By now you have seen dozens of articles with trends and predictions for what the hospitality industry should expect in 2015. I’m not going to add to those, or rehash them exhaustively here. You’ve all probably read them yourself and gathered the highlights: optimism, more acquisitions, transaction volumes will stay high, continued demand growth, pricing power, rise of digital marketing – it’s going to be a busy year! Instead, I’m going to give you, our Analytic Hospitality Executives, my fifteen actions to take to prepare yourself and your organization to survive and thrive through 2015 and beyond.
- Get Educated: Our guests have come to rely on technology to support their lives, and we rely on it to run our businesses. I don’t have to tell you that the technology space moves fast. Every day there’s a new provider, a new app or a new platform (seems like 90% of them are new ways for you to pay someone to move your inventory at a discount, but I digress). There is a lot of information about “the latest and greatest” out there, and some of it can be pretty misleading. It is important to get your facts straight about data and technology innovation, and the value they can provide to you and the organization. These are not inexpensive investments, and many have a huge impact on your ability to deliver the guest experience. Investments are being made that will impact your ability to do your job (successfully). I’m not suggesting that you need to become an IT expert, but arm yourself with the basics so you can ask the right questions and properly interpret the answers. Find a few people in your IT organization you trust, and a few external sources that you can rely on to help you separate the hype from the facts (stay tuned, I may be able to help here…).
- Build a Vision: It’s a great time to build a long term strategic vision for your organization. Where do you want to be in 5 years? What do you need to get there? I’m not necessarily talking about the company level here. You need a vision for your department, your team or yourself. Think about your organizations business strategy (or find out what it is if you don’t know). Figure out how you and your team fit within it, and contribute to it. Are there opportunities to take on a new project, or contribute in a new way to an existing initiative? How can you make a difference in the organization?
- Work with your peers: Collaboration will be the key to success in the next few years. Not news, I know. Lines between departmental responsibilities are blurring. Now is the time to forge relationships across departments, even if there are no formal mechanisms for doing so. There are huge (and well-recognized) benefits to better synchronizing activities across marketing, sales, revenue management and operations. Fortunately, there has been increasing momentum across the industry in this direction, with many organizations consolidating reporting structures so sales, marketing and revenue management report in through a common commercial services division, or consolidating all analytics functions to a shared services group, rather than dispersed through separate departments. All of this activity facilitates integrated decision making, but you shouldn’t wait until it’s formalized in your company to get started.
- Develop a common business language: I’ve spoken about this extensively in the past, but the point remains crucial. As data visualization and analytics initiatives become popular in the industry, requiring a common data platform, organizations must be sure that the definitions of data fields and metrics are consistent across departments. It sounds intuitive, but we have all been in situations where a meeting devolves into an argument about “where the numbers came from”, rather than a discussion about actions to take. Pull together a cross-functional team to create this common business language, and ensure you have rules in place for persisting it. Plan for this to take much longer than you expect and for you to get much less credit for doing it. The results will be worth it, however, when you prepare for the next executive level meeting.
- Build and support the analytic culture: We are the analytics evangelists for hospitality. We know the value of a strategic analytic culture grounded in fact-based decision making, and have witnessed the successes of those companies that adopt such a culture. Now is the time to further that mission in your organization. Find opportunities to provide training, add resources or invest in technology that helps to build that culture. Analytic and visualization technology today is moving towards a much more self-service delivery methodology. Wizard driven applications, open source platforms and highly graphical interfaces are making these products much more accessible to the end user. We don’t need to rely as much on IT or a high-powered analyst to gain insight from our data. However, you DO need to make sure that these tools are implemented properly, leveraged fully and interpreted correctly. You will have to invest in training, and possibly some additional resources, to ensure success.
- Learn how to tell a story with data: As access to data and data visualization technology becomes easier and more widespread, it is crucial to learn how to use all that data and technology to effectively support your position. The point is not the data itself, but the story you will tell around that data. Brush up on your presentation skills and really focus on the effective use of data to support your argument. I wrote an article that might be helpful, and Natalie has blogged about this as well.
- Know your guest: In today’s social world, guest expectations about the relationship they have with the firms they do business with has changed. They deal with the world through their mobile devices. They are able to customize nearly every aspect of their experience today from the news they see to the look and feel of the interfaces they deal with. They provide a wealth of information about themselves in the social sphere. They have a similar expectation of their hotel experience. You have a huge opportunity to take all of these digital interactions with guests, and turn it into meaningful insight that can create that personalized experience to keep them coming to you. Not to a competitor, and certainly not a to third party distributor.
