Customer Data at Denihan’s Service

Client: Denihan Hospitality Group
Vendor: IBM
Objective: Use analytics to quickly cull and act on customer feedback, and target hotel guests with super-relevant offers

The Back Story: The first thing most travelers do to book a business or leisure trip is hit the Web: Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity. So, a hotel chain without a digital marketing strategy—and a smart, systematic plan to handle its customer data—might as well pack it in.

In fact, 56% of travelers start shopping for and then book travel using search, while a staggering 96% of leisure travelers begin their hotel planning with search, according to research from search- and digital-agency RKG.

The Denihan Hospitality Group, which operates a number of boutique luxury hotels in key urban U.S. markets, including Chicago, Washington, D.C., Miami, and New York, is a brand that fully understands the digital marketplace—a landscape both brimming with opportunities and rife with pitfalls for marketers.

For Denihan, it’s all about using technology to provide the warm, personalized, one-to-one experiences that engender loyalty—and doing so at scale, says Menka Uttamchandani, VP of business intelligence at Denihan.

“Guests make an emotional connection to the place they stay when they feel genuinely cared for,” Uttamchandani says. “Technology is a great enabler of this, but it’s never a substitute for great, genuine people.”

Great, genuine people, however, don’t have the bandwidth to meet the needs of thousands. So Denihan uses IBM’s business analytics tools.

“Technology without people doesn’t work and people without technology doesn’t scale,” says Erick Brethenoux, director of business analytics and decision management strategy at IBM. “That is our mantra across the customer journey.”

The Strategy: Denihan uses IBM’s analytics offerings to collect, evaluate, and act on a vast quantity of customer data—everything from psychographic information and feedback cards to whether a customer has a child in the home. But Denihan doesn’t just collect data for data’s sake. Every scrap fits into the hotel group’s overall customer experience strategy.

In Brethenoux’s words, it’s not about the power to know, but “about the power to act. You can have all the data in the world and do nothing with it; what we’re talking about here is how to pragmatically link what you know to specific business problems.”

One business problem facing any hotel is how to understand the reason behind a guest’s stay and to reach out accordingly. That also redounds to the brand’s benefit: A family, for example, will want to know about all the kid-friendly activities available near a Denihan property. A business traveler probably wants to know about the WiFi capabilities in the room. Data powers these communications.

“We use every touchpoint as wisely and with as much relevancy as possible, so that guests realize the value and we have the opportunity to maintain great relationships,” Uttamchandani says. “It’s a win-win.”

Due to the nature of its business, during the check-in process Denihan collects the kind of customer data that most brands dream about, including current mailing address, and it makes sure to put that data to good use.

“When we opened our hotel in D.C. we had geographic information about guests and were able to isolate those within an area that’s about a three-hour drive from the hotel location,” Uttamchandani says. “We communicated differently with those guests; for example, we invited them to park-and-stay, which is not something we’d offer to someone on the West Coast, because it’s not relevant to them.”

The Creative: Denihan’s also able to get a firm grip on unstructured data like customer feedback—especially crucial when your business is all about convenience and comfort. For example, the company noticed a pattern of complaints about outside noise at each of its 11 New York properties by analyzing individual customer feedback cards. Having identified the problem, Denihan responded with a swift solution—a campaign dubbed “New York on Mute,” through which it provided complementary earplugs in all guest rooms.

The Results: The IBM analytics implementation has produced a significant 300% return on investment for Denihan, clear evidence that personalization fueled by data-driven marketing and analytics works. “We keep our guests at the center of our attention,” Uttamchandani says, “and to do that we must understand what they experience, their preferences—it’s a great window for us.”

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