Hoteliers are seeing their relevance diminishing almost by the day as customers increasingly turn to alternative (non-hotel) types of accommodation and make reservations through online travel agencies (OTAs) rather than book directly with the hotels themselves.
Hoteliers cannot afford to give up though and must stay relevant. Leveraging customer data and technology to initiate customized offerings and personalization could help to make them more relevant. However, when some industry experts advocate personalization, somehow the suggested solutions tend to be more related to selling upgrades or improving their e-mail marketing – precisely the kinds of activities which do not contribute to relevance.
When we talk about ‘personalization’ and ‘customization’, we should see them as different concepts rather than as one and the same. Customization involves offering customers alternative choices to customize based on their preferences, whereas personalization involves serving customers based on their preferences. Customization empowers customers and works better for new customers; while personalization leverages data collected from previous stays, and works better with repeat customers. The distinction between personalization and customization is critical for the hotel industry if it is to implement personalized services.
Hotel chains execute standard operating procedures or SOPs to achieve consistency among their properties, often at the cost of personalization opportunities. Once I stayed in a hotel for a week. The welcome fruit basket included cherry tomatoes, apples, and oranges. I love cherry tomatoes, and ate them all immediately. For the remaining five days however, the hotel never refilled the cherry tomatoes, nor removed the apples or oranges. The hotel also provided shampoo and conditioner in large bottles, but left them at the sink. Every morning I moved the shampoo and conditioner to the shower area, and by nightfall they were back at the sink. The hotel staff worked hard on carrying out their SOPs, but did not modify their behavior to suit my preferences. Their supervisors probably evaluated these employees favorably because of the perfect execution of the SOPs, yet personalization is not part of those procedures, and could even challenge the SOPs themselves.