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What is a Customer Data Platform and what can it do for my hotel?

21 September 2021
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Each hotel has its own unique needs around customer data. A hotel uses various technologies for marketing, operations revenue, sales, and guest experience depending on its location, market segment, brand affiliation, and target guest. These tools tend to create silos, restricting data flow, and making it difficult to build the modern experiences that today’s guests expect.

That’s the process for just one hotel; add a single hotel into a bigger hotel group, and the complexity grows exponentially. That’s where a Customer Data Platform (CDP) comes in: it wrangles complexity and unlocks value in data across an entire enterprise.

But what exactly is a Customer Data Platform? So glad you asked because we fancy ourselves a bit of an expert thanks to our investment in Starling, our next-generation customer data platform for hospitality. Here’s what you need to know about CDPs and how they’ll transform your hotel by building a data layer across your operations.

What is a CDP?
A 360-degree view of the customer is only feasible if you have a comprehensive view of all aspects of your customer journey. Any gaps in visibility make it impossible to have an accurate, holistic view of your customers.

A Customer Data Platform solves the need for unified customer data that’s uniformly accessible across the enterprise. It breaks data out of internal silos and combines it with external data sources to provide a data layer that stretches across your enterprise in a persistent and standardized action.

How is a CDP different from a CRM?
The main difference between a CDP and CRM is right there in the name: a CDP manages customer data, and a CRM manages customer relationships. When implemented, the CDP becomes the single source of truth across your entire operation. It’s the data foundation for all of your technologies, processes, and teams, as the CDP aggregates internal and external data and transforms that data into a standardized format that can be shared across applications.

Your CRM or Marketing Automation application plugs into your CDP so that its data can be synchronized and shared. Your CRM can then be enriched with whatever data sources you choose to connect into the CDP. This process makes your CRM more powerful, and able to accommodate new ways of working, marketing, and serving your guests.

What is a CDP for hotels?
Think of the CDP as a bridge across your tech stack. It builds its customer profiles from:

  • your hotel CRM;
  • your booking engine;
  • your website;
  • any forms your sales team uses for lead generation;
  • e-commerce data from third-party sources;
  • behavioral data;
  • email engagement;
  • contextual data, such as how busy your hotel is;
  • market trends and patterns;
  • social media activity;
  • revenue management software;
  • any other hospitality technology.

A CDP integrates your systems so they can communicate with each other simultaneously. The real-time data layer creates all kinds of possibilities to personalize and optimize every touchpoint of the guest journey. It’s no longer a question of “can we do that.” It’s more like: “what will we do with this unified view of our guest?”

How can a CDP enhance the guest journey?
Data is everywhere in travel. From research and booking to pre-stay, during stay, and post-stay, the average guest can interact with dozens of touchpoints. Each of those touchpoints is a valuable asset to generate deeper insights to serve that guest better. Whether it’s more relevant offers or personalizing the guest’s on-property experience, this data drives top-line revenue (conversions) and bottom-line profit (guest satisfaction).

Consider the typical mid-size hotel with 100 rooms. At an occupancy rate of 60%, that’s a minimum of 60 guests each night. Over a year, that’s 21,900 guests! Factor in periods of higher demand and double occupancy, and that one hotel could easily see over 25,000 guests annually.

Next, factor in how many data points your typical guest creates before, during, and after a stay. There are hundreds of potential touchpoints that a guest has with your hotel. A midsize hotel with the same conditions mentioned above would produce nearly 1.9 million data points in a single year. Now, let’s take a look at the different touchpoints of the guest journey:

  • Before: Visits to OTAs, metasearch sites (including Google Hotel Finder), and review sites like TripAdvisor; retargeted display ads seen during the research phase; paid placements on OTAs and metasearch during the booking phase; calls to reservation agents; reservation confirmation email, pre–arrival email marketing campaigns.
  • During: Online check-in, housekeeping requests, food and beverage purchases, actual arrival and departure times, concierge recommendations, ancillary spend.
  • After: Post-stay surveys; re-engagement campaigns via email; leaving a review on TripAdvisor and other sites.

All these touchpoints provide valuable information that can enrich what you know, not just about your guests’ demographics and psychographics but also about their actual behavior over the lifetime of their relationship with your hotel.

Each element adds more touchpoints to this wildly complex data tapestry and frequently, each tech solution is a data silo that requires expensive time-intensive integrations to dismantle. This in turn can create duplicate data, incomplete records, and inefficient communication across tech tools.

A CDP takes all of these data points from all of your technology and unites, transforms, cleanses, and enriches them. From there, you have a single unified platform that’s accessible across your enterprise.

What your hotel achieves with a CDP

A CDP provides an audit trail of all changes. Every action is recorded so that there’s a detailed history of each data point through its lifetime. These audit trails document all data changes to ensure adherence to global privacy regulations. Even if those regulations change, as they often do, you’ll have a dedicated history that can identify data that needs to be updated to comply with the new rules.

With flexible and agile open APIs, you can connect any data source into the platform to customize the dataflow and build something that works for your unique technology needs.

A CDP unites customer data into one stream and then stitches it together to enrich your guest profiles. Since this process happens in real-time, marketers can easily work with the data to improve marketing messaging through more personalized offers and adjustments to messaging frequency, channel, and timing.

It’s this focus on marketers that makes the CDP such a transformative tool for hotels. It augments existing resources, such as the CRM, and introduces valuable opportunities for marketers to leverage data in new and exciting ways.

“Surprise and Delight” is a popular customer service refrain in hospitality. But how do you reliably and consistently deliver these surprising and delightful moments to your guests? Those who do this most successfully rely on a combination of internal tools.

With your CRM, you can effectively share guest data with frontline staff who will be responsible for delivering those memorable moments. All too often, however, useful guest information gets lost in the shuffle. It’s either siloed somewhere else in the organization or lives externally in a third-party solution that’s not visible to staff. A CDP empowers staff to deliver more consistent guest moments before, during, and after each stay.

These moments are what make your brand stand out. By creating memorable moments for guests across all channels and touchpoints, you develop long-term relationships, boost loyalty, and earn higher marks from guests, translating into better online reviews and more repeat bookings.

Can we talk about how historically the hospitality industry has worked with many antiquated systems that don’t speak to each other? CDPs offer the opportunity for our industry to finally catch up with others by allowing these systems to communicate and consolidate data so it is actionable.

Guest-centric, future-flexible

In our tech-infused world, maintaining guest-centricity alongside adaptable technology is easier said than done. We’ve often had to make trade-offs between functionality/cost and responsiveness/guest experience.

A Customer Data Platform reduces those tradeoffs by harnessing data into a shared layer across all systems. It’s a future-proof foundation that helps you meet growing expectations for remarkable moments and personalized experiences.

For your hotel, that means an enhanced guest experience that’s deftly personalized and more profitable. As the data-rich world becomes even more so, your hotel will remain competitive, nimbly adapting to ever-increasing data complexity. It’s this guest-centric, future-flexible approach that makes Customer Data Platforms such a valuable asset to hotels now and in the future.

About the author
Michael BennettMichael Bennett, Chief Marketing Officer, Cendyn, oversees global marketing, product, and data science at Cendyn. He has over 25 years of international management experience, working with companies such as White Lodging and KSL Capital. His specialties lie in both B2B and B2C marketing, digital and mobile implementations, all with a proven track record of success. Michael focuses on managing with an emphasis on profitable growth through an increase in CLV, while constantly reiterating that creative marketing is only successful when held accountable to the results it produces. Michael currently resides in San Diego with his wife and two beautiful daughters.