3 steps to personalize your customer journey like the Ritz Carlton

Big data is one of the most effective marketing techniques to encourage loyalty and boost lifetime customer value.

At first glance, big data might not seem like a critical tool to support your hospitality business. Big data certainly doesn't sound as sexy as content marketing, or as exciting as event management ... but it is one of the most effective marketing techniques to encourage loyalty and boost lifetime customer value.

The Ritz Carlton brand is one of the first - and most famous - brands to effectively use data to personalize the guest journey to enhance their service and customer experience. Every time a new prospect shares their information, or a guest checks into a Ritz hotel, their information is stored in a cloud-based relationship management system. When that guest returns to the hotel or logs into their online account, the system cross-references their data profile and tailors that customer's guest journey to their exact preferences and history.

This highly-personalized experience makes the customer feel valued, included, and part of your brand. One of the most famous stories of how the Ritz Carlton used data to personalize the guest journey has been shared so many times that the exact details have become somewhat of a hospitality legend -- but the essence remains authentic and impactful. The story goes something like this: A business man and his young daughter check into a Ritz Carlton on her birthday. Because the business man has traveled with the Ritz many times and shared their guest information in advance, the hotel staff was able to greet the young girl by name, wish her a happy birthday the moment she set foot on the premise, send her a digital greeting card, and have a cake in her favorite color - waiting in her room on arrival. The father was so touched that he never stayed at another hotel brand again.

Although the exact details of this story have blurred throughout the years, the spirit of how personalization can transform the hospitality experience remains the same.

Step 1: Invest in data management system

Before you do anything else, you need to find a way to consistently and accurately capture your guests' information. Most brands use a relationship management system that can also support their loyalty programs and service relations. If there is one place not to skimp on your budget, it's here. Being able to track, export, and use your data makes it possible to personalize the guest journey. Set your brand up for success by making sure the right tools are in place before you begin.

Step 2: Choose one part of the guest journey to start

When you are just beginning the personalization process, you won't be able to do everything at once. Choose one part of the guest journey to focus your initial efforts. In the beginning, you may have to experiment with a little trial and error to determine the most impactful touch points within the customer journey you want to improve. Maybe your customers would appreciate highly-tailored nurturing emails before they book their reservations. Maybe your customers will prefer on-site greetings and experiences. Maybe your customers will benefit most from post-vacation follow up. Start small and improve one part of the customer journey really well and then expand to other areas.

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Step 3: Follow up and refine

As you expand and refine your customization process, make sure you have checks and balances in place to confirm that your experience is consistent and that you are soliciting feedback form your guests about how your efforts have improved their experience. Any changes you make should be scalable for all your guests and impactful enough to make a difference in their customer experience.Everyone likes to feel unique and special, which is why personalization is such a powerful way to increase your brand's goodwill toward your guests.

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