Q&A: Understanding Customers in Terms of Motivations, Not Numbers

Analysts are often taught to lead with their heads instead of their hearts. But for Jeannette Ho, VP of revenue management and analytics for luxury hotel brand FRHI Hotels and Resorts, analytics isn’t an emotionless practice. 

Direct Marketing News sat down with Ho at the 2014 SAS Premier Business Leadership Series in Las Vegas and discussed why the parent company of Fairmont, Raffles, and Swissôtel hotels is focusing more on customer motivations and less on segments and demographics.

How have your analytics changed over the past year?

It’s definitely changed a lot. We’re really trying to understand consumers not as an average or as a number. We don’t look at things anymore like average age of our customer or [view them] as a segment. We’re moving away from trying to understand our consumers more in terms of numbers and [moving towards] trying to understand them in terms of what is their motivation for travel… 

So instead of just understanding what the consumer is doing…[we try to understand] what are they actually trying to do? Are they trying to connect with their family, or are they looking for an efficient trip? [Guests] might be the same demographically, [and] they might travel with us often. But it’s important for us to know if they’re traveling for business or when they’re traveling as a couple for a romantic getaway. They also travel with us as a multi-generation for the big Christmas getaway or Easter getaway. Each time [the reasons are] actually very, very different. So, we try to look more into capturing the motivations and what they’re trying to achieve in a trip as opposed to just classifying them in this particular customer segment. I think that’s the biggest change. It’s not that we’re there yet, but we’re trying to put a lot of emphasis on building up these opportunities.

What data do you look at to get a better sense of guests’ motivations?

One of the newest types of data that we’re trying to get our hands around is text analytics. From every guest survey that we have [and] all of the information that’s out there on social media, the key challenge is [learning] how to take all of these things and not only be able to associate it back to an individual consumer—because we’re trying to get this one-to-one understanding—but [also] be able to identify the emotions behind it

So, we’re working with companies to try to have some sort of a taxonomy that converts what people are commenting on into not just how they rank their rooms or physical products, but truly [emotions]. Are they just pleasantly happy, somewhat satisfied, or are they exhilarated and truly excited? And in the areas where they’re thrilled and exhilarated, what was it that caused it? And then to tie back to, at the end of the day, the business. [For] all of these guests who were surprised, bothered, [or] delighted by us, did we end up getting a bigger share of their wallet? Did they have better repeat frequency with us? So, a lot of emphasis on [a] new understanding of the emotion behind the text.

How exactly do you quantify emotions?

We are just at the stage of piloting it with a pretty new startup company. They do not specialize in the hospitality industry. They really have built a whole research understanding of converting text into emotions. On our end, we know a lot about the actual transactions of our guests….We then tie what they’ve told us in terms of text analytics to [the following]: Do they actually end up staying with us more often [or] consume more of the products? And at the end of the day, with the guest satisfaction ranking (which they tell us), are they really more satisfied? Are they likely to return? So we kind of try to tie the whole picture together.

What do you think is the biggest misconception marketers have about analytics today?

A lot of people still think too much about averages…. The other thing is that they don’t know how to ask the questions. Often people ask you for a report. So, what I taught my whole team is [that] we do not answer questions like this. We do not give anybody a report that we don’t know what they’re going to use it for. [Instead we say], “Here are your business strategies, let’s talk about what you want to find out, and we’ll let you know if it’s a customer insights piece, a number and performance piece, or maybe we have to reach not only within our own guests but maybe it has to be a better understanding of potential guests we haven’t attracted before, in which case it becomes a consumer research piece.” 

The main things are that they don’t know how to ask the right questions and [that] they just think of analytics as a report as opposed to a deeper insight and understanding of consumers, the business, and the market.

You mentioned that you’re still not quite there. What is inhibiting you from being able to tap into that emotion, and where do you want to improve to get there?

There’s no constraint except for the fact that it’s just part of the journey. We started this about 12 months back, and we’re making great progress. I’m excited that we’ve approached it as a whole company.

What we’ve really started, especially for the Fairmont brand, is this [idea of] turning moments into memories. We wanted to understand what exactly creates memories? Is it just the employees giving you a bunch of flowers? Or is it them setting up the champagne for you? Is it getting a big fruit basket? So, we work with the Institute for the Future and quite a number of psychologists, thinkers, and mind scientists, as well, to better understand how you actually create memories. It was very exciting for us, but it’s completely changed the way we’re now trying to [run] our service culture. Simplistically, instead of you being an employee and being the hero and giving a bunch of flowers to someone, you know that it’s an anniversary [and that] a husband and wife have come. So, you ask the husband, “Would you like me to help you get flowers for your wife? Get her something beautiful? Set up the room?” We allow the husband to be the hero instead of us being the hero. It’s a shift in the concepting. I guess it means that we have to go through all of our service training. It’s a concept that’s not that easy to operationalize, so we’re just in the stages of operationalizing it. 

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