Personalization vs. Privacy: How Marriott can leverage loyalty data to maximize its partnership with Amazon’s Alexa to improve the hospitality experience
Consumers are becoming ever more expectant of a seamless yet connected journey, and the travel landscape is evolving to reflect this, blurring the line between traditional travel and modern technology, writes Collinson's Phil Seward.
Amazon’s announcement last week that Marriott will feature in-room Echo smart speakers at select properties to act as a ‘virtual butler’ marks an innovative new chapter in the Alexa story. An astute move from a global tech giant, Amazon is clearly seeking to expand its ecosystem’s engagement beyond the home. The confines of a hotel room offer probably the most secluded and suitably private environment for voice assistant interaction while traveling, while simultaneously showcasing the technology to potential new users.
This announcement may well be the first step by Amazon into the travel sector, but the initiative opens up a window of opportunity for Marriott too – or any other hospitality brand for that matter. The majority of travelers these days, whether for business or leisure, are choice-rich and time-poor, and love the convenience that the digital world of smart technology provides. Tailoring the on-property experience, and being able to better predict customer needs, is an important differentiator for hospitality brands. By combining customer insights from its loyalty program with a smart voice assistant, brands can provide their members with more personalized interactions and proactive suggestions based on insights into a member’s preferences, prior behaviors and purpose of travel.
Intelligent agents can be used throughout the travel journey to provide concierge services to passengers, helping them on their journey with information, offers and updates. The integration of a voice assistant enables that experience to extend from the front desk into the room itself.
For example, just by knowing the member’s status, Alexa could offer more tailored responses while reminding the member of their available recognition benefits:
“Alexa, can I get a late checkout tomorrow?”
“Sure, since you are a Platinum member I can extend your checkout to 2pm – shall I go ahead?”
Likewise, connecting the guest’s Amazon account to their loyalty account could unlock further access to their frequent requests, contacts, playlists, etc. enabling travelers to feel connected and ‘at home’ even while they are on the road:
“Alexa, I’d like to listen to some music.”
“Would you like me to play your chillout playlist?”
The possibilities may seem endless, but Marriott has the opportunity to identify the primary use cases that could add the most value to the guest experience and provide guests with options to differentiate those use cases according to their purpose of travel. After all, hotels know the road warrior on a one-night trip to Chicago has very different needs compared to a family of four vacationing in a Hawaii resort hotel. This tailored state-of-play demonstrates a compelling use for voice, taking it above and beyond a gimmick that will quickly become tired and fall out of use.
Voice assistants also promise a rich set of new insights into guests’ needs and behaviors. By connecting this technology to loyalty accounts, hotel brands have the opportunity to mine the data to build richer profiles at the individual level for the purpose of future proofing for the next stay. Likewise, connected accounts will enable the brand to seamlessly continue the voice assistant dialog with their members even when they’re back home:
“Alexa, I need to book a hotel in San Francisco for next weekend.”
“Would you like me to check for Marriott properties in the city, since you have enough points for a reward night?”
While Marriott should be commended for taking a very practical lead, which others will likely follow, it doesn’t come without its concerns. Customers will have inevitable privacy and security concerns.
Can hotel brands successfully demonstrate sufficient value and positive impact to their guests in exchange for potentially intruding into the sanctity of the hotel room itself? The important factor here is honesty. Brands need to be upfront about what data they are going to use and what benefits customers are going to see as a result. GDPR will serve as an extra layer of reassurance. International companies cannot sell the data they have from customers, which will improve trust and customers’ willingness to participate.
By cultivating customer trust in this way, while improving the service through a targeted use of available data, customers will feel their favored brands truly understand them and actively want them as customers and advocates. There are no doubt challenges with customer data, but with the selective use of newer technologies, the opportunities are vast and are there to be seized by savvy brands.
Consumers are becoming ever more expectant of a seamless yet connected journey, and the travel landscape is evolving to reflect this, blurring the line between traditional travel and modern technology. However, by embracing this change, the hospitality industry can provide innovative responses to delight guests with smarter, more meaningful experiences that deliver clear value. Alexa is the perfect ally for this, something that Marriott has recognized ahead of its counterparts, perhaps paving the way for the future of the hospitality industry.
That said, the big question remains; are hotel brands at risk of opening the door to a potential competitor down the line by giving a third-party like Amazon access to such valuable customer data? This question becomes particularly important if other tech brands such as Google with its Assistant and Apple with Siri follow in Amazon’s footsteps. Only time will tell, but for those brands embracing this new wave of technology, it will be important to keep an ear to the ground, as we gain a more established view of how things will play out for all parties.
*Phil Seward is the SVP of Loyalty Strategy for the Americas at Collinson, a global loyalty and benefits company. Combining agency and client-side experience, he is responsible for driving devoted customer relationships for Collinson’s clients across the U.S. and Latin America.