Starwood VP of marketing: Managing customer expectations requires emotional credit

The hotel group's VP of marketing, distribution and loyalty discusses the balance between solid and great customer experience and how data is helping it do both

Daniel Kerzner, Starwood
Daniel Kerzner, Starwood

Managing customer expectations and the balance between solid and ‘wow’ experiences is about putting credit into a bank account, Starwood Hotel’s VP of marketing, distribution and loyalty claims.

Speaking at this year’s ADMA Data Day in Sydney, the Belgium-based Daniel Kerzner said modern customer engagement was a “give and take” arrangement, where brands needed to gain “emotional credit” with their customers to drive advocacy and long-term loyalty.

“With any business, you have to have more credit in the bank account than you take out of that account,” he told attendees. “There is usually that one defining stay that makes me think about why I want to stay with a certain hotel [group].

“What we do is try to find those touchpoints and where it makes sense to overload the bank account with those credits. But we also know those extra credits won’t be there every time.”

The comment followed Kerzner’s presentation on how Starwood is using customer data, as well as social media channels, to drive more personalised experiences that surprise and delight its customers.

One example he provided was having a gluten free cake in the shape of a shoe delivered to the room of an influential shoe blogger who had posted comments about her forthcoming trip to a Starwood hotel in Athens and her love of gluten free desserts. Another example was delivering bathrobes to a loyalty member with their name embroidered on them.

“It’s not so much transactions, but how to find opportunities to have interactions with our guests,” Kerzner said. “Data allows us to understand that it’s a guest’s birthday, for example, and then use that information about the customer to wow them.”

However, Kerzner admitted not every experience can always be better than the last, and said the key for brands is to ensure the core experience is great one every time.

“Each opportunity puts some credit into the account,” he said. “We know our guests aren’t coming to us for that ‘shoe’ experience every time, so it’s about how we give you a great stay every time, then one experience in the customer lifecycle journey that wows you.”

Another way Starwood is working to improve its influential on the customer journey is by building partnerships with other travel providers and services. As an example, Kerzner pointed to its recent partnership with Uber that allows Starwood loyalty program members to earn points for hitching an Uber ride.

“This allows us to know where guests are travelling, market to them and in the end, ensure they stay with us more than the competition,” he said.

Starwood is also piloting a new partnership with Whatsapp in 25 hotels globally that allows guests to directly communicate with its staff via the mobile app. Guests can use the chat app to ask for services such as booking a taxi or service in the hotel.

Kerzner said the Whatsapp and Uber relationships were also recognition that it’s sometimes better to use a third-party’s technology over your own.

“Uber has a great app, so why would we try and replicate that?” he asked. “And with Whatsapp chat, the question was: Do we want to drive conversation through own channel and app? My sense is no – if our customers are using Whatsapp to talk to friends and colleagues, we don’t want to ask them to leave that to have a conversation in a proprietary Starwood app with us.”

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