As innovation happens faster across all industries, businesses are often left chasing trends and lagging behind their customers’ needs. With all the data available on consumers today — and the enormous number of digital touch points to reach them — many suggest it’s time for a societal shift in the way businesses connect with their consumers.
Moving to a digital world is only the beginning of this shift, says Rik Vera, a partner at nexxworks, a company built in 2014 to help companies radically innovate their strategies to stay in front of disruption. To adapt, companies must transform both their digital and human interactions, he said.
“Consumer and business interactions should no longer be inside-out but outside-in, and should start from the customer,” Vera said. “There is no such thing as a fixed customer journey; every customer journey is different and customer centricity is about ultimate personalization.”@RikVera suggests it’s time for a societal shift in the way #hotels connect with their consumers… Click To Tweet
Vera, who serves on the citizenM advisory board, spoke with Duetto in advance of his keynote address at Revenue Strategy Forum London, which will take place 6 November at the Amba Hotel Charing Cross.
Q: Hotels speak often about personalization. How does this relate to your customer-centric approach?
A: Five years ago we could only dream about having this kind of relationship with the customer. But the world has changed and customer centricity is the new normal. It’s no use to just digitize your old strategy; it’s about putting the customer at the center of everything you do.
Starbucks is not just about coffee, Tesla is not just a car – it’s a religion, a state of mind. You feel like you belong to a tribe.
Personalization is about taking those interactions and making them human-to-human. A one-on-one interaction is the ultimate form of networking, and today businesses can make that leap with the assistance of technology and big data.
Companies used to be the flower and want to attract as many bees as we could. We said, “Our bees need this type of flower with this type of color and smell, and this is how we should look to attract the most bees.” Now the customer has become the flower. We feel the companies out there are the bees, and they have to recognize that and use the data to personalize their connection to the flower.
Q: Why do you think the customer has changed so much that we need to reach him or her in different ways?
A: The changes I’m seeing are driven by technology, particularly the smartphone. Communication is what makes us human beings, and as it has become completely digital it has led to the empowered customer.
In all industries you have people who try to change, people who are not changing, and people who are changing in the wrong direction. Keeping your old business model and digitizing it is changing the wrong way. I see that in banking, insurance … and it’s not enough. Also, not doing anything is by definition not the way to go. So we’re left with the way to go, which is developing a strategy fit for the new normal.
Q: In the hospitality space, where are the opportunities to change the relationship with the customer?
A: Take your existing elements and see what you have with the building blocks. Decompose your old house, look at it as pile of Lego blocks, and try to understand the different aspects of the blocks. The only thing you can do is build a new house not using the old models. Then comes the moment you can activate everything.
Q: Loyalty programs — what works and what doesn’t? How can we make them better?
A: One of the KPIs that we have at citizenM is to measure the number of mentions on social. We get 51% of the people staying at citizenM to post something, and that’s incredibly high. We’re building a reputation of customer good will. The new value of companies in the new world is not the traditional assets, it’s value and loyalty of your customers.
When you look at today’s app-based loyalty programs, things need to change. The average app stays on a person’s phone for 14 days; there’s a limit to the amount of apps we use. So more and more those apps are evolving into a platform — look at Facebook, Apple, Microsoft — and are open for other apps to join with the super app. In China, for example, WeChat has a host of sub-apps, and you can develop a sub-app that uses the technology of the super app.
Q: Could one argue Airbnb is a result of someone actually listening to the customer?
A: What Airbnb has done is serving the same need but in a different way; they’ve connected the dots and activated everything. They’ve turned their customers into an infrastructure and it started with serving a basic customer need to make life easy, simple, fast and at the same time give them a bit of “wow” effect. They make it simple, they make it fast and they make it fun, and it’s a model everyone can learn from. Use your data not to cross-sell or upsell but to build a better relationship.
Q: Where does machine learning and artificial intelligence get involved in this process and how could it be used more effectively in the future?
A: What we do as human beings, we kind of find what we want to find in the data. Take segmentation, for example: We target the average woman 35-50 years old who lives in the city. In reality there is such a thing as that average woman. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can help us in that they have no presumptions of what they’re trying to find. But in the end we need people to give that hospitality, so we can use technology to the maximize the build up in the process. Use people not to do processes that computers can do better, but use people to add the extra elements: empathy, creativity and passion.
What I’ve found is if you start asking customers to share data, they don’t. But if you start with one question, a question related to an interaction you had with that customer, you can then start a conversation. With speech recognition, AI can do amazing stuff with analyzing the answer. And that leads to the next question, and all of a sudden you’re starting a conversation with your customer and enabling them to share data in an open and spontaneous way. Acquire the data not just to aid the sales process but also to build relationships.
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