Personalization Is the Key to Hilton Worldwide's Customer Loyalty

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How the global hotel chain’s loyalty program offers the data it needs to create tailored experiences for its guests.

Photo credit: (c) 2016 Hilton Worldwide

Hilton HHonors—a points program provided by Hilton Worldwide— has been a success by any metric. 

The program has more than 58 million members, according to Mark Weinstein, Hilton’SVP and global head of loyalty, partnerships, and customer engagement, and enrollment is growing 80% year over year.

Not only are these members a loyal bunch, but they’re a profitable one. Weinstein estimates that HHonors members account for more than 54% of Hilton’s room reservations on any given night. And with more than 4,600 hotels in 100 countries across 13 brands—including Waldorf Astoria, DoubleTree, and Hilton Hotels—it serves the hotel chain well to keep these members happy.

Luckily, the HHonors program gives Hilton the insights that it needs to do just that. Through the program, the hotel chain is able to collect data on its guests, get to know them better, and deliver prime customer value.

“It’s about our loyalty back to the customers,” Weinstein says. “So often you hear brands use the word loyalty, and what they’re talking about is customers consolidating their spend to the brand. That certainly is an important step. We’d love to have their business, and we know that we have to earn it every day, but the loyalty aspect is what we deliver back to the customer. It really is about understanding how we can serve different customer needs differently—that it’s not a one-size-fits-all model.”

Personalization: one of Hilton’s main attractions

Customer value means different things to different guests, and it can come in a variety of forms. For some members, value is more tangible, such as free Wi-Fi or breakfast. For others, it’s more experiential. So while Weinstein says some guests prefer a high-touch experience (such as the ability to call the concierge or pre-order meals to their room), he acknowledges that others prefer a high-tech experience, such as the ability to unlock their hotel room with their phone and pick the exact room they want via the HHonors app (which is downloaded every six seconds).

“Being able to deliver that personalized experience is really what we’re all about,” he notes.

Value also comes at each stage of the customer journey, and Weinstein says it’s Hilton’s job to deliver personalized experiences all the way through, from the “dreaming” and “booking” phases to the guest stay and review phases.

Retargeting is one way Hilton delivers the right message at the right time. For example, Weinstein knows that travelers typically book their airlines tickets first and then book their hotel rooms about 30 minutes later. So by working with its airline partners, the hotel chain is able to retarget customers who recently make an airline purchase.

“A lot of customers don’t travel all that frequently,” he says. “It’s not a relevant message all of the time, so it would not be particularly customer-centric and not really efficient media buying to be out there all the time messaging [people about] certain destinations.”

Email is another way the hotel chain delivers timely, relevant messages. Hilton emails its HHonors members based on their stated preferences, such as what destinations they’re interested in. “That always wins the day,” Weinstein says. But it’s also able to tailor its content based on members’ behaviors. For instance, if a customer abandons a booking, Hilton will send that customer an email reminding him to finish his transaction and pick up where he left off. Plus, the company leverages dynamic content to ensure that customers see the most up-to-date prices the moment they open the email.

In addition to these channels, Hilton leverages mobile and virtual reality to help customers plan their trips. For instance, if a customer calls the call center to compare and contrast two different luxury suites, the call center representative can send images of those two rooms directly to that customer’s smartphone, Weinstein says. The hotel chain also debuted a 360-degree video of Hilton Barbados that allowed guests to take a virtual tour of the resort and book a room directly through the ad, DMN sister publication Campaign reports.

Checking out the data

So, how does Hilton gain access to the data that it needs to drive this personalization? The hotel chain acquires basic information at the time of enrollment. Customers can sign up for the program via a number of channels—including a designated website, the call center, or the front desk—or by opting into the program while booking a room. At this time, Hilton will ask the new member for his name, phone number, email address, address, as well as for a username and password. Members also have the option to opt in to special offers and promotions from third parties.

As customers engage with the program, Hilton learns more about them, such as their preferred destinations, brands, and rewards. The company also leverages machine learning, lookalike modeling, algorithms, and multidimensional attribution to learn more about its members. In addition, it manages all of its members’ points and rewards through an SaaS solution called Points and uses the technology to drive engagement, such as through special promotions.

“When a customer interacts with us directly, it allows us to personalize the experience,” Weinstein says. “We get to know who the guest is, we get to know what you like and what you don’t like about your stay experience, so that we can tailor the offers that we make to you in the product experience.”

It’s this ingestion of data that makes it important for Hilton to encourage customers to book directly through the company, rather than through online travel agencies. Weinstein says HHonors members can even save money by booking directly through Hilton; however, not all members are aware of this. To combat this issue, the hotel chain launched a multichannel campaign called “Stop Clicking Around” in February—an initiative that has a direct booking call-to-action. Supported by TV, print, out-of-home, partnerships, and digital advertising, the campaign will continue to run into early next year. According to Weinstein, one-fifth of HHonors members who book their reservations directly through Hilton are new to the loyalty program, exemplifying growth. 

However customers decide to book, Weinstein knows that it’s Hilton’s responsibility to win back their business every time. And educating them on Hilton’s value is how the company will succeed.

“The challenge is not the product,” Weinstein says. “The challenge is telling people your story, and that’s what we’re focused on right now.”

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