Hilton Embraces a 'Millennial Mindset' to Meet Customer Expectations
Senior Vice President, Customer Experience, Engagement, Loyalty and Partnerships
It’s no secret that millennials have high standards for customer experience, especially as companies like Amazon and Starbucks continue to raise the bar. The hospitality space is no exception, and industry veteran Hilton Worldwide has had to transform its business in numerous ways to keep up and thrive. Mark Weinstein, Hilton’s senior vice president of customer experience, engagement, loyalty and partnerships, spoke with eMarketer’s Maria Minsker about how the company tackles change by thinking like a millennial.
eMarketer: What does the phrase “digital transformation” mean to Hilton?
Mark Weinstein: Digital technology is transforming our ability to make the guest experience more seamless and effortless. It has transformed how our team members interact with our guests and the insights that empower our team members. Digital technology has enabled us to create exceptional experiences and bring to life the hospitality we have always envisioned delivering.
eMarketer: To what extent has your business embraced digital channels? How far along are you in your own digital transformation?
Weinstein: We’re always at the beginning, because there’s always new technology available. We are, however, very advanced in our thinking about customers and what they want. For almost a hundred years, our mission has remained the same: We want to understand our customers and deliver exceptional experiences every time. What has transformed is the technology that enables us to do that.
We’ve made tremendous strides in improving our [mobile] platform and can now do things like let guests choose their room from a map within the Google Maps app. Our technology is quite advanced, but we constantly reset. Every day, technology enables us to do new things we never envisioned.
eMarketer: In what ways are consumer expectations still growing?
Weinstein: It’s no longer good enough just to be the best in your industry—consumers are comparing us to all experiences. It’s no longer good enough to just be better than the hospitality companies. We’ve looked at ourselves and said our initiative is to be the most hospitable company in the world, period. But now every digital experience is cultivating consumers’ mindsets with respect to brands. It’s not good enough to be the best hotel—we have to aspire to be the best brand.
eMarketer: How do you keep up with growing expectations, especially among millennials?
Weinstein: We put ourselves in the millennial mindset. We know that things like instant gratification, ease of use and lack of friction are important to them, and while they may be the most vocal about it, everyone appreciates these things.
There are three paradoxes between our business and the millennial mindset. The first is the idea that today’s wants become tomorrow’s needs. What used to be a nice-to-have, like Wi-Fi, is now a must-have. The paradox here is you get no credit for doing it right, but you certainly get a blemish on your brand for not doing it.
The second paradox is the relationship between high-tech and high-touch. Sometimes, customers crave more human connections and a break from technology. But at other times, they want to use technology to do what they’ve got to do. How do we enable both? Sometimes we provide that human touchpoint, and other times we put functionality in the palm of their hand through our Hilton Honors app.
The third paradox is somewhat related. Namely, it’s the tension between wanting to be in a communal setting vs. needing time to be alone. That’s something we try to solve against as well. It all comes down to knowing our customers and curating a set of choices for them, but ultimately empowering them to choose their own adventure and guide themselves.
eMarketer: Do you consider Hilton to be an agile brand?
Weinstein: We have to be. There’s a lot of pressure on an established brand that’s almost a hundred years old because if we fail, it’s pretty spectacular. People judge changes critically, but the risk of making a mistake isn’t as great as the risk brands take by not changing at all. Evolution happens out of necessity—brands have to evolve or they just won’t be there anymore.
eMarketer: Can you share a few examples of how Hilton has evolved?
Weinstein: We’ve made a lot of changes to Hilton Honors, our loyalty program. We have 60 million Hilton Honors members and they make up half of all of our occupied rooms every night. Nine million of them joined us just last year. Why? Because we’ve made the program more flexible, more customer-centric and more valuable.
For example, we now allow members to choose how many points vs. dollars they want to use, rather than telling them how many points they have to use. We now allow Hilton Honors members to pool their points together, and have also partnered with Amazon so that customers can use rewards points to make Amazon purchases.
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