Ai Editorial: ONYX targets real-time, 1-to-1, personalised interaction with guests

First Published on 2nd August, 2017

Ai Editorial: ONYX Hospitality Group is undergoing a transformation that would enable the entire team to “talk everything in terms of a customer profile”. Of course, data is vital to all of this, but by breaking down silos and offering apt training to the staff, a foundation is being laid for a customer-centric culture, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta


Customer data platform, data management platform, master data management…these offerings related to management of data have a key to role to play in an organization’s transformation towards customer-centricity.

But how these platforms actually contribute in serving a traveller? What else needs to be done to make it an enterprise-wide initiative?

One organization that is in the middle of such transformation is Bangkok, Thailand-based ONYX Hospitality Group, with a regional portfolio of over 40 operating properties.

“We talk everything in terms of a guest or customer profile,” shared Chetan Patel, ONYX’s Hospitality Group VP Strategic Marketing and E-Commerce. “We are moving towards real-time, 1-to-1, personalised, seamless interactions with our guests. That’s the end goal,” says Patel. The company is working on a new platform, being referred as a CRM platform by ONYX.  

The team is still in the process of completing what it has set out for. But it does mean that ONYX is breaking shackles in terms of what impedes customer-centricity in today’s complex shopping environment. “This (new CRM platform) is a way to break silos, via a single point of truth. So whenever one refers to a customer, there is one place where there is the end of the line as far as information is concerned. On one side (of the new platform) we have database about the customer and profiling, and then using the data on the other side to communicate with the customer,” shared Patel. 

We explore 5 key areas of transformation:

1.     Enterprise-level data-driven decision-making: Silos in a business organization exist, and this doesn’t help as the journey of travellers has evolved from being linear to a dynamic one with real-time “micro-moments” in an omni-channel, multi-device environment. So as we spoke of data platforms, Patel did refer to the difference in digital marketing and information management. But, as a result of this new undertaking, ONYX is streamlining operations around data and analytics at the enterprise level. It has been in the pipeline for a year or so.

Today travel organizations acknowledge the significance of collection and correlation of real-time event information into actionable knowledge, plus gearing up for sharing of data across business functions, and the information management framework has to facilitate connectors to today’s diverse sources of data. A department has to act, and cohesively the effort needs to serve the guest/ passenger. 

As for the real utility of this data, it comes from the fact that the entire customer journey is being mapped out. The focus is on how to collect data from each touchpoint and how to interact with the guest – to reach out in a relevant manner as per the booking funnel. “We are basically looking at the CRM platform (with functionalities such as data integration, analytics and integration with web experience management etc.) to do that,” shared Patel.

So, as per the latest dashboard based on the data platform, ONYX is capturing data right from what triggers the search to the next trip, and this entails what people tend to do and what are the opportunities to influence the behavior of the traveller. “The entire journey is being evaluated for our own systems and touchpoints,” mentioned Patel.

There is clarity on the following areas:

·          What data needs to be collected from each touchpoint?

·          What system will be involved at each touchpoint?

·          Where the data will be stored at that touchpoint?

·          Who will be the owner of that data once is collected?

2.     Data in one customer profile, the base for experience and revenue optimization: A vital aspect is responsibility towards collection of data, and this gets incorporated into the customer profile wherever possible. Various touchpoints and people are responsible for collecting data and reaching out to customers, with everything being spoken in terms of “customer profiles”. “There is a holistic approach to the entire strategy – CRM and team, and everything else will fit into this,” shared Patel.

So, for instance, a user is looking for a property in Phuket after coming across his friend’s experience. He conducts research, comes across an ad from Amari and clicks on it. This data is available in clickstream, but may not be personally identifiable. But once this user lands on the Amari website, there is a possibility to connect with other aspects of the user’s online profile (for instance, Facebook integration on the website, automatically log on to Facebook part of the website, hotel’s Facebook page is listed on the hotel’s website). “We start joining the pieces of the puzzle. Once they return we glean more information. They click on spa, check spa packages so the web experience platform will automatically start profiling the customer. And it will keep the profile in the background in the data. Next time the same user comes on the website, using this past interaction and browsing pattern, content can be customized. So as per the interest shown, the relevant content can get them closer to a decision or conversion.” In case of first time users, they are profiled on the basis of browsing pattern, and from 5th or 6th page onwards, they are served relevant content.

