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How InterContinental Hotels connects with real-time marketing

InterContinental Hotel Group’s European marketing manager, Charlie Aspey, tells Computer Weekly how the firm has deployed dynamic email marketing across all its hotel brands

InterContinental Hotels is the big name behind hotel chains such as Crown Plaza and Holiday Inn. It looks after more than 180 hotels across 60 countries.

As InterContinental Hotels works on a franchise basis, it does not own any of its properties, and interacts with consumers across its brands through a membership scheme.

InterContinental’s worldwide membership scheme currently has more than 94 million members, Charlie Aspey, European email marketing manager for the group, told an audience at the 2016 MarTech conference. It uses technology to offer these members a personalised customer experience.

But it hasn’t always been like that, says Aspey.

Using data to target customers

Over the past few years, the firm has been working to better use its data to improve the customer experience. Since InterContinental Hotels has different systems with various stakeholders and multiple owners, Aspey says the group’s loyalty scheme “underpins everything”.

From initial contact with a guest – which can be through booking with the hotel in person, on a website or via a call centre – data gathered about guests at its various hotels is fed into a reservation platform. The information is then sent on to an intelligent email platform, which begins the process of real-time custom email communication with customers.

A database snapshot of hotel guests is fed into a customer relationship management (CRM) system alongside data and objectives from commercial teams. Personalised communications are sent to guests and members using this data, and since the introduction of this system the firm has seen an 81% reduction in the time it takes to communicate with customers via email.

There is also a huge focus on retention, and re-engaging with customers if they have not interacted with the brand in a long time. “What’s key is engaging our members when they sign up,” says Aspey. “As soon as they sign up they are enrolled into an eight-week programme which informs them about the brands and hopefully engages them.”

The hotel group has a dynamic email template with more than 30,000 versions of emails that are generated automatically to target specific groups of guests. These can be compiled and sent in less than two seconds.

Boosting email benefits

The new era of omni-channel, by which consumers interact with brands on multiple platforms and still expect a coherent experience, has given the customer more power over the services brands provide.

Many customers now expect a personalised experience, which makes them feel rewarded for their loyalty towards a particular brand.

Not only has InterContinental’s dynamic email platform helped improve performance of emails, retain customers and drive customer loyalty, but has added benefits in other areas too. Aspey claims its call centres are now under less pressure due to the increase in information emailed to customers ahead of their hotel stay.

But to take customer experience even further, InterContinental is using customer data to try to increase personalisation. Information collected about customers can be used to customise their hotel stay. InterContinental’s brands are approaching guests before their visit to ask their preferences.

“We’re contacting customers before their hotel stay and asking them, ‘What type of pillow do you like? Which paper do you read? Do you want a wake-up call?’ We know all about them and what they’re expecting from their stay,” says Aspey.

Emails in the lead-up to a stay also include weather information for the destination, countdown clocks to show customers how long until their stay and offers based on a customer’s previous behaviour or experiences. These small changes have doubled the number of emails that are opened by the recipient.

According to the results of surveys following a hotel stay, these efforts to provide a personalised experience have increased customer satisfaction.

The hotels also provide receipts with their follow-up emails to make them more relevant for the customer.

“It’s about giving useful experiences back to the customers,” says Aspey.

Advice for the data focused

Using data correctly to improve customer experience is very important, says Aspey, because people can react badly if their information appears to have been used incorrectly.

Key to success, he says, is ensuring senior management is behind any ideas you’re hoping to implement, and recognising that data is there to be utilised. “Use the data you collect – there’s no point having it in a silo,” he adds.

Aspey’s final word of advice is “never rest on your laurels” because there’s always improving and innovating to be done.

Read more about personalisation

  • Companies are starting to use big data analytics to deliver more personalised customer services.
  • Personalisation has been the goal for many retailers, but can the emergence of big data analytics be the solution they are looking for?

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