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How Customer Analytics is Transforming the Hospitality Industry

How Customer Analytics is Transforming the Hospitality Industry

Join us in the latest episode of The Zista Podcast, where we explore the intersection of customer analytics and the hospitality industry with our esteemed guest, Dilpreet Singh, Head of CRM, Loyalty and Partnerships at ITC Hotels. 

We discuss the evolution of customer loyalty programs, the wealth of career opportunities in customer analytics, and how CRM is being used to enrich customer experiences. 

This episode offers valuable insights for students and professionals, particularly those interested in the overlap of hospitality and data analytics. 

Introducing the newest episode of The Zista Podcast, where we explore the transformative role of customer analytics in the hospitality industry.

Our guest for this episode is Dilpreet Singh, Head of CRM, Loyalty and Partnerships at ITC Hotels. With a strong professional background that includes roles at Oberoi Hotels, American Express, Domino’s, and Aon Hewitt, Dilpreet brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the conversation.

In this episode, we shed light on the progression of customer loyalty programs within the hospitality sector, providing insights into how they have morphed over time to meet changing customer needs and market trends. We also delve into the emergent field of customer data and analytics, outlining the broad spectrum of career opportunities it holds for students and young professionals.

The conversation further explores the innovative ways in which the hospitality industry is leveraging CRM solutions to enhance customer experiences. With practical examples and case studies, we aim to demonstrate how these tools are being used to create memorable customer interactions and drive business success.

This episode promises to be a reservoir of practical knowledge, especially beneficial for students aspiring to navigate the crossroads of hospitality and data analytics. Guided by Dilpreet’s deep industry knowledge, this episode of The Zista Podcast promises to enrich your understanding of the hospitality and data analytics sectors, while inspiring and informing your career aspirations.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Loyalty programs in the hospitality industry have evolved significantly over time, moving from simple tier-based and points-based systems to more personalized and experiential offerings. 
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) in hospitality leverages data, technology, and content to enhance guest experiences and boost brand positioning.
  • The customer analytics domain is industry-agnostic, offering versatile career paths such as business analyst, data analyst, and data scientist roles.
  • Soft skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication are crucial in the data analytics field to effectively solve problems and communicate results.
  • Developing business acumen is necessary for making informed, data-driven decisions that positively impact the business.

Q1. How have customer loyalty programs evolved in the hospitality industry?

A: Prior to delving into the loyalty aspect, Dilpreet emphasizes the critical role of customer experience in the hospitality industry. The goal, he explains, is to offer a ‘home away from home’ atmosphere, where the guests’ needs are understood and catered to. He further asserts that once a customer’s experience is tarnished, no amount of discounts or freebies can adequately compensate. Consequently, hotels need to consistently strive to enhance their customer experiences.

When discussing loyalty programs, Dilpreet identifies multiple benefits, such as the creation of brand advocates, fostering repeat business, and promoting direct bookings. These programs act as a tool to lessen the industry’s dependency on online travel agencies and other aggregators. 

Dilpreet acknowledges that the evolution of loyalty programs within the hospitality industry has been significant due to increasing competition and evolving customer expectations. Originally, loyalty programs were relatively straightforward, often involving punch cards to accumulate points for rewards. However, with the advent of the ‘connected consumer’ who experiences and interacts with multiple industries simultaneously, a desire for a consistent experience across all these industries emerged. This necessitated hotels to innovate and personalize their loyalty offerings to retain competitiveness and customer loyalty.

According to Dilpreet, there are four or five types of loyalty programs that are prevalent in the market today:

  1. Point-Based Loyalty Programs: Guests earn points for engagements with the hotel, such as stays, dining, and spa services. In recent times, these programs have expanded to reward points for non-transactional engagements like interacting with the brand on social media, referring friends, or downloading the brand’s app.
  2. Tier-Based Loyalty Programs: These programs offer varying levels of benefits based on the number of stays or points a guest accumulates. As guests climb tiers, they unlock exclusive benefits like late check-outs and welcome amenities.
  3. Experience Loyalty Programs: These programs aim to keep guests engaged by setting reward levels. These are particularly popular with high-value customers with substantial purchasing power.
  4. Subscription-Based Loyalty Programs: Following the model of services like Amazon Prime or Netflix, these programs provide instant gratification and are popular amongst millennials and young travelers. Guests pay an upfront fee to access exclusive benefits.
  5. Coalition Loyalty Programs: In this model, multiple brands come together to offer a joint loyalty program. This strategy allows for a broader member base and helps brands save on program costs.