“The web experience platform is in the execution stage, our first website should be live (on this) in September. Also, there is one RFP out there for a CRM system, which will be a single point of truth for all customers that come across us. This system will be leveraged to send out the guest profile information everywhere, and then customize the content, the experience as much as possible,” shared Patel. For instance, post booking, an email confirmation can have cross-selling options depending upon the information from the profiles in the repository. It could be about an upgrade, spa, romantic dinner etc. Similarly, the guest might look for destination-related information or any other section on Amari’s website, this can be capitalized upon during the pre-arrival phase. “So more the customer visits the site, more data is picked by the CRM system. We can personalise based on all these interactions, so better chances of monetization,” he said.

As of now, the primary source of data is the company-owned booking channels and PMS. “If any additional data can be collected at the property, we would incorporate that as well,” said Patel. He also mentioned that if the company consolidates the social media log-in say via Twitter or Facebook, then whatever is publically available is also considered. 

3.     Personalisation: Every piece of communication triggered by the platform would be on a one-to-one basis. So if a profile indicates that a user’s birthday is coming up or there is someone’s marriage anniversary, then from the 10 pre-defined offers for a particular property based on the business rules set, when the email goes out the CRM platform would find the best fit. “This is for our direct communication and channels,” shared Patel. “Personalisation in marketing means predicting communicating the right message/ offer to right prospect at right time. Personalisation on the ground means more meaningful one-on-one interactions with guests when they are at the property and meeting their needs in a demonstrable manner. All these will increase their propensity to return to our business. Even if we can target a small percentage of our past customers to return, it would be make a sizable difference in our bottomline.”

4.     Using analytics for more direct bookings: ONYX is also looking at evaluating the source of booking and then attempting to convert non-direct bookers. So a guest is being targeted with emails, but continues to book with an OTA, then how to attract this customer? “How can we target this guest differently? May be with a much more aggressive offer? May be with a package that has perceivably higher value? Once they are direct, then we can continue to attract them with activities that are special and again based on their profile, keeps them with us,” pointed out Patel. According to the company, 15% of repeat stays from OTA sign-ups to the loyalty programme were direct.

5.     Removing pain points during the actual stay: There can be a lot of uncertainties at the time a guest is ready to check-in. The size of the room is one common concern or expectation, for example. ONYX is also looking at the platform to supply critical information at the time of guest check-in and during the course of the stay to make it more personalised and relevant based on past behavior. “You must understand a hotel’s front desk is a busy place. Some areas are process-centric, very operational so actionable information (sitting alongside the PMS screen) needs to help in a quick dialogue based on the profile, past behavior etc.,” said Patel, further explaining his point with a couple of examples.

The team would be trained, so if a guest tends to stay in a certain type of room or prefers a particular location, then the staff can offer the same to them. “It is not about monetization, rather customer experience, too,” says Patel. Similarly, if a booking has come from an OTA, then the staff is instructed to collect the email id. “If there is a sports event in the city and the guest has shown an interest in the same, then offering a ticket in an unprompted manner can uplift the experience. Or a property has worked out 10 offers for a particular month, and depending upon the profile of the guest, an email can sent to indicate the availability of a matching offer. This is where we are headed,” asserted Patel. The plan for the future is to evaluate deployment of beacons to relay relevant messages.  

Of course, ONYX Hospitality Group, like every travel organization, will improve in areas like 3rd party data integration and even bank on improvements in probabilistic device matching to better identify travellers, but with such platform the team has laid a foundation for 1-to-1 communication. Even today, as Patel says, ONYX is capable of responding to each and every message on Facebook in a span of minutes/ hours (the brand experiences most traffic on Facebook) and the team will respond to other channels as well. And it is exploring the option of chatbots, too, considering brands need to automate certain areas of communication. The sophistication level of platforms that are available today and their ability to deal with emerging technology such as chatbots is still not there in terms of the sort of end result that companies are looking for.   

The only way travel companies can cut down on the probability of an experience going wrong is by capturing all interactions and this is exactly what ONYX is preparing itself for by capturing as much as data they can and crafting customer profiles. 

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