The Radisson Group Is Reserving Its Place In The Digital Economy
Radisson Group executive vice president Eric De Neef explains how the company’s five-year transformation strategy is enhancing internal process and creating memorable customer experiences.
by CMO.com Team
Posted on 10-12-2018
In 1909, when the first Radisson hotel opened in Minneapolis, it would have taken a leap of faith to predict the size of the enterprise it would go on to create. Named after the 17th century explorer and furrier Pierre-Esprit Radisson, the Radisson Group, based in Brussels, now has eight brands operating all around the world.
Working with the group for over seven years, Eric de Neef, executive vice president and global chief commercial officer, has helped to drive change within the company and ensure that embracing technology has never resulted in neglecting people.
Here, he tells CMO.com about his grand plans and the hard work and innovation that will make them a reality.
CMO.com: What’s the greatest challenge of successful digital transformation in the hospitality industry?
de Neef: There is a tremendous transformation between online and offline practices and this mindset shift among your people is critical. For any digital transformation, you need to ensure that everyone is onboard, otherwise you’re lost. We’re putting a lot of work into change management from an HR perspective because, in my opinion, it’s critical.
It’s also important to understand your customers’ needs. We have so much data about our customers now, but the challenge lies in transforming that data into a management tool, to guide your decisions.
The other significant factor, which my CFO reminds me of every week, is cost. It’s essential to be driving ROI throughout the process. The beauty of digital is that you can track everything and demonstrate the value you’re achieving to your stakeholders.
CMO.com: You’ve embarked on a five-year strategy for digital transformation. What are you aiming to achieve?
de Neef: We’re building a single, multibrand platform for our customers to access all Radisson hotels, which will be live in June 2019. We want to give our customers the ability to access the site through three key routes: through the Radisson.com home page, via the individual brand they wish to interact with, or by the location they want to visit.
We are building this as one platform instead of having nine because we want to provide our customers with a great experience and also create efficiencies for our business. The objective is doubling our digital market penetration within five years.
CMO.com: I understand you’re also creating a unified tech platform for the business. What advantages will that offer?
de Neef: We call our new IT infrastructure EMMA.It’s a global cloud-based service offering, encompassing everything. We’re building it because we think it’s the only way forward to gain a single customer view. We’re building a vertically integrated platform, which offers a 360-degree customer view.
The objective of EMMA is to improve customer experience by enabling us to understand them better. Using the platform, I will be able to see people’s spending behaviour, their reward scheme activity, and where they’re staying. We have a three-year journey to implement the platform across the board.
CMO.com: How successful has your chatbot been?
de Neef: The chatbot is aimed at our meeting and events (M&E) customers and is intrinsically linked with a new online booking system we’re creating. These people have very exacting demands, and it’s an incredibly competitive market.
There are more moving parts in M&E bookings than in a consumer reservation, because your booking must combine the availability of your meeting rooms and catering facilities, while including loyalty scheme information. The online booking tool takes a while to develop so we decided to build the chatbot in the meantime to see if we could improve the booking process.
We’ve had more than 25,000 unique visitors interact with the chatbot in the first six months, which is very pleasing. Even more encouraging than that was the fact that 50% of those customers advanced to the booking stage–much higher than the 25% we predicted. We are really excited by the chatbot, and we’re now looking to extend it beyond M&E to leisure bookings.
CMO.com: How do ensure maximum customer satisfaction across so many touchpoints?
de Neef: We have embraced what we call a “reverse-thinking” culture. So instead of starting with an inside-out perspective and developing processes that we ask the customer to get used to, we start with our customers and the results they’re looking for. It’s that mindset that’s behind our mantra “every moment matters.” It’s about outcomes for the customer.
We put ourselves in the shoes of the customer and asked what is truly relevant and what isn’t. If you want to develop customer engagement, you have to start by understanding their wants and needs.
Today, digital transformation is key for the positioning of your brand, but it’s essential for us to remember that, above all, we’re a people businesses.
CMO.com: Can you tell me about your latest brand, Radisson Red?
de Neef: We want to create a new experience with Radisson Red, one based on tech-enabled mobility, which provides the flexibility that customers now seek. The people we’re appealing to want to do things such as use their phones for check-in or to unlock their rooms.
We’re moving beyond the traditional zones, such as a defined reception area, bar, and restaurant. We’ve created multifunctional spaces that offer unique experiences. For example, every hotel has a digital wall in the lobby that our guests can interact with through their social channels.
We have hosts who operate in a welcome area, rather than a reception desk. They’re always on hand with an iPad if customers need help, but we want it to be people’s choice. We feel that the contact between staff and customers shouldn’t just be about administrative tasks, such as checking in. It should be an interaction.
We’re also integrating more with the local community, building relationships with local artists, suppliers, and events. Our hosts bring that to life for our customers and give them a gateway into the local scene, helping to create an authentic experience. And it benefits the local community because we give them a chance to create a relationship with these travellers.
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