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When it comes to creating memorable guest experiences, it's all in the details.

Personalized guest experiences pre-date the arrival of digital technology by centuries. Where the concierge's little black book of yore may have given way to loyalty programs and artificial intelligence, the intentions remain the same: accommodate needs and preferences, maintain impeccable levels of service and create memorable experiences that entice customers to return.

The proliferation of loyalty clubs and points programs can cause businesses to overlook the fact that recognizing and taking care of a valued customer may mean something different for each individual. Accumulating upgrades or free stays can be useful ways to keep score of customer value, but these practices are far from personalized.

Recognition and proactive attention to detail — like providing a frequent guest with their preferred room next to the health club — can be the key to higher booking levels and greater profits. Winners in the hospitality and travel sectors recognize this truth, and they're acting on it.

Compendium Personalized Guest Experiences

Why Focus on Guest Experiences?

In a survey of business executives by Mastercard and Harvard Business Review, eight in 10 respondents agreed that personalization is important to their organization's strategy. More than half, 54%, said their organizations are placing a high priority on investing in personalization tactics, and 81% say personalized guest experiences will be an important driver of financial performance in 2020.

But is personalization really a new strategy, or is it updated vocabulary created to describe a digitally-enabled form of old-school customer relationship management? The modern concept of "One-to-One" marketing dates back to the 1990s, coined by marketing visionaries Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D. At the time, they defined the term as "being willing and able to change your behavior toward an individual customer based on what the customer tells you and what else you know about that customer."

Whether modern personalization is a brand new strategy or a tried and true tactic, the steps outlined by Peppers and Rogers are still a good place for businesses to start: identify your customer segments, differentiate among them, interact with them and customize your product or service to fit their needs.

Personalization: Before, During and After

In the old days of grand hotels, guest treatment may have been an art form practiced by front desk managers and concierges, but today, large properties and airlines that may see thousands of guests a day need a better solution.

This is where a human-first, digitally enabled personalization strategy can help your organization excel. The key is to accommodate your guests' unique needs throughout the entire process: before they book, during their stay or flight and after.

  • Before: By segmenting your customers into different groups, you can attract new customers with personalized marketing that speaks to their unique interests. Some customers will love that you offer easy check-in through an app while others will be drawn to the luxurious on-site spa, so tailor your messages to reflect that. When it comes to repeat customers, eliminate the need for them to communicate their preferences every time they book with you by continuously learning from their previous experiences with your company. In this case, a little recognition goes a long way.

  • During: When it comes to creating a personalized experience for your guests, start by thinking about them, not your bottom line. What would make their stay easy, fun and something worth telling their friends about? How can you streamline your operations or technology to support these initiatives? When you start with what customers want, you will find that everything else follows.

  • After: Continuously building upon a guest's experience is imperative. Follow up with tailored email messaging or ask about their stay. Gathering customer feedback is the first step, but what comes after is incorporating that feedback in ways that improve their future experiences. Customer feedback can also be used to further refine your personalization strategy across the board. Compile aggregated and anonymized data to identify trends or further refine your customer segments.

In-person personalization is what will help distinguish your brand from competitors and create enduring guest relationships that result in more return visits, enhanced reputation, and higher profits.