“Guests leave a tremendous amount of data in their wake at the various touch points during their stay—website, call centre, property management system, mobile app, point of sale, activities, survey, loyalty program, just to name a few,” said Tim Sullivan, chief revenue officer at Cendyn.
“The challenge is that each of these systems captures a sliver of information about the guest, and it’s housed in disparate data silos.”
When you consider the entire life cycle of a guest, which may encompass multiple stays at properties and brands within a hotel group, the amount of data increases exponentially.
The challenges arise out of the evolution of technology in hotels. New tools have been developed piecemeal over the years, some as standalone applications, others as add-ons. Because many of the systems do not communicate with one another, a hotel company may have multiple profiles of the same guest scattered across its properties and databases.
The impact of multiple sources on staff members
In today’s competitive marketplace hotels need to know their guests and earn their loyalty. Customer relationship management utilises a combination of technology and human hospitality to create rich profiles of guests and cater to their individual needs and preferences.
By mining these profiles, staff can make informed decisions about the services, amenities and marketing campaigns they need to gain an edge over competitors.
For customer relationship management to be effective, staff must work closely together in the pursuit of mutually aligned objectives—namely, guest satisfaction, engagement, loyalty, advocacy, and profitability. Hotels must invest in technology that facilitates the collection, sharing, analysis, and use of guest data.
Under the current fragmented state of technology, hotel staff are impeded from achieving these objectives.
Without a complete picture of the guest, the front desk doesn’t know if a guest is a first-timer or a frequent customer of the brand.
Marketers are unable to segment guests based on behaviour and interests and must resort to sending generic offers. With limited access to data, department heads are prone to setting unrealistic and unachievable forecasts and budgets.
To overcome the challenges, staff find workarounds. Front desk staff jump from one database to another to extract and input guest profile data. Revenue managers manually reconcile data from multiple sources on Excel spreadsheets. And marketers pool data from diverse silos in an attempt to segment guests and send targeted offers.
In the process, guests experience delays, lapses in service and frustration. Loyalty and preferences go unrecognised, and guests don’t come back. Guests receive irrelevant email offers and opt out of the database. Rather than empower staff to achieve objectives, technology leads to inefficiencies, errors and lost business.
Aggregating the data
Hoteliers understand that the current situation is untenable, but what’s the solution? A first step is to integrate data across silos, but the process is not as simple as it sounds.
“Data integration can be challenging if systems don’t talk to each other very well,” said Abdullatif Awadh, senior director of customer relationship management at Dubai-based Jumeirah Group.
“This leads to sources not being accurate, and you lose confidence in the information.”
Prior to integration, brands need to standardise how data is input and establish common formatting, rate codes, market codes and other data fields. After integration, data must be cleansed and deduped, and subsequent data-sharing must be frequent, if not in real-time. Only then can staff confidently use the data to guide decisions.
The power of a single profile
By integrating systems, hotels can take advantage of the many tools available to collect data and engage guests while at the same time working from a shared database.
“The end goal is a single version of truth,” said Tim Sullivan of Cendyn. “A centralised, integrated database that provides a complete picture of your guests. That’s when you can start doing exciting things with that data.”
With a single view of the customer, hotel staff can ensure that engagement is meaningful and relevant at every touch point during the guest journey. Profile information may include the guest’s photo, stay history, total spend, interests, preferred room types, links to social profiles, loyalty program status and feedback from previous stays.
The benefits of an integrated database are far-reaching. Staff members do not need to perform multi-source data look ups or find workarounds. Marketers have at their fingertips all the information they require to send the right message to the right guests, through the right channels, at the right time. Managers can access the data they need to create accurate budgets, forecasts, and reporting.
For hotel companies with multiple brands, the benefits extend to the entire portfolio.
“Food & beverage can mail pre-arrival information about activities on property that may be of interest to the guest,” said Chetan Patel, vice president of strategic marketing & ecommerce at Bangkok-based Onyx Hospitality Group.
“Operations benefits from feedback in guest surveys, which becomes part of the guest profile so other properties can prevent any issues from happening again. And ecommerce and marketing can use guest profile data to communicate targeted offers, cross-sell, up-sell and encourage repeat stays.”