Use Your Data to Build a Better Customer Experience

Delayed flights, lost luggage, sketchy cab rides, noisy hotel guests — Marriott has understood for many years now that the travel struggles are real. But, it’s only recently that they discovered ways to ease the pain with data. Their solution is to collect, harness, and redeploy customer information from all along the travel journey — far beyond the hotel stay itself. By amassing a wide range of data from vacation searches, flight and cruise bookings, car rentals, hotel check-ins, room service requests, spa treatments, and more, Marriott has developed a series of “predictable data points” for each of its guests, whether they’re first-time visitors or loyal members of the rewards program.

How Marriott Uses Data to Create Solutions
Travel stress is introduced by unknowns. So, Marriott extracts the “data points” inside each traveler’s head — the flight she always takes, for instance, or the coffeeshop he always visits — and preloads that information into its data platform. From there, Marriott finds ways to wrap each customer experience in these predictable data points. It could be something simple and delightful like serving black coffee to a guest who always takes her coffee black — before she asks. Or, it might be something even more potentially stress-saving like offering early check-in to a guest who always comes in on the red-eye.

Customer insights — such as the predictable data points that Marriott gathers — are at the heart of effective personalization. And the first step toward gaining this deep insight is to know who your customers and prospects are across every touchpoint in their unique travel journeys — not just the points where they encounter your brand. This means connecting with consumers throughout their travel journeys — from the moment they start imagining their trips right up to the minute they return home and share their travel photos.

Why a Holistic Customer View Is Critical
Online travel agencies (e.g., Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity) and metasearch sites (e.g., Kayak) already touch travelers at many points along their journeys. Because they’ve built more holistic views of travelers than what most traditional travel brands have, they’re able to offer solutions — from airfare and hotels to car rentals and vacation activities and all from a single site. Traditional travel brands, on the other hand, have some catching up to do.

Creating a truly holistic view of the traveler requires gathering and linking data from disparate sources, including:

Equipped with all this customer intelligence, you’ll be more capable of connecting with travelers throughout their journeys — not only in the places where you typically interact with them, but also anywhere and everywhere they go.

Where Brands Tend to Drop the Data Ball
However, it only works if all your users understand the data and can act on it. “This is where our industry falls flat,” said Ahmed El-Emam, a digital strategist for WestJet. “The answer,” he explained, “is to shift from traditional “systems of record,” which focus on processes, to “systems of engagement,” which focus on people.” Systems of engagement help brands deliver experiences in the precise moments travelers need them by integrating customer data with new mobile and social technologies — for instance, combining app and location context to know when a guest has entered your hotel and wants to check in as well as when she’s made it to her room and may want to order room service.

“This isn’t just a marketing function,” said El-Emam. “It’s about where data is stored, how you access it, how to integrate systems, and how to provide data transparency throughout the organization. It’s about how to surface information and make it actionable.”

What a Complete Customer Profile Can Offer
Building a more complete view of the customer also allows travel brands to build models that can predict future customer behaviors and responses — saving brands from having to guess which offer will resonate with which traveler — and new cognitive technologies take this predictive marketing to all-new levels. With the IBM Watson platform, for instance, predictive insights are based on not only historical and transactional data, but also psychographic insights into what customers are thinking, feeling, and saying.

Because Watson understands languages, learns as it processes information, and reasons much like humans do, the platform is capable of deciphering unstructured data from the social sphere — for instance, words a customer commonly uses on Facebook and Twitter. Correlating this social data with the National Psychiatric Index’s personality scale, Watson can help brands understand a traveler’s unique personality — from how agreeable a customer may be to how stressed he’s likely to become. Equipped with insights like these, you can understand customers in ways that have never before been possible and better imagine what unique experiences might look like for each of them — clearing the way for you to provide one-to-one experiences that truly fit the way they think, feel, act, and live.

To learn how to build a complete view of travelers so you can find new ways to connect with them throughout their travel journeys, read “The Beauty of Integration.