Dynamic personalization: How accepting ourselves as complex human beings is the gateway to AI adoption.
2020, whether we like it or not, has been a time of reflection. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Are we making a positive impact on the world around us? In a time of chaos, uncertainty, and polarization, we’ve all been forced to look in the mirror and consider the role we play in our personal and professional lives.
Around my home, as our family grows both in headcount and clothing sizes, we’ve become very aware of waste. Back when things were just “normal” and not “the new normal,” we were living in excess compared to what we now deem essential. We found waste in possessions, waste in consumption, and waste in the ways we were spending our time. Quarantine made us target waste and reduce it, if not fully eliminate it, in exchange for quality and value. At first this was forced, we had no choice, but like any broken habit the alternative path became the new payoff.
As hotel professionals, we owe it to ourselves and our guests to not be wasteful. Over the last 3-5 years strategies have become bloated, diluted, and boring. Through attempts to be “everything to everyone” and justification of our own existence we’ve settled into consensus mediocrity. Even worse, we force our guests to wade through an oversaturated pool of irrelevant information when their needs are actually quite simple. So, what if we got out of their way? What if we curated and consolidated their experience? What if we focus on quality and value and intent in more extreme ways? First (and you’re not going to want to hear this) we have to get over ourselves.
ARE YOU LISTENING?
Maybe it is our outgoing, hospitable nature but many of us like to talk a bit more than we like to listen. We are experts, and experts tell it like it is with confidence and enthusiasm. However, if we listened to our guests through their feedback and behaviors we would quickly realize that we need to dial it back and deliver, not overdeliver. When it comes to a guest having their questions answered or booking a room, overdelivery is a hindrance rather than a help. To illustrate this point, let’s play out a hotel website experience in conversation form:
Guest: “Nice to meet you, Hotel. You look pretty nice, but I need to know if you offer early check in and how close you are to the airport.”
Hotel Website: “Nice to meet you as well, Guest! I’m located here in Midtown Manhattan where there are hundreds of cool things to do. If you book directly I guarantee that you’ll get the best rate and I even have a promotion available. It’s simple, stay two nights and get 15% off, stay three nights and get 20% off, stay four to seven nights and get 30%, and stay more than seven nights and get 38% off with a daily F&B credit of $25! Have you been to Rockefeller Center? I’m nine blocks away, a five-minute walk if you’re quick on your feet. I was built in 1897, which means I’m a historical property and not required to meet the accessibility standards outlined in ADA Title III legislation. You should trust me, I was always clean, but these days I’m super clean because I don’t want you or your loved ones to get COVID-19. Did I mention that I serve cookies? No, not delicious chocolate chip cookies—browser cookies so I can follow you around the Internet and try to get you to come back and book me. And, when you finally do book me, I’m going to show you 15 room types, 8 packages, 12 add-ons, optional travel insurance, a financing offer, and some bonus gift incentives if you can make it all the way through!”
Yes, it’s an exaggeration, and much of the content itself is important, but think about the massive amount of information you’re trying to force a guest to consume before you stop and listen to what they actually need. And, think about the decision fatigue you’ve created when all the guest wants to do is have their questions answered and make a booking. We’ve become the purveyors of waste. We’re trained to have simple, thoughtful, two-way communications in person, so why is it so different in our digital presentation?
IDENTIFICATION & RECOGNITION
There are many ways to listen in a digital sense. The concept of personalization is one that our industry has thrown around for years, although the execution of a personalized experience runs the gamut. The concept itself is intimidating because identification and recognition, let alone the actions that follow become complex. To demystify personalization, let’s break down a few approaches:
Attribute Personalization: Delivering an experience based on a known attribute such as “mobile” or “desktop” or a referral source like a PR article or banner advertisement.
Behavioral Personalization: Delivering an experience based on a guest’s behaviors, such as viewing specific content, time on site, time on page, pages viewed, repeat visits, or any number of other recognizable actions.
Recognition Personalization: Delivering an experience through guest recognition, whether it is done through browser cookies, account login, or integrations such as CRM and loyalty. At this point you’re starting to see a guest as an individual, not just a segment or behavior type.
Dynamic Personalization: And this brings us to the future…
WE ARE COMPLEX HUMAN BEINGS
Let’s look at a typical CRM guest profile. His name is “Robert Paulson”.
- Name: Robert Paulson
- Gender: Male
- Age: 42
- Marital Status: Married
- Children: 2, daughter age 4, son age 2
- Location: Boston
- Occupation: Business Executive
- Income: High Earner
- Travel: Frequent corporate traveler, occasional leisure with family
- Prefers: Walkable city center independent hotels, beachfront luxury hotels with expensive restaurants
And the list goes on…
What are we missing about Robert Paulson? We’ve gotten to know him, but we’ve put him into a box through descriptors and definitions. What we don’t understand is how Robert’s mindset and mood changes based on the task at hand and the external factors around him. It’s unfair of us to assume that we know Robert, and assume that Robert isn’t a complex human being. We can build better rules, better algorithms, better buying triggers, even play to Robert’s sensibilities by “evoking emotion” during his journey. However, we as equally complex human beings will insert too much bias and assumptions into our process and we’ll miss our opportunity to align our message with Robert’s intent. Not only with the right message, in the right place, at the right time, but within the right mindset.
While it’s true that AI poses threats to our jobs and livelihoods, and Universal Basic Income may be the path to supporting humanity (Yang Gang, represent!), let us put that aside for now and embrace the concept of man becoming more powerful with the addition of machines. As you know by now, AI holds enormous promise for the hospitality industry, but an AI-driven personalized experience, at least in the near term, is only as powerful as the underlying information and infrastructure that supports it.
So back to Robert Paulson and our collective unpredictability and flaws as complex human beings, bringing AI into the equation allows us to achieve dynamic personalization in a way that isn’t incredibly complex. And even if we don’t know Robert as an individual, AI can also achieve dynamic personalization based on a guest’s behaviors and start reacting in real-time instead of defined if/then rules or action → reaction logic.
Through dynamic personalization, the guest experience when interacting with your hotel digitally will become one that not only recognizes their attributes, behaviors, and identity, but one that picks up on the nuances of intent, motivation, and sentiment. This is a powerful concept, because we’ll be recognizing a guest not only for what defines them in general, but who they are in that very moment.
PREPARING FOR DYNAMIC PERSONALIZATION
Reiterating the point that AI must be supplemental, our work and overdelivery still holds great value. Focusing on first-party data collection and having a CRM is more important now than ever, both in building up data assets, but also preparing for advertising in a cookie-less world. Creating a vast library of content and FAQs is important so it can be referenceable and delivered within a curated experience. Publishing information about health and privacy issues such as COVID-19, wildfires, accessibility, data sharing, data protection, and travel restrictions is crucial to inform guests when they need such information.
The point is, keep up the good work! But, at the same time we must all branch off our thinking into what the future holds. We must start identifying simple and economical ways to integrate AI decision making into our digital experience. We must find partners and vendors who are the cutting edge of innovation and participate in beta programs and test cases. We must eradicate archaic systems, technical debt, and limiting beliefs. We must identify new data to analyze and metrics to fixate on and improve upon. We must replace waste with quality and value. And lastly, we must figure out more ways to listen and more ways to “edit” our strategies and tactics—even if the ultimate solution is to let the machines do it for us.