- Focus on the guest journey: With personalization initiatives on the top of everyone’s list, still, it’s time to focus on the guest’s journey. Use what you know about your guests to understand how your service process will meet their needs. How do you want them to experience their interactions with you? Where are the opportunities to enhance the experience by infusing data or analytics? How do you want line level staff to use the information they have access to? Simply providing a guest profile to an agent or housekeeper is not going to guarantee personalization. It’s much more likely to guarantee creepy. Make sure that you have processes in place for how the information you provide will get used by technology and humans.
- Leverage your text data: There is a tremendous amount of information locked in unstructured text data across the organization. I’m not just talking about reviews. As an industry, we’ve gotten reasonably good at tracking and managing online reputation, but the opportunity is much larger. Think about all of the internal sources of text as well like emails, guest surveys, call logs and maintenance records. This data can provide a tremendous amount of information about your service delivery, customer needs and preferences, offerings, operating procedures, staffing levels, etc. etc. I am seeing hospitality organizations expanding their text analytics program to integrate these internal text sources with the external data for a more holistic view of the voice of the customer. This year, make a plan for capturing and using all that data.
- Think about video data: At the Analytic Hospitality Executive we think video will be the next data opportunity for hospitality. There is a very cool case study of a major retailer who used surveillance video to track traffic patterns around the store, and was able to predict when the lines at the front were about to get long. They could call staff off of the floor to staff registers before lines formed, but not have cashiers waiting around all shift for business. It’s a very clever use of data that organizations are already collecting. We know there are issues associated with video and predictive analytics, but I think it’s time to at least start thinking about the possibilities!
- Leverage your mobile presence: Your mobile app is a clearly great way to engage with guests. Users need to have a compelling reason to use their mobile aps however, or the opportunity is lost. As hotels work on initiatives like advanced check in or mobile device as room key, guests will find more value from downloading and using these devices. As you are working through these initiatives, don’t forget that the mobile device can also be a valuable source of information, including location data. Carefully consider what you could learn from guests’ interactions with your app, and their use of their devices in general, as you build these mobile initiatives.
- Don’t get distracted by big data: Whether you like the term or not, there is a ton of data out there, more sources added each day. It is really easy to get lost in all this new information and lose the point. As you begin to explore new data sources, stay focused on the business problem you would be able to solve with that data source. Be disciplined in your evaluation of what it is and what it isn’t. Understand how you would actually use that information to make a decision (or whether you would). Develop processes for evaluating whether to invest in new data sources, and apply that discipline to any vendor partner who is advising you that they are gathering “new” data on your behalf.
- Justify, justify, justify: When times are good, everyone wants a piece of the pie. Experts predict supply growth and continued acquisitions for 2015. This means that companies will be spending a lot of money on acquiring or building assets, not necessarily technology, data or business processes. You will need to justify any investments just as thoroughly as you needed to when times were not so good. We do need to take the opportunity now to make investments that will benefit us in the future. Just make sure you get the attention you deserve.
- Don’t forget about the guest: After telling you to “know” your guest, this seems silly to say, but keep in mind that your guests are staying with you for a reason, and it isn’t because of the latest shiny technology or the fanciest lobby design (that helps of course). They are there to conduct business, visit with friends, see family members, or participate in an event, and they need a place to stay while they do that. They may not be there for the same reason every time. We have arguments about whether it’s appropriate to replace people service with technology. We invest in the latest social lobby design, or room technology. We hire tons of people to respond to tweets. Only by understanding what is driving your guest behavior – not a laundry list of demographic and transactional information, can you really serve them properly and keep them coming back. Make sure you are still delivering on your core service proposition as you innovate around it.
- Don’t forget the basics: This goes along with my previous point. Now that you’ve made an effort to increase your knowledge, you are fully embracing the latest trends in data, technology and analytics, you’ve gone fully digital, and you’ve explored new data sources, I’m telling you to go right back to basics. There are so many shiny objects in this social world that it is very easy to get constantly pulled away from the basics of the job. Just because we have more data and faster technology, doesn’t necessarily mean throwing away the playbook – whether from marketing, operations, revenue management or finance, the core tenants of these disciplines still apply (they can be applied faster and better, of course, and things that we didn’t think were possible 10 years ago, are now). And your organization is relying on you to be that expert. As you innovate and transform your organizations, evaluate everything through that lens of your expertise, and the knowledge base that came before you.
It’s going to be another roller coaster ride in 2015. This is a great time to be in hospitality, and we definitely need to take advantage of it while we’re here! I look forward to continuing conversations with you here on the blog and out in the field! I would love to hear what’s on your to-do list for 2015.