Building the Promise Land of Engagement: The Story of Marketing Driven Data

As marketers, our goal should be to make it possible for our customers to share enough information about themselves to allow us to create a truly considered customer experience or engagement marketing.  Modern brands expose the conversation but don’t reveal the magic, discern meaning while patiently taking their time, accomplish mind reading with no malicious intent, are self-effacing but omnipresent, understand when to be absent from view, and continue working nonetheless.

If this sounds like the description of a butler, that’s because it is inspired by a brief interview with Edward Duke,  who played an extraordinary butler in ‘Jeeves Takes Charge’ at the Royal-George Theatre in Chicago back in 1987.  Brands with complex digital ecosystems are ripe for digital transformation; deriving insight from behavior and establishing a response that appropriately grows a relationship with their customer.  The concept as a whole is best expressed through storytelling.  A sort of Journey Map if you will (See Jake DiMare’s Post on Customer Journey Mapping)

Explanation through example

I recently spoke with a hotel brand about how to improve their customer experience.  The brand is a mid-level player with several service tiers attending to distinct customer personas, and a fair amount of cross-over.  Their rewards program is successful but could be improved, and the data they collect is largely dormant at a marketing level. So the question is what to do first?

We created a series of research questions intended to provide the necessary data to reveal gaps in their customer experience. Luckily, the brand had plenty of recent research to parse through.  After analyzing the research and discussions with customers a sentiment became obvious:  Business guests, who make up significant revenue share, felt like the brand wasn’t catering to them as well as they could have.  Room potisioning preference, reservation guarantee, late checkout, free Wi-Fi are all valued benefits; but, none are personal or deeply considerate of the unique needs of the frequent business traveler. It was a tiered system that anyone could earn into.

The current customer experience wasn’t failing, it just wasn’t evolving.  Business travelers are a wealth of personal data.  They follow routines, their credit card used is usually the same (corporate) and their hotel purchases are often tied to a room number and thus, an individual guest.

We took the idea of being catered to literally and begin to think of what the guest has told us, and what we can do with it.  Internal discussions tell us that mini-bar sales are way down.  This isn’t brand specific.  A 2013 article in the Economist  tracks changes in economy and culture noted expense accounts are more stringently monitored and budget travelers are hesitant to pay $15 for a drink. A Wall Street Journal article tells us that when people do use the mini-bar, they aren’t boozing.  Water, Diet Coke and Pringles are the highest consumed in room items industry wide.  Our brand has a slightly different order of items. So the idea is to create a personalized in-room Food & Beverage program to make guests feel special.

The easiest way to accomplish this is simply ask guests what their food preferences are.  Obviously this could be done during the reservation. It is also a great way to increase engagement during the confirmation process by asking the guest to update their profile online.

Of course, the challenge when we strive to delight customers is the exposure of intent, creates an expectation.  If you announce or infer higher value it becomes the new low-water mark.  If it is not met you disappoint the guest, which devalues the brand and increase the cost of customer service.  The currentexpectation for in-room personalized attention is low and thus can be exceeded, if not maintained.

Though the direct guest relationship for a personal F&B program remains in the road map, it is omitted from the immediate engagement model.

The Logical First Step

Assemble what is known.  Consumer brands are riddled with systems; CRM, POS, fulfillment, reservation, ecomm, mobile apps etc.  Long standing brands often have several versions of each as many business units progress faster or obtain larger budgets.  Some business units just go rogue. It may seem like a simple premise, but if the goal is to improve the customer experience, it is necessary to compile what is known about the customer. Begin collecting and saving more than simple transactional records on your customers.  And tap more than one system.  Force the business to understand the breadth of depth of the data collected across itself.

So now we are back to big data? Not so fast.  A customer record can be quite simple. The first step isn’t always about thinking big, often it’s about thinking small. By spending time with customers or even just asking some simple questions, identifying discrete opportunities and determining impact is possible.  If you force the data to follow function, the model becomes easier to process.

Let the Experience Drive the Data

This isn’t a chicken or egg question. It’s not an exercise in making a hypothesis and creating justification from numbers.  This is simpler: determine the best experience you can offer your customers and define the customer data you need to make it personal.  It’s that simple.  Chances are the company has the data somewhere.  Often the information you need is spread across several systems.  Worst case scenarios don’t have a way to connect the records; but most of the time, with some elbow grease, a team can figure it out, even if it looks more like ‘connect the dots’ than a bi-directional arrow.

Essentially the marketer is empowered to determine the most important device for customer engagement and demand the data to inform the specifics.

Back to Our Hotel

We also learned that business travelers use most of their earned loyalty rewards for personal use (groundbreaking, I know).  Sometimes it’s a romantic get-away, other times a family vacation.  Both are scenarios a hotel can easily infer from reservation data.

Nights of week booked, duration of stay, head count, and method of reservation payment (points as opposed to the credit card) all allow quick and confident profiling.  Conversations with regular guests also yield that if they had to choose business or personal travel in which more personal engagement would be valuable, they overwhelmingly choose personal. Data reveals that on personal stays customers are more likely to spend on non-essentials than when traveling for work.

Mind you, no customer is expecting this.  The expectation is of a standard in-room experience.  But we compile a list of triggers that can be automated (think decision tree) where through the existing customer experience process our customer engagement pool will become smaller and smaller.  Once we have the guests we tailor the in-room Food and Beverage experience per consumer.  We can mine data about the guest from previous visits.  We can segment spending by product, location, trip type, time of year, and other variables.  Though we don’t use all of these at once, someday we might.

Once we have them on property we brag about it to them, make them feel special, allow them to show off to their guests and, oh yeah: increase the likelihood that they will buy something in room.  Someday each property’s operations will evolve and we can ask the customer what they want and completely personalize the experience, but for now we make educated guesses: In town for the marathon with your spouse? The fridge has coconut water and granola bars. Staying for one Saturday night the same time every year, perhaps a split of champagne is added. Maybe we are right, maybe not.  Regardless, it’s engaging, and it’s a place to start.

And big data didn’t tell us to do that, our vision of customer experience did. Data told us what would make the marketing engagement relevant.

Final Note

The true limitation to dramatically improving the customer experience is in at the C-Suite.  Individuals or departments may leverage technology and extrapolate ideas but without executive sponsorship to mandate integration of the data across siloes and the will to transform the way the business operates, the changes will be small and difficult to string together.  It is time for brands to decide if they are all in on customer experience.