Customer relationship management means keeping in touch with your guests, improving your hotel's relationship with them and leveraging the advantages of the repeat guests that can give your hotel its economic backbone.

To Menka Uttamchandani, director of business intelligence for Denihan Hospitality Group in New York, CRM means turning the high-potential guest into the most valued guest. To that end, Uttamchandani and her team have tailored the off-the-shelf database, MAGIC, to Denihan's proprietary ends. MAGIC stands for Marketing and Guest Information Center. To her, CRM is a business initiative rather than a project.

Primarily used for operational purposes and to catalogue guest preferences, MAGIC greeted Uttamchandani when she left Hyatt for Denihan five years ago. “There was a lot of data in there, and with our business intelligence tools, I was able to do a lot of analytics allowing us a strategic view of our business,” she says.

She and her associates began to consider “strategic segments” like MVG (most valued guests) and HPG (high-potential guests) and sought to have “not only a granular level of information but also to look at things like the market segments we get our business from, the channels our business is coming through, how these are changing, what our guests spend and when.”

The MVGs give Denihan hotels business on a regular basis, sustaining the company at non-peak times. Denihan would like every guest to be an MVG.

“The reason this is so important is that depending on your stay and profile, you really need to be treated differently,” she says. “The MVGs, who are typically frequent travelers, stay very often, pay a pretty good rate and come back frequently. They are the kind of people who find recognition very important so we'd like to address them internally in the company by providing relevant recognition.”

When it comes to the HPG, one key task is identification. “You spend your dollars and resources in that direction because the ROI is much greater. We do modeling; we would look at the profile in the rest of the database and match those with the ones that most closely resemble the ones in the MVG segment.”

Such correspondence suggests the HPG who can become the MVG. Helping the effort is demographic and psychographic data, perhaps “20 attributes that we think we can use so we have a pretty good profile of all our guests that we're able to match.” The data, which Denihan buys from information management firm Acxiom, not only include how much money guests spend at a Denihan hotel, but also how much they earn, their gender, their age, whether they have children at home, their marital status.

“This allows us to understand what life stage they're at,” Uttamchandani says, allowing Denihan to reach out to HPGs in order to put them on track toward MVG status.

“We also use our database for communicating and building communication with our guests, establishing a rapport with them.” Denihan observes “respectable intervals,” selecting “certain sets” for electronic surveys to determine a guest profile and make sure “the guest always has a voice.”

It's important that the technological infrastructure is set up so “the right data is flowing to the right place,” Uttamchandani says. At least as important is a CRM team whose members are all on the same page.

The final element: operations. “We try hard to make sure the operations team is closely involved so it translates appropriately when guests come to the hotel,” she says. “You don't want just great analytics and great strategy. You want to make sure the execution is great.”

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