Q&A: Jeff Diskin, SVP of global customer marketing, Hilton Worldwide

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Jeff Diskin, Hilton Worldwide
Jeff Diskin, Hilton Worldwide

Jeff Diskin, SVP of global customer marketing at Hilton Worldwide, must keep 34 million HHonors members happy and returning for repeat stays. The program has a long heritage as one of loyalty's most heralded programs. He tells Direct Marketing News what's next.

Q: Has the loyalty program glut had an effect on how Hilton structures its HHonors program?

A: We've started to think more strategically about what our members are really investing in. Are they members because they like free nights, Wi-Fi, and being greeted as members at the front desk when they check in? Of course. But at the end of the day, we earn their long-term loyalty when we give them something more.

Q: How has Hilton Worldwide adapted to social media and mobile phone proliferation?

A: Nearly nine out of 10 Hilton Worldwide guests are socially active and 43% of our guests expect companies to listen to what they're saying, tweeting, and posting online—and to respond [in real time] if they have complaints. This means we have to be a part of those social media conversations.

We're currently running a “virtual concierge” pilot program called Hilton Suggests. Through a Twitter account, this program links our Hilton concierges around the world with our guests, wherever they may be. These virtual concierges provide suggestions about local attractions and restaurants, as well as all of the other advice you'd expect from a hotel concierge. The program allows us to be responsive to our customers even if they're not physically in one of our hotels. It's just a pilot program in 13 cities at the moment, but it's been well-received and we're hoping to expand it to more markets over time.

Q: Is Big Data now the key to a successful loyalty program?

A: We have a network of millions of members with different expectations, needs, and wants who volunteer information about themselves. Because of this, we recently launched our Customer 360 initiative, a comprehensive global database of customer insights that includes data from all of our divisions [and] contains over one billion records from more than 100 million past guests on over 20,000 customer attributes, including demographics, behavior, and psychographics. Customer 360 [gives] us a window into our customers' travel patterns and preferences, shifts in their behavior, and other useful information like hobbies, all of which help inform which offers we deliver to them and when.

Q: Hilton needs to fill hotel rooms every night, so the program certainly has short-term revenue goals. How does it engender long-term loyalty?

A: Given all the change that was taking place in our industry, our economy, and in the consumer, we knew we needed to get smarter about our members. So a couple of years ago we undertook extensive research to better understand our value proposition to our members, and what we found has really become the bedrock of our program.

They told us that they wanted more utility and flexibility in how they use their points, so we responded with a number of new offerings, like Premium Room Rewards. We implemented new benefits for Gold and Diamond members, like more frequent upgrades. Most important, we learned that we needed to engage our members in a way that made them feel emotionally connected to the brand. Yes, we need to be rational in our decisions to drive business, but in the long-term, it's that emotional connection that keeps members coming back.

And that last insight, the emotional connection, showed us that our members are looking for more than just points. They want experiences they can share with their closest family and friends. It had become all too easy to forget about the experience of traveling and to fall back on “10,000 points just for signing up!” language and branding. But based on this research, we redefined our brand platform as “Experiences Worth Sharing,” which moves us higher on the hierarchy of human wants and needs.

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