In conclusion, Dilpreet observes a radical shift in the landscape of loyalty programs in the hospitality industry, largely driven by changing customer expectations and competitive pressures.

Q2. How does the hospitality industry employ CRM solutions to enhance customer experiences?

A: Dilpreet begins by explaining the importance of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) in the contemporary hospitality industry. CRM, he elaborates, is a strategic approach that aims to bolster a brand’s positioning by leveraging three key pillars: data, technology, and content.

The first pillar, data, pertains to data management and analytics. Hotels need to identify various data sources, such as profile data detailing who the guests are, their locations, their companies, and more. Transactional data, such as where guests have stayed and how much they spend on different services, is also critical. Additionally, social data – information about how people engage with the brand on social platforms – is invaluable.

Once data is collected and understood, the second pillar, personalization, comes into play. Through available CRM data, hotels can enhance guest experiences by crafting campaigns specifically tailored to their needs and preferences. Personalization extends beyond marketing to the actual delivery of services at the hotel. Frontline staff can use these data points to customize services when the guest is present.

The third pillar, technology, plays a crucial role in automation. Hotels need to map out customer journeys and build relevant communication at scale. By “scale,” Dilpreet refers to the large databases most hotels manage, often containing millions or even trillions of data points. It would be impractical to manually handle this volume of data, hence the importance of automation through technology.

Conclusively, Dilpreet asserts that successful execution of a CRM solution in the hospitality industry can be achieved by proper management and application of data, personalized service delivery, and the utilization of technology for automation.

Q3. What career opportunities are available for students interested in customer data and analytics?

A: Dilpreet emphasizes that one of the main advantages of the customer analytics domain is its industry-agnostic nature. He illustrates this with a personal example, stating that despite not having a background in hospitality, his expertise in analytics allowed him to thrive. According to Dilpreet, individuals can build a rewarding career in analytics based on their interests and skill sets.

Here are some common roles that students may consider, as explained by Dilpreet:

  1. Business Analyst: The main responsibility of a business analyst is to work with various stakeholders in the business team to understand the problem at hand and develop solutions based on research and analysis.
  2. Data Analyst: This role involves handling all aspects of data, such as identifying data sources, data collection, data cleaning, and segmentation. A data analyst interprets data to glean trends and insights, determining what’s working, what’s not, and identifying opportunity areas for the brand.
  3. Market Research Analyst: These analysts focus on analyzing market phenomena from a consumer point of view. They delve into customer preferences, buying behaviors, demographics, and market trends, often through exercises like surveys or feedback collection from multiple sources.
  4. Data Scientist: This role requires a strong educational background and hard skills in developing advanced analytic models and algorithms, often using languages like Python. Data scientists derive predictive insights from customer data, potentially in conjunction with other internal or external data.

In summary, these are some of the top options for anyone looking to start a career in the exciting field of analytics.

Q4. Can students with a hospitality background transition into the data analytics field?

A: Absolutely, Dilpreet affirms. He states that students need to achieve a balance between technical and soft skills. In terms of technical skills, having the aptitude and ability to handle numerical data is crucial. Additionally, understanding systems and programming languages is key to such roles. Those from a statistics background would be particularly well-placed, as the role of a data scientist often involves drawing inferences from vast and diverse unstructured data, thereby requiring proficiency in programming and statistics.

On top of this, business acumen is something that needs to be developed over time. Having access to data and understanding it, but not being able to relate it to business trends and roles, can be counterproductive.

Dilpreet also highlights the importance of soft skills in this field. Problem-solving and critical thinking are paramount, as every role within an organization, be it in analytics, marketing, or finance, is ultimately about solving problems and streamlining processes.

Communication skills are equally important. If you cannot communicate your work effectively, you’ll be unable to convey the insights you’ve gleaned from the data to the rest of the business.

Lastly, he mentions the significance of curiosity and the willingness to challenge the status quo. No matter how advanced your technology or how well you understand your organization’s processes, there’s always scope for improvement. Being open to challenging existing processes and having a curiosity about why things work in a certain way can positively impact business operations.

Q5. Can students interested in customer analytics explore career opportunities outside the hospitality industry?

A: Absolutely, says Dilpreet. As he previously emphasized, the customer analytics domain is industry-agnostic. The presence of customers is a universal factor across all industries, which makes your role in managing customer data applicable everywhere. It’s crucial to have clear basics and a good understanding of the specific domain. Be it hospitality or retail, the key focus remains on managing customer data and deriving the most value from it.